STEM PLease!

Seriously, STEM is so much fun!  I just can’t seem to get enough of collaborating with teachers on STEM-y projects and I love delivering PL (Professional Learning) to share what I know with my colleagues.

Yesterday and today, I was honored to present to my fellow Cobb County educators (and many awesome educators from other districts here in Northern Georgia as part of STEM-a-Palooza 2016.  This three-day STEM bootcamp and PBL conference brought together presenters from the High Museum, Zoo Atlanta, as well as Cobb County School District, and many more.

I presented four different sessions:

  • Creating a Community of Exploration
    • Session Summary: Learn how to reset the culture of your classroom, team, and school to embrace exploration as a means for teaching and learning.
  • Cultivating Visual Literacy in the STEM Classroom (Co-presented with King Springs Elementary School STEM teacher Joannah Shoushtarian)
    • Session Summary: Learn how to construct student-driven lessons that integrate video production tools such as TouchCast as a means for developing digital and media literacy skills.
  • Genius Hour Quick and Dirty Tips
    • Session Summary: Do you want to try Genius Hour but don’t know where to start? In this session, learn how to present Genius Hour to your administration or staff and guide students (and their parents) through the process and expectations while maintaining a safety net so students feel comfortable in their exploration.
  • Harness the Power of Virtual Reality (Co-presented with Floyd Middle School 7th grade Science teacher Daniel Harbert)
    • Session Summary: Learn how to use and create virtual reality experiences to enhance classroom instruction.  Join us in exploring this new medium and come prepared to step into a new dimension in teaching and learning!

Over the next few days I will publish each session’s resources.  In the meantime, you can find them housed here.

Many thanks to the wonderful Dr. Sally Creel, STEM Supervisor for the Cobb County School District, for inviting me to participate in this event!

Genius Hour Galore!

Last school year, I stumbled upon a remarkable project called Genius Hour.  What I thought would be a fun exploration of learning for my eighth grade students has turned into an innovative community-building experience.

Some of you may be furrowing your brows in confusion, asking your screen, “well what is this Genius Hour she’s talking about?”  For the yet-uninitiated, Genius Hour is a form of problem-based learning where each student chooses his or her desired topic of study.  They can start out with a burning question, an interest, or a topic they wish to explore.  Sounds like fun, right?  Well it is!  Luckily, if you choose to employ Genius Hour within your classroom or school, there is a flurry of research, articles, and resources supporting its relevance and academic purpose.  While it is fun, if you do it right (and, trust me, that’s not too hard to do), your students will learn more deeply as a result.  By providing student with the opportunity to reconnect with their sense of learning for the sake of learning, they will each grow to become experts in their areas of study.

After I did Genius Hour once in my classroom, I shared my experience at our first District-wide EdCamp in October of 2014.  Then an elementary school principal contacted me, asking for guidance with helping some of his teachers explore Genius Hour.  Then a friend of mine, and fellow teacher tried it in her classroom.  Then I presented on it to teachers at a few different in-house professional learning days catered to pre-selected cohorts of teachers wanting to develop more innovations at their schools.  The proverbial snowball effect.  How appropriate with it being winter right now.  Besides, everyone loves a good snowball.

1207151535.jpgI was recently asked to serve in support of a few super-excited and courageous educators as they presented to their principal, assistant principals, and academic coaches on their desire to do Genius Hour.  I could not have been prouder of these ladies charging forth to bring this level of self-directed instruction to their Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade students.

The ladies began their presentation with opening questions and ended with those same questions, and a stylistic flourish.  The conference room erupted with applause.  They smiled, I snapped a photo of their impressive display, and offered to help them as they continue on this path.

In my district, there are two kinds of people: those who support students (teachers) and those who support teachers.  I am humbled and inspired daily by being invited to support such amazing teachers uncover their areas of innovation and genius.

Genius Hour Presentations, Day 2

Yesterday’s scheduled presentations were as follows:
GH Presentations Day 2

Some of the standout presentations included:

Alex D.

Topic: How to Make an Epic Movie Trailer


Harrison M.

Topic: Lost and the Bible



  • Read for 30 minutes
  • Prepare Genius Hour project for presentation.



Genius Hour Presentations, Day 1

Today’s presentations were amazing (as to be expected)!  Below is the schedule of who was slated to present today.GH Presentations Day 1

Some of the most notable presentations came from:

Nicole J.

Topic: Bullying

Adonia R.

Topic: The Jamaican Language

Walter K.

Topic: Creating Electronic Music

I cannot wait to see tomorrow’s presentations!

Ms. W.


  • Read for 30 minutes
  • Prepare Genius Hour Project for presentation.
  • Post presentation on to the Padlet.


  • A generic power point presentation will be used each day this week (excluding Friday).

Genius Hour Presentation Schedule!

The schedule has been set!  The following students will be presenting on the following days.  Parents, you are welcome (and encouraged) to attend! (Be sure to contact me via email in order to RSVP.)

Genius Hour Presentation Schedule Spreadsheet (Most up-to-date version)

Monday, May 11th, 2015

GH Presentations Day 1

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

GH Presentations Day 2

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

GH Presentations Day 3

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

GH Presentations Day 4

Comparing and Contrasting two Sherlock Holmes Tales

Over the past week and a half, my students and I have been delving into one of the most notable of Victorian literature in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes stories.  Last week, my students read “A Study in Scarlet,” which was the novella in which the famed detective was first introduced.  We have then been watching the first episode of the BBC show “Sherlock” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  This episode, entitled “A Study in Pink,” draws most of its storyline’s influence from Doyle’s work, however writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat (of Dr. Who fame) did make some noteworthy differences in their re-telling.

As a result, and in accordance with the following standard, the students compared and contrasted the two stories.

ELACC8RL7: Analyze the extent to which a filmed or live production of a story or drama stays faithful to or departs from the text or script, evaluating the choices made by the director or actors.

The students created a Bubble Map sharing these similarities and differences once they finished viewing the aforementioned episode.

REMINDERS: Genius Hour has returned!  The students will present their projects Monday through Thursday of next week.  Parents, contact me if you are interested in coming to watch your student’s presentation.

STUDENTS: You may start submitting your Genius Hour Projects here.  The must be uploaded to the Padlet page at least one day before you are scheduled to present (remember the Friday, May 8th deadline was to help make sure you were done early).  Your final grade on this project depends upon this aspect.  You must also be sure to have your rubric on hand the day you perform or else you will lose 10 points. (See below if you need another copy)



Video Conference with Russell Elementary!

Today, we connected two classrooms as one…for about twenty-five minutes.  My fourth period students were so excited to be able to video conference with some of the fifth graders at Russell Elementary at the southern end of our school district.  This opportunity for this collaboration stemmed from some engaging conversations that were had at the first EdCamp Cobb.

EdCamp Cobb was an “un-conference” back in October of 2014 where teachers around the Cobb County School District could gather, collaborate, and present on fun and innovative things going on within their classrooms.  I took that opportunity to share what my students and I were doing with Genius Hour.  From that, we were invited to video conference with a group of fifth graders who were also tackling the project themselves and offer some feedback.

Excitedly, we connected through Microsoft Lync and, after about ten minutes of playing around with the program and our tools, we were able to fully connect with video and audio functioning on both ends.  The whole process was a learning one for all of us, but I know that my students and I will work via video conference once again.

-Ms. W.

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

(In keeping with this week’s theme of “The Power of Words,” I have decided to include this repost from my auxiliary blog “Ms.Willipedia Writes” which features education and life-related writings as a part of my own ongoing Genius Hour project.)


Originally Published on January 8th, 2015

Written by: N. Williams


Today Paris, France was the site of a heinous attack on the freedom of expression.  Armed gunmen, reportedly radical Islamist militants, entered the offices of the French satire publication Charlie Hebdo, known for its political cartoons, opened fire, and left 12 unarmed people dead.

I love Paris.

I lived in Paris during college.

Paris taught me to be more independent, self-sufficient, and adventurous.  Paris taught me to fully trust and love myself.

As a teacher of English, I am in the business of free speech. State-specified standards guide my day-to-day lessons where my students share their thoughts, feelings, observations of the world (and of assigned texts), and aspirations in the the most successful form of the written word they can.  By the end of each year, the tests/essays/ grades only tell so much of their individual journeys toward communicating their ideas more effectively, but even the most reluctant of students grow.

This is why we communicate.  We communicate to understand the world around us.  We communicate to explore the world around us.  We communicate so that we can see how much more we have in common with our so-called enemies.  We communicate in order to grow.

Paris’ sense of freedom has been attacked.  The freedom of speech we hold so dear in functional actual-democracies had been challenged by those who fear mere letters and pictures on a page.  These types of attacks remind us that letters, pictures, and ideas have power more so than any knife, gun, or bomb.

“I hate writing.”

So many students have entered my middle school classroom over the years not realizing the almost-magical powers they possess within their own hands.  They think they hate writing.  They think they hate being challenged. They think they hate being required to think, but they are wrong.  We tend to forget that many wars were spurred on by written ideas.  Countries such as ours were established with the flourish of a well-inked pen.  So, I challenge them, as the future, to make their writing count.

Take a look back at the picture before my first words here. Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.  The London-based illustrator Lucille Clerc sums it up in such a poignant image.  The words/images/ideas of yesterday that are feared and assaulted today will only multiply in power and effect tomorrow.

To all those who challenge the freedom of expression, watch out: you may create a larger enemy to fight tomorrow.

With this first post I launch “Ms. Willipedia Writes.”

#GeniusHour Presentations: Days 2 and 3

The students have continued to impress me with the high quality, depth of research, and extent to which they have presented what they have learned with these presentations.  Some of the standout presentations these past two days have included those by:

  • A.C.-Documentary on the life of a ballerina entitled “Life on Pointe”
  • L.S.-Cross-section and replica of a pointe shoe
  • J.H.-Presentation on Solar Energy and the types of photovoltaic panels
  • M.H.-Video on the types of English canters

#Genius Hour Presentations: Day 1

As a result of Friday’s surprise guest, the originally-scheduled grammar quiz was postponed until today.

Once the quiz was over, the students couldn’t wait to show what they had learned over the course of this two-and-a-half-month educational experiment.  Some of the most notable presentations included:

  • B.D.’s Presentation on Making a Birdhouse
  • E.R.’s Lesson on Rubber Bands versus a Watermelon
  • M.M.’s Analysis of Incidence of Terrorism in the 1990s
  • B.H.’s Information on Cryptozoology
  • Z.G.’s Presentation on Self-Driving Cars

I am so amazed by the depth and quality of the presentations shown today and cannot wait to see what more we learn about as this week progresses!


  • Read for 30 minutes.
  • Prepare for Genius Hour Presentation