A Castaic Elementary School classroom is being transformed into a 21st century learning environment with the help of monetary donations from local companies and supporters.
And that helps fulfill a teacher’s inspiration for the “passion projects” she directs.
“Genius Hour” where, for one hour each week, students create their own “passion project.”
Terri Stillson, a third grade teacher at Castaic Elementary, uses computer Chromebooks in her classroom to make a difference in her students’ learning and keep them engaged throughout the day.
“We do a lot of collaborative group work on the Chromebooks and my goal is that they became proficient in Google Classroom and online,” Stillson said. “More Chromebooks gives them more one-on-one time with the technology.”
Last week, Stillson got a little closer to her goal with the donation of funding for two new Chromebooks from Valencia’s Horace Mann Educators Corporation, as part of the company’s “ThanksGiveaway” donations in honor of American Education Week.
The company chose to fund Stillson’s classroom materials after she posted her funding request on DonorsChoose.org, a site dedicated to funding classroom projects to reduce teachers’ out-of-pocket spending.
“Our company as a whole gives back into the community… there’s not a month that goes by that we don’t do something,” said Mary Nicol, co-founder of Horace Mann. “DonorsChoose is one of our national campaigns.”
With this month’s donations, the company also helped fund projects within the William S. Hart Union High School District and the Sulphur Springs School District.
Stillson’s project was chosen because its implementation of technology in the classroom environment, according to Nicol.
“Technology is a huge push and, being a small school district, it is a way for us to give back to their school,” Nicol said.
With the classroom laptops, Stillson instituted an approach to teaching called “Genius Hour” where, for one hour each week, students create their own “passion project.”
Through the passion projects, students are able to research whatever topic interests them for six weeks to become experts, or geniuses, on the topic before presenting the information to the class.
“The word alone gets them excited… and in that one hour a week they absolutely look forward to becoming geniuses,” Stillson said.
The genius hour also allows Stillson to incorporate informational writing and literacy skills into the curriculum, while allowing her student to choose their own areas of study.
“It’s a sneaky way to increase their writing skills and literacy skills,” Stillson said. “Being in charge teaches them to make independent choices and to become creative thinkers.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_