Four weeks ago I implemented Genius Hour with my grade seven students. As is wont to happen when I implement something new in the classroom, I read and think about it a lot before I finally do it. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean I have a well-thought out plan for how I’m going to do something! It’s more of a skeleton of what we’re going to do and depending on how my students respond – I am rarely prepared for what they will say or do no matter how long I’ve been teaching – I will make modifications as we go along.
In order introduce Genius Hour to my class, we viewed a couple of motivational videos of Caine’s Arcade. Then, we talked about finding something you are passionate about and using Genius Hour to work on that interest. In my eyes, this was enough to launch the first Genius Hour work session, so the week following the Caine’s Arcade videos the kids got to work on their Genius Hour projects. I would address any unforeseen events or problems as they presented themselves.
On the first Genius Hour class day, I was surprised that so many of my students had come to school with a fairly good idea of what they wanted to do. Some had even brought materials for creating an Iron Man suit! However, even though they were enthusiastic and got to work right away, I felt uneasy. Shouldn’t I have them prepare and plan their projects before they start working on them? Shouldn’t they pitch their project to the class and me, first? Shouldn’t I approve their projects before they start working on them? Shouldn’t I put a limit on how many students work together? What should I be doing while the kids are working? How much should I probe? How much should I just stand back and watch? How can I be sure they are learning anything of value, including the mandated standards and benchmarks for my grade? (Even as I write this I know there is much learning going on, maybe more authentic learning than during a regular content area class because everyone is working on something they developed and are committed to seeing through from start to finish. However, since I am the only one in my school doing Genius Hour, I want to be prepared in case I am questioned about the educational value of Genius Hour.)
During the second Genius Hour class, I had my students respond on paper to the following three questions: “What am I not OK with? What do I have? (I interpreted this question as: “What skills, expertise, etc can I bring to this problem?) And, What am I (we, if working with others) going to do about it?” I found that these three questions allowed students to shift from the mentality of Genius Hour as “free time” to Genius Hour as “serious work/play/explore/learn time”. I haven’t talked to my students this explicitly about Genius Hour. However, yesterday (our third Genius Hour class), I had students determine the purpose of their project: to teach, persuade, or create something for others. Although some are clearly not seeing this connection yet, I trust that the more we focus on how a project is going to impact or influence others, they will start to see a clear and intentional purpose to what they’re doing during this time.
I can already see that some of their projects are nearing their completion stage so when we get back after Carnival break, we will talk about getting ready to share their projects with others, namely their classmates for now.
So, although I should have probably followed a different progression to Genius Hour – viewing Caine’s Arcade’s videos, individual reflection and class discussion on the three questions mentioned above, and a write up of a project proposal – things have been going well. I am particularly encouraged by my students’ self-reflections at the end of Genius Hour. Yesterday, they wrote these in their blogs and although this took longer than I had expected, it was time well spent as the kids learned how to navigate their blog, write meaningful entries and work with me to polish them and make them appropriate for publishing.
When I am nagged by doubts about whether or not this is valuable time taken out of a subject area like social studies or language arts, I think about all the planning, writing, reflecting, conflict resolution, and negotiation skills that my students are using in a project of their own choosing during school time. And, I am comforted and certain that this is a good use of one hour of our time during the week.
If you have implemented Genius Hour in you class, please leave a comment about your experiences below.
Note: The three questions mentioned above, plus many other great resources including videos, templates, articles, and posters, can be found in Joy Kirk’s LiveBinder for Genius Hour.