Genius Hour – The hour that changed my classroom!

Genius Hour Collage

I have never been one for stereotypes.  In fact, I have prided myself in breaking as many as I could in my life.  So when I spent the summer preparing for a classroom full of hyperactive, athletic-minded, school-averse boys, I knew that I was also preparing for similarly minded girls.  I mean let’s face it, good teaching is good teaching, and I was prepared to do ANYTHING to make my class an ideal learning environment for all of my active, curious, hands-on kids.  

Enter Genius Hour.  I had read about Genius Hour for several years and LOVED the idea, but was frankly terrified of the risk it posed to my heavily structured, highly disciplined teaching style.  But coming off of maternity leave after a summer of soul-searching, I was prepared to take the leap.  What could I lose?

Modeled after Google’s 20 Percent Projects where employees spent roughly one day a week working on the passion projects that brought us Gmail, Google Talk, and Google Sky, Genius Hour offers students time at school to explore their passion, whatever it may be within reason.   In the words of my student, Ashley, “Genius Hour is one hour a week to work on your passion, something you have always wanted to learn but do not have time to do at home.”  

Students highlight and research their passions and develop products or skills that they then present to the class, discussing the mistakes they made along the way, how these mistakes shaped their product, and what they would do differently next time.  The projects cater to the interests of each individual.   For example, Ashley wanted to learn a new language. She shared, “I have always wanted to learn French but never have the time or focus at home.  Since I am already at school and focused, I can turn this focus to my passion for this one hour, and then back to reality.  I live for Genius Hour!”  

Genius Hour transformed my classroom and my entire approach to classroom learning.  It also opened the doors for me to be recognized as a Teacher of the Year Semi-Finalist for Orange County in 2016!  It is incredible what letting go of the reigns and putting the learning decisions into the hands of your students can do! 

In just two years of implementing Genius Hour in my class, I have seen projects in film making, animation, photography, fine arts, needlepoint, coding, novel and screenwriting, modeling, music mixing and composition, architectural and fashion design, video game creation, app design, and robotics!  We have also had small businesses started and several non-profit organizations created!  One in particular, Just for You, is hosted on raising money to create care packages for cancer patients to help them feel cared for and loved.  The sky really is the limit when you give the power to learn to the learner.  

I have learned to say “Yes” to all forms of ideas, trusting my students’ visions, and guiding them to plan, problem solve, and THINK through their processes.  Since this hour is a privilege, productivity throughout the week is higher than ever before.  Students who never turned in homework now frantically complete it so they can participate.  

My students have repeatedly impressed me with the scope, depth, and risk of their projects, proving how capable they are when it is their ideas motivating them.  I give them the gift of time to develop their passions, bringing innovation, entrepreneurialism, personalization, and FUN to school in an experimentally constructive, artistic, and challenging way.  I know this is exceptional teaching because it is what I want for my son, my new definition of greatness.  

This attitude of “Yes” has also helped me at home with my now 22-month-old son, Beau, as he explores his baby-passions and artistic flares.  Choo-choos and the same time?  I say, “Yes!”  They can go hand in hand, and we all learn more for it!  


5 thoughts on “Genius Hour – The hour that changed my classroom!”

  1. Great endorsement for Genius Hour! I also would like to do it but fear giving up the time and control. I like that is used as an earned privilege for getting the week’s assignments complete. Thanks for sharing your great blog!

    1. One hour a week is not much to give up for the buy-in to school that it brings. Kids get so little control at school as it is, this validates their interests and shows them that you trust and believe in them. They own this one hour and will work harder for you for every other one. So worth it!

  2. Brilliant! We hope that our children’s teachers implement something like this–it is a unique strategy that involves teachers to become vulnerable, just as you mentioned. Many teachers may not be prepared to do this, so how can we as mothers do this at home with them? I am sure that other Mommy’s would love the guidance!

    1. At home is easy…let your kids PLAY! Let them play with toys, of course, but let them also explore “unusual” objects or push them to see normal toys in unusual ways. See what they create and what new ideas this unstructured play sparks. Just by watching my son, Beau, play with the Tupperware, I learn so much about him and his innate interests that he is too young to communicate to me verbally. I know that he is a natural stacker, he understands order and is actually quite particular about things being in their place. Learning this by observing him, I can ask him specific questions about his choices and encourage him to try new applications. He loves to paint and is deliberate about mixing colors, so I have experimented with giving him just red and yellow so he can see how orange appears, just blue and yellow he can make green appear. I have also tried giving him just blue and white so he can see the varieties of tints he can make. All the while, I am mentioning how neat his “magic” is and using some bigger vocabulary to expand his thinking. None of this has to be structured. Fun is the name of the game! And saying “yes” to some of their more unusual requests (within reason) can turn any playtime into a Genius Hour!

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