Genius Hour

Guest blog by Michelle Starcher, librarian at McLean Middle School in Fort Worth.

What is Genius Hour?

As educators, we are often driven by state assessments and district curriculum.  We feel the demands to use every minute of every class period to try and cover everything before the end of the year, which leaves us very little time to allow our students to explore topics and skills that are important to them.  However, research has shown that students respond better and are more motivated to learn when they have choice in their learning. Successful companies like Google and 3M have found success in giving time back to their employees to pursue their own interests, passions, and curiosities (Krebs and Zvi 4). In education, we have keyed the terms Genius Hour, 20% Time, or Passion Project. to describe the opportunity for students to play with their learning and pursue personal projects based on self-selected inquiry questions.

Introducing Genius Hour

This Spring, I had the opportunity to launch Genius Hour with six different groups of 7th graders.  Although I had experience with project-based and inquiry learning, I had never given students free-reign to students to select their topics and take charge of their learning.  Although I was a little intimidated, I didn’t let my fears keep me from giving students the chance to take full control of their learning.

The students and I met every Monday for six-weeks.  During the first week, I introduced Genius Hour to the students, and together we explored what it means to be genius. Following the implementation process in The Genius Hour Guidebook: Fostering Passion, Wonder, and Inquiry in the Classroom, I used their three-step process to introduce the students to the Genius Hour concept.

The first step is to inspire the students. During this stage, I read aloud The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. The book was a starting to point to discuss the idea of genius and the characteristics needed to create something new.  While most of the students embraced the idea of genius being more than intellect. However, there were still students that thought there was only form of genius (intellectual) and ignored any other form of genius (musical, creative, emotional, etc.).   After watching the Kid President video and more discussion, more students were open to the idea of multiple intelligences.

The next step of introducing Genius Hour is the brainstorm passions, wonderings, and ideas that we want to explore during our Monday meetings.  I shared my own interests and ideas for my project, and introduced the graphic organizer students would use for their own brainstorming.  The graphic organizer has four squares with space for students to brainstorm things they wonder about, things they love to do, things they are good at, and things they love to learn (Krebs and Zvi 106).  Students used these lists as we moved into the final step of the launch process, creating an inquiry question.

This was the hardest part of the launch process.  For many students, the wide-open parameters for what they would work on during genius hour was overwhelming. Many students struggled with selecting their own learning topics and creating a plan for what they would work on over the next several weeks.  The students were used to someone else telling them what to do and how.  Krebs and Zvi warned me this could happen: “This can be hard for so many of our students-they are so used to being told what to do, what to learn about, and what to care about. Students need to practice generating ideas and identifying their own areas of passion and interest. With more practice, they will definitely get better at it” (19).

To help students develop their inquiry questions, we discussed the difference between Google-able and non-Google-able questions.  Google-Able questions can be answered easily with only one source of information. Non- Google-able questions require interpretation and judgement, can’t easily be answered using a search engine, and requires multiple sources. In addition, we looked at examples of genius hour projects and inquiry questions. Some of the students were ready to leap into their work during the next class period, but others required more guidance to help find their passion and develop a plan for their work.

Over the next several weeks, students used their time to learn and pursue their own interests.  I did very little direct teaching. Instead, I served as a guide, helping students find resources, connecting them with experts related to their interests, and making sure they had the materials needed for their projects.  Our school’s PTA and staff were very helpful serving as mentors for our students and donating supplies for our recipes, craft projects, etc.  Throughout the process, I monitored students’ progress through Microsoft Forms, our class OneNote Notebook, and in-class conferences.  The students and I communicated through the Remind App as well as the Collaboration Space within the OneNote Notebook.

At the end of the six-week period, students shared what they learned with their classmates.  Some students choose to give a presentation to the class, while others posted videos and digital presentations in the class OneNote Notebook.  We had several students take what they had learned and present it to other classes, with one young lady teaching an elementary class about the effects of Cyber-Bullying.  Projects included cooking demonstrations, architectural plans, art portfolios, donation projects, video games, blogs and websites about sports, crafts, music, etc.

My Reflection

I learned a lot during this six-week genius hour project.  The biggest surprise was how grade focused students are. For many, the learning isn’t their end goal.  Although many the students took advantage of the time in school to learn new things and work on their own personal interests, there were still several students who played it safe and created PowerPoint presentations over generic research topics.  My goal for the next time would be to work with these students to find a topic that is more personal and push them out of their comfort zone a little more.

Krebs, Denise, and Zvi, Gallit. The Genius Hour Guidebook: Fostering Passion, Wonder, and Inquiry in the Classroom. New York: Routledge, 2016. Print.



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