21st Century Learning
Genius Hour Begins

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Warning! This is a bit of a long post but there is video and free resources if you are patient!

This year, I have been trying to work on hacking my classroom and doing something different. While some of ideas have not come to fruition yet or have yet to happen due to budgetary considerations, one of the things I had been very interested in doing this year was Genius Hour.

So a funny thing happened at the beginning of the school year. In August, I had stumbled upon an article talking about Google and how they allowed their employees to take 20% of their time to work on projects they were passionate about (apparently the concept comes from before Google but I think Google is the popular example). Out of that freedom came programs like Gmail. I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do something like that in school?” thinking of course that I was being totally original. I was so excited to tell a friend and fellow teacher about my idea and, lo and behold, she had heard of this fantastic idea called Genius Hour. So, of course, I was totally not in any way original in my idea. No where close. I should have known better. Doing a quick search brought up tons of resources, including a fantastic LiveBinder at http://www.livebinders.com/play/play?id=829279 which had lots of great background and information. I then discovered that schoology was hosting a course on implementing Genius Hour in the school which my friend and I both signed up for.

But maybe I am getting ahead of myself. For those who don’t know what Genius Hour is, it is a time in the school week, approximately 1hr long, where students get to learn about and/or create things that they are passionate about. It is the one time of the school week/year where teachers don’t tell students what to learn or do (beyond the obvious overseeing of ideas to ensure safety and appropriateness). Students then present their finished products to an audience of peers and adults along the lines of a TEDtalks. Students are in charge of every part of their project and the presentation. There are many ways to do it. Some classes have students do it for a mark, while others advocate not grading it as the passion will provide it’s own motivation. We are somewhere in-between, where we are not marking the final project but are marking the process. The great thing is that it covers scads of curriculum objectives which students don’t even realize as they are excitedly working on their projects.

Fast forward to this week. We had wanted to do this earlier in the school year but of course, life got in the way. However, being on the admin team at my school and being Head Teacher for the intermediates (Grades 4-6), I mentioned the idea to our principal, who loved it, forcing us (happily) to make it a priority and get our butts into gear. Here is the rationale I used:

Rationale:

  • Unify learning at school, learning at home, and learning anywhere, anytime.
  • Empower learners to engage in and reflect on their own learning and inquiry processes.
  • Encourage interest- and passion-driven learning.
  • Integrate peers, parents, communities, and global networks into the inquiry process.

Before Christmas break, we put together a general timeline to get going on and then, in late January, had some subs brought in to allow us some concentrated planning time where we were able to put together a full timeline for implementation, an outline of our Kick-off assembly, the rubric we were going to use, a parent letter and a student letter, a booklet to record the planning, and some reflection pages.

Prior to the kick-off assembly, we did a couple of activities with the students. The first activity was to create a wonder wall where students brainstormed ideas for things they were curious about and things they were passionate about. On a separate day, we gave students a sheet of paper with a clock face on it but with no numbers or other details. The first time we did the activity, we gave students 10 secs to create something using parts of the clockface. As you can imagine, students didn’t get too much down. Later on in the day, we did the activity again but this time we gave them 10 mins. The differences in creativity were obvious. We then talked about how creativity takes time not mentioning anything about the upcoming Genius Hour but stating that these activities along with the Wonder Wall were both hints of something big that was going to happen on Monday. So on Monday, we did our big kick-off and it was fantastic. The kids were initially shocked but quickly got excited. We had videos on creativity, what Genius Hour was, inspiring people who had lived their lives doing things they were passionate about and details on how Genius Hour would work.

We started off with this video as the intro before we even said hello to the kids.

Kid President is amazing. Unfortunately, I can’t put the entire presentation slides on here with the videos, but I am very happy to share our outline with links to the videos we used.

One of the other things that I liked about what we did in planning for this, is the idea of including ourselves in the Genius Hour time. We wanted to show students that we are also continuous learners and there are things that we still, even as adults, want to learn about and create. Prior to the kick-off, each teacher (and there are three of us doing this, two of the teachers team teaching the Grade 6 and myself teaching Grade 4) did a project which we presented to the students, talking about why we did the project we chose, what we needed to do, the resources we needed, the challenges and the final product, much like we expect the students to do. The kids loved seeing our final products and hearing about our challenges. I had done a Lego stop motion movie (very timely, with the Lego Movie coming out this weekend). It turned out not too bad, but, as I told the students, I had a lot of challenges and definitely would do things differently next time. Here is the video I made. Be warned, it is very cheesy! 🙂

Each of the teachers is going to continue to work on projects at the same time as the other students as best as we can.

Also included in the timeline are the other activities we have done this week as we helped students to generate ideas for their Genius Hour project. Some students already had their ideas right off the bat where others didn’t. We are also using a site called DIY.org to help students find ideas and information on things they might be interested in. They don’t necessarily have to the use the site, (which is awesome and sort of like a digital version of the cub scout badge idea) but it has lots of great information and videos on what students can do with a topic they are interested in but need to narrow down.

We also developed a booklet for students to record their planning in, as well as a rubric and reflection page.

Genius Hour Planning Document

So, that’s where we are right now. The kids are incredibly excited and have lots of great ideas already. We know that there will be some issues we will have to deal with and it won’t all be smooth sailing but it will definitely be a fun time of learning and seeing kids really passionate about something they are interested in learning more about.

Some of the questions we know we will have to face already are:

  • What to do with students who don’t bring their resources to school? This is one of the reasons we added the reflection page. We don’t want students to necessarily working on their projects at home. It is supposed to primarily be a school project, which is why we are giving them the time. If they are doing it all at home, then they won’t have anything to work on at school.
  • What to do about students needing computer/internet access? We already have kids wanting to do minecraft related things and we are worried that we won’t have the technology we need to allow students to do their projects at school. We do have a class set of Chromebooks coming but they won’t be here for a bit.
  • How to handle students who want to do things that we don’t agree with. While we haven’t had anything yet that falls into this category, it could definitely be something that comes up. We don’t want to necessarily want squash their passionate ideas but do have an obligation to think about the safety and welfare of students.
  • Dealing with the overwhelming nature of helping students all doing something different.

We are all very excited about this and are looking forward to seeing the great ideas and projects created. It will be very interested to see what students do when they are motivated by passion and not so much about grades.