Genius Hour – Toolkit #1

The What, Where, When and How of Genius Hour

The idea of Genius Hour comes from Google. Employees at Google are given 20% of their working hours to focus on projects that they have a passion for. The projects do not have to be related to their work. The idea is that when people work on what they are passionate about their productivity increases and great ideas come from following their passion.

How would this work in a school? Many educators have adapted Google’s idea to fit into a classroom model – Genius Hour. Educators commit to giving students a set amount of time to work on projects that they are passionate about. In a classroom this could look like one block a week (Genius Hour) or a whole day focused on passion-based projects (Innovation Day). Like Google, students are encouraged to find something that interests them and research, create, view, or read about it.

While this may seem like unstructured time to some, the idea is to provide direction and criteria (e.g. students must present their projects or they have to put together a proposal) to make sure that students are using their time wisely. It is up to teachers whether they will assess students’ projects. The purpose is to allow students the freedom of choice and the ability to focus on something that encourages the learning process.

Why?

Why I chose to share this resource and to implement the idea in my classroom – my students. I teach grade 5 and at this age their enthusiasm for learning has not diminished. They are full of ideas and just starting to learn what their passions are. A classroom that supports and encourages students’ passions is one that I want to teach in. I think Genius Hour fits perfectly into the definition of an inclusive classroom from Alberta Education (n.d.), “The goal of an inclusive education system is to provide all students with the most appropriate learning environments and opportunities for them to best achieve their potential” (para. 7). Genius Hour encourages all students to find and explore what they are passionate about regardless of ability. It also creates respect and understanding between students. Students are given the opportunity to show their peers what makes them special and who they are as individuals.

The Critique

Some of the major constraints to implement Genius Hour into the classroom are time and student motivation. Time is a foremost concern for teachers and Genius Hour does take away time from the regular curriculum. I know that many teachers find it a challenge to get through the prescribed curriculum as it without adding “extra” onto an already tight day. Teachers need to decide what direction they want their class to go and if schedule and time away from set curriculum is an issue, Genius Hour may not work for them. Of course, I would argue that even though students may not be focused on specific curriculum outcomes, the skills, knowledge and attitudes that students are working on are part on any Alberta subject curriculum and their projects could be tied to a multitude of different subject outcomes.

Many teachers, including myself, worry about student motivation when it comes time to decide on a project. How will teachers deal with students that are unmotivated, disinterested and become a behaviour problem? This is a concern for me because if I allow students freedom and one or two students abuse that freedom it can really disrupt the objectives of Genius Hour. Oliver Schinkten (2013) addresses this issue in his blog. He states, “You are the spark plug. Passion and Enthusiasm are contagious. If you walk in and try to sit back and check your email…tell kids to be quiet and get to work, threaten taking “points” away…….it will FLOP and you will hate it.” (para. 6).

I would also say that besides time and student motivation a limitation of Genius Hour may be parents and colleagues’ lack of understanding of what is happening in the classroom. They may be concerned about curriculum completion and may question time given to work on “non-curriculum” related projects. Communication is key. A letter sent home explaining to parents how Genius Hour fits into curriculum outcomes and having colleagues take a look at the students’ projects might alleviate any worries.

In terms of affordance, Genius Hour is affordable. Resources (materials and technology) are something that you would want to have a plan for beforehand. These questions should be thought about and discussed with administration: Who will provide the materials? What type of technology will you need?

What Supports and Decisions Are Needed

The first thing that teachers need to realize if they choose to do Genius Hour in their classroom is that they have to be flexible with their time and schedule. A decision needs to be made about a regular time for Genius Hour in the schedule. Teachers also need support from administration. Getting administration on board seems a key to making Genius Hour a success.

Resources

Alberta Education. (n.d.). About an inclusive education system. Retrieved from http://education.alberta.ca/department/ipr/inclusion/about.aspx

Schinkten, O. (2013, June 24). An Important Message About Passion-Based Learning. [Blog]. Retrieved from http://compassionbasedlearning.blogspot.ca/2013/06/an-important-message-about-passion.html?m=1

Website Resources for Genius Hour:

http://geniushour.wikispaces.com/  (Genius Hour Wiki and excellent resources)

http://mrsdkrebs.edublogs.org/2013/01/19/a-year-of-genius-hour-what-have-i-learned/  (A great blog by Denise Krebs)

http://psolarz.weebly.com/37/post/2013/02/creating-passion-projects-genius-hour.html  (Resources of to get students started on choosing a project by Paul Solarz)

http://educationismylife.com/genius-hour-manifesto/  (A guide of how to implement Genius Hour in your classroom)

http://jodipulvers.blogspot.ca/2013/01/genius-hour-for-kindergarten-is-that.html?m=1  (Genius Hour in primary grades and how it can be used in inclusive education by Jodi Pulvers)

http://www.edudemic.com/2013/05/10-reasons-to-try-20-time-in-the-classroom/  (10 Reasons To Try 20% Time In The Classroom)

Twitter

#geniushour – first Wednesday of the month @ 6 PST for Twitter chat

People to follow on Twitter if you are looking for more resources

@gallit_z

@hughtheteacher

@mrsdkrebs

@angelamaiers

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