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Prairiewood Elementary School students travel to Springfield for TECH 2017 conference

WOODSTOCK – Prairiewood Elementary School students had a chance to show off their research in Springfield this week.

Students in Jennifer Bigler’s fifth-grade dual language class went to the state Capitol this week as part of the TECH 2017 Students for the Information Age conference. The students presented a project about Genius Hour, a student-directed learning enrichment program that allows kids to research subjects they are interested in using technology in the classroom.

Prairiewood Elementary joined nearly 100 other schools in Springfield for the conference, which takes place annually. The objective of the event is to show state officials how students are using technology in schools to enhance learning and better prepare for the future.

“It helps show how technology is used across the curriculum in schools and how important it is, especially when it comes to funding technology initiatives,” Bigler said. “… Our students are learning skills they need in today’s working world.”

Genius Hour gives students an hour a week to explore a topic of their choice through self-directed research. Students then can display and share their work with their peers in different ways. Some students have created websites, videos and so on.

“The philosophy of the classroom is, ‘You don’t know until you try,’ ” Bigler said. “Genius Hour gives them the opportunity to explore different websites and different apps and share it with other people. … I think it’s beneficial for everyone to learn what they are passionate about.”

Charlie Baker, 11, said he liked the Genius Hour projects because it allowed time to look at an issue more closely.

“If you have a certain question you are focused on, you can get deeper into the subject,” he said. “You start looking, and then this question leads me to this question.”

Students explored alternative options for homeless populations, tracked their family ancestries, created websites and even learned a new language through their Genius Hour projects.

A big part of Genius Hour is the ability to share one’s work, Bigler said. One student used a video recording app to teach monolingual second-graders Spanish. Another created a website about his research on how to solve a Rubik’s cube that was shared districtwide.

The students said they most liked the freedom to learn what they wanted.

“You get a break from normal learning and get to learn what you want,” said Madeline Manke, 11. “It’s kind of like free time but you’re actually learning something. It’s like school, but not school. It’s hard to explain.”

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