Sunday, June 26, 2016

Genius Hour: What I learned this year!

Genius Hour. Passion Projects. 20% Projects. All of these names are different, but the soul of each name is allowing students to dive in deep about one of their passions and let them FLY. If you are not familiar with the idea it is based off of Google’s 20% rule. They give their workers 20% of their work time to work on a project that they are passionate about as long as it is connected to Google in someway. For example GMAIL came from a 20% project. Over the past few years Genius Hour has become part of classrooms all over the world!

I have done some sort of Genius Hour project in my classroom since I started teaching back in the 90’s. I worked in Mexico for my first 10 years of teaching and we used the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM). SEM provides opportunities for students to explore their interests in topics through Type 2 and Type 3 projects. If a student was interested in a topic he/she would work in the Center of Excellence (COE) room with the Gifted teacher. We strongly believed that ALL kids showed giftedness in different areas at different times. So the COE was a revolving door of sorts. Kids would work on projects for a few weeks and then a new group would come in.  I love so many aspects of using the Schoolwide Enrichment Model. I especially LOVED the training we received from Dr. Renzulli and Dr. Reis from The University of Connecticut.  If you ever want to attend a tremendous training on differentiation, curriculum compacting, passion projects, creativity attend CONFRATUTE! It is worth every single penny!

The difference between our Type 3 projects from long ago to Genius Hour now is that we are ALL working on a project in our classroom. I love this inclusion piece. I love how we all help each other. I love when a student is researching for his own project and he runs across something for someone else’s project and is SO EXCITED TO SHARE. I love how we celebrate all of the stages of a Genius Hour project for every student.

I have learned so much about my students through Genius Hour this year. Genius Hour is always popular in my class, but this year it just exploded of happiness and rigor! I have been reflecting on what made this year different and am excited to share with you what I have learned.

In the book “Kids Deserve It!” by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome they talk a lot about finding your tribe. I sometimes feel lonely in my work. I tend to do things a bit differently and don’t always know whom to talk with to reflect on how things are going. This year I started using Twitter and Voxer on a daily basis. This has provided a tremendous support for me. When I came across a situation with Genius Hour I could tweet out to #GeniusHour to ask for some help problem solving. Or I could Vox with some teachers who use Genius Hour. I think I thought I needed to figure things out on my own, but have found this year that having a tribe is SO MUCH better.
I love the book “Teach Like a Pirate” by Dave Burgess. One of my favorite quotes from the book is “Provide an uncommon experience for your students and they will reward you with an uncommon effort and attitude.” This quote has been my guide for a long time, but I hadn’t realized how much it relates to Genius Hour until this year. Giving students a CHOICE is an uncommon experience for them. Letting them choose their topic, how to present their learning, and where they want to present their learning are THREE different uncommon experiences for them in a school setting. It was a lot of work to schedule 23 different presentations, but it was worth all of the time and effort it took! We had students present in each classroom at our school. Students presented at the middle school and even at a senior citizen home in town.

“I do not need to be in control!” Let me repeat that again “I do not need to be in control!” This was my biggest lesson during Genius Hour this year. I do not need to make decisions for the students. I do not need to tell them how to present. I do not need to take over their project. By letting go of the control and letting the students choose what they wanted to learn about we had students engaged, students giving their best, students stepping out of their comfort zones, and the list goes on and on.

I learned so much about each of my students this Genius Hour round. I was able to have these great conversations with them about their passions and why they were interested in certain things. I was able to connect them with other adults in our community who have the same interests!  In "Kids Deserve It" the authors talked about relationships and how they need to be at the forefront of what you are doing EvERY DAY! Genius Hour provided that for me this year. It takes TIME, but it is so worth it. 

The presentations blew me away this year. I know I keep saying that, but they truly did. Just to give you a sample of what the students accomplished. I share this with you to show how DIFFERENT the presentations can be and how AWESOME that truly is! 
A student created a Japanese meal for his favorite teachers and his mom! 
A kiddo created his own bakery! He made up his own currency for kids to use. Baked cookies and brownies. Learned about giving change back. SO FULL OF CONFIDENCE!

Another student learned about gold and he taught first graders about different strokes! He had them all try them out! 

This sweet girl created her own cook book and COOKING SHOW! It was amazing!
Jakin's family is moving to Costa Rica this summer, so he spent his Genius Hour time learning Spanish! He then worked with a small group of 1st graders and taught them several words in Spanish. 

There are so many resources out there to help you with this process! 
The Genius Hour Handbook was just released last November and I read it in three hours! I LOVED it and it is chock full of resources, best thing is it was written by TWO TEACHERS! Also has a truckload of free resources for you to use! I would highly recommend jumping on Twitter and search for #GeniusHour as you will find tons of people ready to help you get started. Jen Rundee of Rundee's room has some wonderful support for Genius Hour on her blog!

Since I loop up to 5th grade in August I will get to be with my same kiddos! SO EXCITED! I have some new goals for Genius Hour time for this next year. 1) I want students to blog about what they are learning during the process 
2) I would like to see their presentations be in front of authentic audiences! I want people in the audience that are truly into what the student is talking about. For example if a student does a project on CrossFit then we will contact our local CrossFit Box to see if they can present there. 
3)Really want to spend more time with kiddos that are struggling with what to do. I don't want to rush them to pick something.

Have you used Genius Hour in your classroom? What was your learning? What are you struggling with? Share your comments below and let's help each other!


  1. Genius Hour is a very interesting approach for studying, and if Google uses it, I believe, it will work in any sphere of our life. I like this idea because you do not push on the children, you give him the ability to choose, to dream, to think and in some case help them to realize their dreams. As a result we can know something new about our children, about their desires and aims. We can discover a baker, an artist or creative college essay writers between them. I like and completely support such type of learning and development of our children.

  2. These hashtags are everything! Students indeed get more engaged when you let them have a choice. It's also extremely helpful for them to do what they like. A guidance is good but total control isn't. Thanks for motivating!
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