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Smith Teacher Expands Learning Platforms for All Students

Click on the page for Gifted Education at Smith Middle School (SMS) and prepare to be delighted by the range of interests and talents reflected in the work of students there, as well as the many invitations to create projects from novel writing to coding to videos about cooking, cartooning and fashion design. Gifted Education Specialist, Kim Lane, has developed a host of options for any student at SMS to find and explore their passions.

SMS smiddeo baker “I organize both Genius Hour and Smiddeo, which is an online community for students to share their talents,” Lane said. “While I serve to differentiate curriculum in the regular-ed classrooms, a large part of my job is to support ALL students in discovering and developing their talents. And without Dr. Buckrham’s support for some of these ideas I come up with, it would be so much more difficult to make it all happen.”

Genius Hour is a personalized pursuit of learning offered in many classrooms across the district and country, based on a concept introduced in the 1950’s by 3M, and developed as a business model by Google, who encouraged employees to spend 20% of their time creating passion projects. Lane is a long-time believer and advocate of the approach to learning.

“I meet weekly with Genius Hour students,” said Lane. “It's totally voluntary, and this year, I happen to have a number of coders who are building and sharing such interesting stuff. I also have several novelists who completed NaNoWriMo, and we met weekly in November as they composed original novels. Building small communities among these unique talents has brought kids together to celebrate who and what they are.”

A primary platform for passion projects at SMS is Smiddeo, created by Lane, who is a web designer (in addition to being a musician, songwriter, teacher… you name it!) “I built Smiddeo from the ground up,” said Lane. “Our community needed a remote, safe place for students to ‘show us your smart.’ It's an invitation to get your genius on -- especially for those whose ‘smart’ may be non-academic or non-performative. How many coders and programmers participate in talent shows for an audience? How many kid cooks can demonstrate their genius in the mainstream school environment? By fully embracing the potential of remote access to students, we get fuller access to our kids' whole selves. It also allows students to show us how to learn a skill--they're the experts, and that's empowering.”

SMS cartooning Smiddeo Two students who have dived headlong into the Smiddeo platform are sixth grader, Maya Thomas, a serious, fledgling baker, and seventh grader, Cooper Rector, a cartoonist who has introduced his animated character, Dexter the Dog through a How-to video. 

Thomas has shared videos showing viewers how to make apple crumble and mashed sweet potatoes, as well as pumpkin spice cupcakes, and she is expanding Maya’s Bakery Corner, a website to showcase her recipes. 

In another Smiddeo, Rector displays his original comic creation, Dexter--and walks viewers through the steps of how to draw him. “Future creator of heroes to whom we can all relate!” writes Lane.

Lane said her regular Genius Hour and Smiddeo rotation serves 120 students, spread across numerous endeavors. “I also see an uptick of students when a short-term event piques their interest,” she said. “That's a lot of students, so I meet with them at diverse times, in small interest groups, and individually. They include podcasters, poets, artists, builders, social activists, and curiosity seekers of all genders, races, and backgrounds.”

Principal Dr. Robin Buckrham, said, “At R.D. and Euzelle Smith Middle School, we believe that all students have giftedness in their own ways, and Mrs. Lane has become our ‘talent detective,’ helping us nurture giftedness in everyone. From the LEAP Program to the traditional classroom settings, we seek to find ‘the gift’ in all our students and help them develop that in their own ways, allowing for creativity and authenticity every step of the way.”

“We're committed to providing access to advancement for all. Believe it or not, the pandemic and remote instruction expanded my ability to serve in more creative, wide-ranging ways,” said Lane. “Genius Hour is a part of that -- highly accessible, because it is part of our remote schedule. Under the umbrella of Genius Hour, I also do specialty events, such as November's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month.) In December, I am collecting video submissions for a schoolwide remote talent show. For students who struggle to build and sustain an independent Genius Hour project, these focus events are an invitation to be part of something more specific and time-limited, and they build community with others who share their interests.”

“I work with, and beyond, labels of giftedness. I can have individual or small-group coaching sessions that range from active novel writing workshops, to having programmers get feedback on how to improve their video game code. For LEAP and other gifted-education students, it also provides them access to the wider school community of diverse thinkers and doers. LEAP students are heavy Genius Hour attendees, and so are students from the regular-ed population. It's been wonderful for our sixth graders, who are building community with kids that they would otherwise not meet in person.”

“What I know is that every student wants to learn something. It may not be exactly what we're teaching in the curriculum, but I can guarantee you they want to learn something. And that's where my work starts. Find the something.”