Twelve-year-old Dante Jackson of Lenexa loves baseball and is a big fan of the Kansas City Royals. So when it came time for the sixth-grader from Rosehill Elementary School in the Shawnee Mission School District to pick a topic for a school project, it came as no surprise that he chose the current World Series champs.
But what may be surprising is that Dante was able to get first-hand information about the organization for his project by interviewing a member of the Royals’ front office staff.
The idea of taking project research from a simple Internet search to a first-hand expert interview is all part of the idea of Genius Hour, where students at Rosehill Elementary get one hour a week in the school’s library to study their passions.
Brandi Leggett is an instructional coach at Rosehill Elementary School in Lenexa, and the teacher behind Genius Hour. She said for one hour a week, students get to take traditional learning and turn it on its head.
“Kids are always being told what they have to learn and this is the opposite of that where they get to design their own curriculum,” Leggett said.
Leggett, who was a finalist for the 2014 Kansas Teacher of the Year award when she taught in the De Soto School District, discovered the idea while doing research herself. She discovered that Google practiced something called “20 percent time” where they encouraged their employees to spend 20 percent of their time in addition to their regular projects to work on projects they thought would benefit the company.
Leggett took the concept and with the help of librarian Alison Harrington, adapted it into Genius Hour, in which students select a topic, research it and then prepare a presentation on their school-issued iPad. Students had to choose a broad, driving question that couldn’t be answered on the Internet. They then had to come up with 10 questions to research online that would guide them toward answering their driving question.
“The more they researched the more they explored,” Leggett said. “And then from there, some students were able to get interviews with experts in areas they were studying.”
For Dante, that meant scoring a phone interview with Kyle Vena, director of baseball operations for the Kansas City Royals. Dante had a list of questions for Vena about his work with the Royals Academy in the Dominican Republic.
“I asked him how he finds players, what makes a good baseball player and if he has to use a translator when talking to players,” Dante said.
Vena was such a good sport in helping Dante with his research project that he even made time for a phone interview while on an airport layover.
Leggett worked with students to contact experts in their fields via email and Twitter and said all of them were eager to help.
When it came time for sixth-grader Andrea Menjivar-Quijada to conduct an interview, her expert came to her. Andrea’s interest in becoming a doctor herself led her to interview Ryan Fischer, a pediatric transplant hepatologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital.
Andrea had many questions for the doctor who treats liver conditions in children, including how he chose his career.
“I asked him how he started in his career and he said he started by volunteering in a hospital,” Andrea said. “First he wanted to be an animator but then he studied medicine so he could be a doctor and help children.”
Seventy-four students came up with a variety of topics for their presentations. Topics were as diverse as marine biology, the difference between Japan and the United States, designing video games and what it’s like to be hearing impaired.
The students recently had a chance to share their presentations with parents and teachers during an evening event. As those in attendance walked around the room listening to the kids discuss their topic, Leggett said she was pleased to see another benefit from the project: a chance for students to practice their public speaking skills.
“It worked well because some kids were shy but ended up sharing their project seven to 10 times and ended up confident by the end of the night,” Leggett said.
Sara Beane: firstname.lastname@example.org