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 GoFundMe.com 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 painting...at the same time? I say, “Yes!” They can go hand in hand, and we all learn more for it!