The genius hour movement in education takes it lead from Google, where 20% of the work week, people work on a project of their choosing that will benefit Google. The thought behind this is that it will allow workers to become more creative and innovative. Imagine, time to explore what you want to explore. Pure genius!
I first learned about this about 4 years ago when I was teaching grade 4. I heard rumblings of it on twitter. I researched. I mulled it over. I questioned and then I held my breath and jumped in. I had students fill out plan on what and how they were going to study. I wanted the genius hour time to be spent working, not trying to figure out what to research. This was done a few days in advance so we could have time to change if needed and also time to check the websites (student computers do not have access to some website).
The day of my first genius hour, I just let them go. I am more of a just start and then pull them back in if/when needed type of teacher, sometimes that is good, sometimes it is not so good. I made sure they had the supplies they needed and their plan of study and then I set them off. I gave them no other directions, no worksheets or no assistance. They could work where they wanted to work and how they wanted to work. After about 5 minutes, I looked around. Everyone was working. No one was not focused. I stepped back and I began to film. That very first genius hour, students were working on:
- Rainbow loom – watching videos, rewinding, rewatching, following directions
- A picture book on animals for lower grades
- A movie about a grandfather who had just passed away suddenly
- Catching as in baseball
- How to wrap a hockey stick
There are no words to describe what I saw. These 9 year olds did not need me. They were learning on their own. They were persevering and showing incredible focus. They only looked around because they were excited to see what their friends were doing.
The next morning, I watched the tape I had taken and I cried like a baby. Seriously, tears. This was the classroom that I had been wanting. Students highly engage in a learning activity of their choice and me acting like a coach or completely fading into the background.
Since then, I have continued with Genius Hour (and I would still list it as mine and my students’ favorite time), even as I was moved to grade three. We do it about once or twice a month. Students still need to fill out forms beforehand. I need them to have some ownership over their project (and we still need to check the websites). If they don’t, I choose the activity for them. Students are allowed to miss recess for help in this part if needed.
I have learned that each class has its own “thing”. Some years it is the current fad (this year I had a student create a fidget spinner, some years it is rainbow loom), famous people research, or creating posters of facts. This year, my students are loving coding and STEM challenges. They also love crafts; like knitting and creating blankets.
Genius Hour projects don’t always work and there isn’t always a final product. Some students like to work on theirs for a few periods; most grade three students are one and done and then move on to something else.
Some students love to work with one or two partners, some always work alone. Some love to gather information while others prefer to work with their hands. All students love to listen to their classmates share out at the end.
What I have learned, is that when students are truly passionate in what they are learning, all other problems go away. During Genius Hour, no one student is more gifted than another. They are all gifted, they all amazing and they all have something to teach.