Reflecting on Genius Hour

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I’ve been hearing a lot about a project-based learning model known as Genius Hour (or 20 Time or Passion Projects), and I really wanted to give it a try at my school this year, but I wasn’t sure how to best go about it.  Last month I finally took the plunge with a class whose teacher was willing to give the idea a try.

The stars just seemed to align with the following events happening within a two-week span:

  • GeniusCon Session presented at TLCafe by Matthew Winner (aka The Busy Librarian) and Sherry Gick (aka The Library Fanatic) sharing how they provided time for their students to ponder the question “If you could change one thing about your school, what would you do?
  • Doodle 4 Google Contest  – this year’s creative prompt was “If I could invent one thing to make the world a better place…”
  • A discussion with a third grade teacher who does a unit on Inventions with her students every year

I was inspired to plan a 4-week project that would get kids thinking about making a difference in the world, and would lead into their upcoming class project on designing and “building” a musical instrument.

Students began the project by brainstorming in groups.

Week 1 involved introducing the Doodle 4 Google contest, hearing from several Google artists via video about the sources of their inspiration, and engaging in some collaborative brainstorming.  Kids discussed what inspires them (music, nature, books, etc) and we made a rule that no one would say anything negative about someone else’s idea.  Students wrote their answer to the writing prompt “The world would be better if…” and then we passed the papers around for five minutes to give everyone time to add a response to the ideas on the papers at his/her table.  (Click here to see my presentation and notes.)

We used a book pass so students could examine and make notes on real inventions that changed the world.Week 2 involved a pep talk from Kid President, a look at some real inventions at the Inventive Kids website which were created and marketed by kids, and a Book Pass using books about inventors and inventions.  Several students ended up checking out  books to take with them, and many were surprised to learn that kids have successfully created and marketed real inventions!  Making a real-world connection was very motivating!  (Click here to see my presentation and notes.)

Students drew and wrote about their inventions.Week 3 was “get down to business” time!  We heard from Kid President again as he embarked on his own journey to create an invention that would make the world a better place for his cat, and we discussed the idea that sometimes an idea won’t work, and you have to try something different.  Then students finalized the details of their inventions and completed any necessary research.  Finally, everyone drew a picture and/or diagram of the invention, and wrote a paragraph explaining what it is and what it does.

Finished DoodleWeek 4 was done in collaboration with our school’s art teacher as she helped them transform their invention ideas into Google Doodles.  She guided the students to think about ways to turn the letters in the word GOOGLE into invention components and how they could convey the idea of their inventions visually.  There was a definite buzz of excitement in the room as the students traded ideas and drew their Doodles, and at the end of it all they were really proud of what they had created.

In designing the project, I tried to focus on the key ideas that with Genius Hour projects there is no one right answer, and that working together and encouraging one another allows everyone to achieve better results.  Since we met in the library, we were able to spread out and have noisy tables and quiet tables, group areas and independent work areas, research areas and drawing areas, etc.  This busy, noisy, creative atmosphere was a change for the students from the “eyes on your own paper, write the correct answers to these questions, turn in your work so I can grade it” atmosphere that is so often required at school!

Throughout the sessions, I tried to keep in mind these words from Matthew Winner:

“Guide your students, but allow them to try new ideas that may lead to both successes and failures. Your students will be challenged (as will you), but will walk away with a sense of pride and ownership in all they accomplished.”

Student ResearchingIn reflecting on the time I spent with the students, I feel like it was perhaps a little more structured than is usual in Genius Hour learning.  However, I think the specific goals kept the students focused on their thinking and learning as they adjusted to the idea of greater freedom in how they approached the project.  The group activities reinforced my message of collaboration, imagination, inspiration, and creation, and I believe they were necessary for students to be able to work productively outside the box.

We actually could have used one more session for students to really polish up their ideas, but we lost some school days due to bad weather and we were up against the Google contest deadline so we had to finish up more quickly than I would have liked.  In the future I will budget more time than I think we will actually need, which I find is helpful with most projects!

Have you done a Genius Hour project with your students?  Please leave a comment — I’d love to hear about it!


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