10 Tips on Starting a Student Led Tech Squad at Your School

I have beegenius Bar logon running a student led Genius Squad with my 7th and 8th grade students since the first day of the school year. Our Genius Squad is modeled after the Apple Store’s Genius Bar and offers help to both students and faculty on the technology needs of the school. It provides students leadership opportunities in the area of STEM and fills a need in our school. We meet for a 17 minute advisory class each day. As this time is short and often filled with announcements and paper passing, we sometimes meet outside of class to train and take care of various projects.

After 8.5 weeks of running the program, I present this list of the top 10 things you should do when starting up your student run Genius Squad:

  1. Start Small!
    I was so excited to start Genius Squad that I volunteered a rather large task for GB students to run training sessions for the 6th grade class on our online grading system. I thought having a meaningful project at the onset of school would excite and motivate the students. While it had the intended effect, it distracted us from number 2 below–>
  2. Begin with TeamBuilding
    Any club, arguably any classroom, or organization should start with team-building, I know this…. But did I do it? Nope. This was because I didn’t start small. It wasn’t until 6 weeks in that I looked back and realized that my students didn’t even know each other’s names! I have since reorganized and played getting to know you games, which the kids love. How can students really be a team, when they know so little about each other, other than the fact that they both want to be part of this technology leadership organization? Don’t skip the fundamental part of building culture and team-building. I have great students, but they need to build relationships before we can move on to the technology needs of the school.
  3. Don’t let negative feedback dishearten you.
    When you try something new for the first time, you are bound to make mistakes. We tried to utilize all our computer labs at our school to do the 6th grade trainings, even though some labs were not set up properly. Unfortunately one of the four classrooms did not go smoothly as students were trained in a Mac Lab and there were certain PC issues that they didn’t foresee, as well as there were additional problems regarding the class logistics that was challenging. I heard from a colleague how disorganized and frustrating the 24 minute process was.  While this feedback was helpful, and helped me to change up the trainings out of the PC lab the next day, I was later confronted by another colleague who reprimanded my lack of preparation. With the help of a fantastic administrator I focused on the positive 1 out of 5 classrooms of students successfully accessing the program, and all Genius Squad students learning leadership skills. Focus on the good feedback, learn from the negative, but don’t let it dishearten you.  Realize that you are trying something amazing for the first time and it is bound to have some hiccups. If colleagues complain, they don’t understand the entire picture.
  4. Compliment your students on their work and effort.
    Students are part of a leadership organization. Give them accolades, say thank you and compliment all of their hard work. Though I heard negative feedback and was discouraged from the event above, I kept it away from my students. Two weeks ago, I  invited the students who were showing extra involvement in the club’s activities to an end of lunch pie treat as a thank you for their diligence. This had the added benefit of fostering camaraderie between these members.
  5. Divide club into manageable committees.
    A group of 25 students is pretty big for a Genius Bar of students seeking technology leadership in the school as all have different skill sets and abilities. Create committees to make the club parts more manageable. I came up with 3 committees:
    a. Peer Group     b. Teacher Group    c. Video Production Group
    There are about 8 students per committee which gives students a focus. Committees sometimes have a meeting outside of advisory for group trainings which keeps the trainings to a manageable training size.
  6. Allow students to fail.
    Students will have awesome ideas, and they may lack skills of making the project become a reality. Guide them, help them, but allow them to fail. Failure allows reflection and growth. If you always jump in to save the project, they will lack the skill of creating something to fruition.  Though this doesn’t mean staying aloof. For example we have student sessions where a group of 2-3 Genius Bar students lead an early morning class to each interested students how to do something with technology. A few weeks ago two 8th graders led a session on the program StoryboardThat. The following week other students were supposed to teach a session on Tagul. However the group wasn’t ready to go. Instead of jumping in, making copies, helping lead the session and rescuing the session, we decided that the group needed more time to prepare their session, as they didn’t have a clear plan.
  7. Have students figure out strategies for improvement
    We have a teacher group initiative of Tech Tip Tuesdays where Genius Bar students meet with interested teachers during lunch to give them some technology tips that they might want to use in their classroom.  The first TTT about Genius Bar was well received by 10 interested staff. Our next TTT on Kahoot was last Tuesday and only 3 teachers showed up (myself, another computer teacher who already uses Kahootit in her class, and an English teacher. At our last meeting students discussed why there was such a low teacher turnout and what we could do in the future to have a better teacher turn out. It was great to have student input and ideas.
  8. Don’t do everything yourself
    You will stress yourself out! Indeed I worked 5-8 hours extra a week on the club for the first 6 weeks, now I work an additional 2. While my heart was in the right place at the beginning of the year, I could not keep up this many hours with the club. You have a team of students, figure out ways to work smarter, not harder and use the resources at your disposal.
  9. Quote about never being ready and just doing it NOW!Give students leadership
    Because I wanted to set up a perfect Genius Squad, I tried to organize everything in the beginning and burned out 6 weeks in to the year. Though I presented a student run club, it wasn’t student led. I wanted to give students leadership, but just didn’t know how or when. I was stressed, but I didn’t feel the students were ready. In actuality I wasn’t ready. I read this quote by Hugh Laurie about 3 weeks ago and I decided to just do it. I chose a leader in each of the 3 parts of the club & 1 club webmaster and we now meet together once a week during lunch.  I facilitate the meeting and provide an agenda of basics to the 4 leaders; the leaders in turn pass on information to their groups. It has been working well. Students rise to leadership positions. The 4 students now monitor and lead the club. The club is still led by me, but by December, I will designate a club president who will monitor the 4 students and then my role will become more of a facilitator. I’m hoping that this will be set up from the getgo next year as the 7th graders will be leading the club next year as 8th graders and will understand the organization of the club.
  10. Seek help by Connecting with others who run similar clubs.
    I don’t have anyone on campus that leads a tech club, but I did go talk to the teacher in charge of Student Council. She also runs this class in advisory and it was so great to meet with her to talk about how she helps build leadership skills in her students. There are also other people that are running clubs at other schools. I went to a CUE session last March and learned how a middle school in San Diego is running their Genius Bar program and plan on connecting more with the school to collaborate. Here is information to their resources. Both Mari Venturino & Alicia Johal are educators who would be glad to connect regarding how to run a Genius Bar. Here is a link to their blog and resources: technologyqueens

I would also be glad to share more information with anyone wanting to start up a program at their school.  

Categories: Genius Squad

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