A Constructivist Take On Genius Hour Using Wonder Wall

By: Kimberly Hurd Horst

My first graders and I are so excited to introduce you to our Genius Hour that we call Wonder Wall Wednesdays.

How did wonder Wall Wednesday get its name? At the beginning of the school year which started the end of July, we sat together as a group and wrote down wonders. It was simple to do. You start with the question, “I wonder…?” Because we are using our math time we will stick to wonders that have to do with numbers.  Below you can see our Wonder Wall. It is out in the hallway so our whole school can learn with us if they want to and so that when parents come, they can see it as well. We were so excited to just LOOK at all the things we wondered about.

Here is our first Wonder Wall Wednesday data. One student wanted to know how many kinds of frogs there were in the world. First, we read the question and then we wrote down our guesses. After we talked about our guesses, I showed them how to look up information on the World Wide Web. We talked about Google. We talked about putting in the exact thing we are trying to figure out. This is a crucial step..learning to ask the right question.

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Once we found a few places with facts (and pictures) we were able to find out the answer (about 5000 kinds of frogs/toads).  Then we arranged our answers from the person who got the closest to the person who was the farthest.  We left it up for others to learn from for a week.

Here is another example of our Wonder Wall. On this one, We wondered: How big is space? It was hard for us to fathom this. It is fun to have something to wonder about that you really can’t count. Or that it is such a large number that it pushes the students to the boundaries of their learning. Unimaginable number. For the love of beans, most people can’t even write that number.

We learned that it is dependent on whether you include the area of space where there are tons and tons of comets or whether you stop at Pluto!

We also wondered: How many lockers does our school have? Of course we guessed first. As you can see, we were not exactly close! I didn’t even know. I too did my best guess. It was fun to have something to count…and count we did! We counted the lockers in all four wings of our school. Then we added up the total count. Well, I added it up.

It was fun to have both kinds of wonders that which we can count and that which we can’t.

Here is our Wonder Wall when we could only get one in because of our Oral Reading Survey. This time, a student wanted to know how far away Germany was. We were not sure if we should calculate the hours or the miles so, we did both!  We are learning more each week about asking the right question to get the answer you are looking for and to not ask “Google” more than one question at a time! 🙂

The answer is 4, 431.4 in miles. Google told us that. But our resident expert in all things German, Mrs. Coleman, was able to be our “live” Google down the hall and let us know that it is only 8 hours away in a plane. Now as you can see, NONE of us got it right and that is OK…we are learning about so many things as we do Wonder Wall Wednesday that getting the answer right is NOT the point! But we did learn that Cambridge, MN is not quite close to Germany, where Germany is and that we need to cross the Atlantic to get there.

Wonder Wall Wednesday is all about the students. It is student driven active learning.  In just a small window of time each week, we are able to touch the passions of the student via their wonders, learn about technology and fuse it together with math, social studies, literacy, science and LIFE! For the first grade when we deal with course work, we work on little numbers. That is why Wonder Wall Wednesday is so much fun! We are working with large and abstract numbers in their own reality and going far and above the standard while collecting data recording it and organizing it. We also continue to learn about being a digital citizen and how to find out information! We also work on collaboration and teamwork, essential learning elements of any student today.

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Here are some standards based on Mathematical Practice that we tackle as we do Wonder Wall Wednesday:

1.  Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

2.  Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

3.  Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

4.  Model with mathematics.

5.  Use appropriate tools cialisgeneric20mgbest.com = cheap viagra = canada pharmacy online strategically.

6.  Attend to precision.

7.  Look for and make use of structure.

8.  Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Wonder Wall Wednesday allows for all the  principles of constructivism to be met.  

Principle 1: Posing problems of emerging relevance to students: I am always excited to help the students make predictions to their student generated wonders and I am thrilled when one wonder leads to another wonder. For example…when we studied; “I wonder how much a gallon of ice cream is?” it lead to learning about gallons and averages. Not at all first grade concepts but they wanted to know! This is a worksheet and workbook free zone. Brooks and Brooks would say that in the design of constructivist classrooms, curricular activities rely heavily on primary sources of data and manipulative materials.  That is why we go straight to the internet as well to find and learn about primary sources and also I get to coach students on being a digital citizen.

Principle 2: Structuring learning around primary concepts: The quest for essence:  Together we are stronger as we link relevant facts together and learn from each other. As we deal with large numbers, my first graders are learning to go farther. When one student guessed that Germany was only 10 miles away or that deep space was 100 miles away now, they are getting better at forming numbers of greater amounts and lining them up with what we learned so when we were answering the question, “I wonder how far it is to the center of the earth?” Our numbers were not two digit numbers! I call that success! Brooks and Brooks suggest that this way, curriculum is presented whole to part with emphasis on big concepts.

Principle 3: Seeking and valuing students’ points of view:  I love this! I love when students show me their thinking. I think along with them when we do our Wonder Wall Wednesday. The honor of guiding their thinking never escapes me. It is a window to the future of the world. I get to build their knowledge!

Principle 4: Adapting curriculum to address students’ suppositions This principle allows me to think back to thinking outside the box of small numbers and bridge their thinking between what they know, and what they don’t know. Again building numbers out of the two digit numbers to broad numbers and uncountable numbers is crucial.

Principle 5: Assessing student learning in the context of teaching:  I do not grade anything formally. I like the idea of watching them operate day to day and specifically week to week as our Wonder Wall Wednesday grows and grows. I can see how they are approaching numbers in such an organic way and see where they are stuck. Brooks and Brooks would suggest that the assessment of student learning is interwoven with teaching and occurs through teacher observations of students at work and through student exhibitions and portfolios. For example, as we collect data I can see what how they are applying what we are learning to this activity. Excellent!

Problem based learning, Constructivist Learning, Genius Hour, Passion Time, Twenty Percent Time, or Wonder Wall Wednesday is a beautiful way to learn, but from my front porch looking out at the students working in front of me, engaged, energized, I realize how fortunate I am to be in this sacred space in their lives. It creates meaningful work, develops disciplined inquiry filled with big ideas and provides alternative learning opportunities. It also comes with high expectations as the students even at a young age cultivate their critical and creative thinking and explore the vigor and challenge of it all. It is worth every second of my time, to engage in this face to face time we set aside to just…wonder.

Brooks, J.G.,& Brooks, M.G. (1999). In search for understanding: The case for constructivist classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


I have been teaching since 1994. I am passionate about teaching. You can empower others in their life by facilitating in them the love of learning, for it is a life long skill that even I as a teacher have still a daily yearning for.

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3 comments on “A Constructivist Take On Genius Hour Using Wonder Wall
  1. I love this idea of wonder Wesnesday. We do Tweets on Tuesdays so this would be perfect on Wednesdays. It is a simple thing that could be done to increase the passion for learning.

  2. Rick Brigman says:

    Thanks for sharing this idea! A Wonder Wall is a great way to help my newcomer ELL students learn about topics that are important to them, develop their research/computer skills, and encourage them to use their English in an authentic way, that is to find the answers to their questions.

  3. Alice L. says:

    Kim, love this! Thank you for taking the time to share your experience with Wonder Wall Wednesdays. So excited about what’s possible when curiosity is allowed to be one of the key drivers in learning. Have you heard of Sugata Mitra’s S.O.L.E.’s (http://www.ted.com/pages/sole_toolkit)?

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  1. […] the discovery of “wonder wall Wednesday” via my G4 teacher (@msmcdsclass) finding http://geniushour.com/2013/10/06/a-constructivist-take-on-genius-hour-using-wonder-wall/ And I love the concept of an introduction to the concept that appears much better planned out than […]