It’s been a while since I’ve added to this blog. However, I’m currently working on a project that I’m 100% excited about. Earlier in the year, some of my colleagues discussed a new phenomena called “Genius Hour.” As I transitioned back to the classroom (from an instructional coaching position) and continued with my graduate courses in library sciences, I barely had a chance to wrap my head around another new concept. In the final quarter of the year, I decided to take the plunge and join in the fun though.
What is Genius Hour?
If you’ve never heard of Genius Hour, it is a movement that originates from the Google workplace. Google allows its workers to spend 20% of their time working on projects that ignite their passions. This movement has connected to schools and teachers are dedicating an hour of instructional time to more independent, creative products.
What is Genius Hour 6? How did it start?
When I decided to incorporate this practice, we were entering the final quarter of the year. Each quarter includes 9 weeks of instruction. I factored in lost time and other end-of-the-year disruptions and landed on 6 sessions that would take place every Friday. To prepare students, I had them read an article about Genius Hour and look at a site that featured a list of student ideas and projects. I had students brainstorm projects they might be interested in designing and then we shared our ideas collectively. The planning sheet we used can be viewed here. We discussed reasonable goals for a series of six sessions. After the initial pre-planning session, I told students they would have six more sessions to complete their project. Since some students flipped between ideas and found it difficult to commit, I asked them to focus on a theme of community service and giving back to the local area. Ideas really began to unfold with such a tangible suggestion.
What types of projects did students select?
Students selected from a wide range of individualized research and group endeavors directed at some type of service or change. Others floundered until I could conference with them one-on-one. Our final ideas included:
- re-evaluating the dress code (four finger rule with tank tops and top of one’s first knuckle with shorts)
- creating a Free Art Space for students not enrolled in art but who want to showcase their work.
- organizing permission slips, phone calls, and staying after school for a group of cookie bakers who wanted to raise a minimum of $72.00 for the local chapter of the Salvation Army.
- a lunch group of volunteers to help the school custodian
- individually researching a famous artist or musician
Challenges? Navigating difficulties.
Organizing Genius Hour takes time and effort. The noise level grows with enthusiasm, and it begins to feel like instructional chaos. Sometimes you need extra hands to film, chaperone, or accompany students to the nearby elementary school so they can read to younger students. Sometimes a group needs to ask the principal something but he/she is unavailable or it is a hectic time of year. I was able to navigate some of these difficulties by reaching out to my instructional coach for support, using my teaching assistant (available during one of my three blocks), splitting responsibilities with my collaborative teaching partner (during another one of my other blocks), and using my lunch duty time to pepper my principal with short, to-the-point questions. In the latter scenario, I still had students write letters of request to the principal but told them I would be her filter. I simply boiled their letters and requests down to a simple question so I could gather an answer to share with the group before the next Genius Hour.
Where are We Now?
We are about to have session 4 of 6 this Friday. I conference with each group during the designated hour and I’ve encouraged every student to share work with an authentic audience. One student is researching Latino musicians. This was an area of personal interest and I encouraged her to share her work publicly by creating a visual poster on easel.ly. I told her we could display her work during Latino Heritage month (September 15th – October 15th). She was excited by the idea of sharing in a meaningful manner. I can’t wait to see final student products and I’ve shared a simplistic rubric that makes students accountable for creating some type of tangible product that they can share with the class. In the meantime, I’ve been asking students to log their work on a weekly log. If you’re interested in Genius Hour but you don’t know where to start, I hope this blog lays out some concrete steps.