What if you could learn about anything you wanted to? What are you interested in? What are you passionate about? What do you want to tell the world? How are you going to change the world? There are only three guidelines:
- Research something.
- Create something.
- Share it.
Welcome to Genius Hour!
This is how educators around the globe have introduced Genius Hour to their classes. Suspense in the classroom has proven to create significant student buy in. So, what exactly is the concept of Genius Hour and what can it help develop in the learning life of a student?
While reading and planning for the coming year, I came across a number of American education blogs that were discussing Genius Hour. The idea that all students have ‘genius’ and they could share this with the world resonated powerfully. There are always individual students who are offered such opportunities. However, working towards an automated system and on a class scale was an exciting concept.
Research into the concept led to Chris Kesler’s blog, Genius Hour. It included the most comprehensive and direct assistance to the questions of, “What is Genius Hour?” and “How can I implement it with my students?”
The concept of Genius Hour originated from Google’s practice of the 20% Time Project. Within their business model, Google built in an employee-led project and ideas time. In 2011, Katherine von Jan (Huffington Post) spoke about this:
“Google’s ‘20% Time’, inspired by Sergey Brin’s and Larry Page’s Montessori School experience (www. ted.com/talks), is a philosophy and policy that every Google employees spends 20 percent of their time (the equivalent of a full work day each week) working on ideas and projects that interest that employee. They are encouraged to explore anything other than their normal day-to-day job. As a result, 50 percent of all Google’s products by 2009 originated from the 20 percent free time, including Gmail. Real break-through happens when we are free from others’ expectations and driven by individual passion.”
It was immediately apparent how this concept, very similar to the ‘passion project’ concept of many earlier educators, could take off in the right learning environment. The educational benefits and real-life applications were very clear. Genius Hour could provide a platform for students to develop their soft skills, or 21st century skills, that educators know they will need for their future.
Genius Hour is the education version of the 20% Time Project from Google. Students are challenged to investigate and explore something in which they are interested. Teachers facilitate, through monitoring, to ensure that students are on task and are ready to teach skills as students realize the need for the specific skill. “Deadlines are limited and creativity is encouraged (Kessler, 2013).” Once completed, students share their created task with their chosen audience.
Regardless of age, the skills that can be developed in students include:
- research and reporting
- global awareness.
The benefits to teachers include:
- It is immediately a differentiated teaching program that caters for all learners and learning styles.
- It engages students.
- It results in an engaged learning community, with experts within schools and from outside.
- Students are keen to learn skills, not process.
Introducing the Learning Community to Genius Hour
The benefit of Genius Hour is that it can work in any setting. Implementation is possible within a single classroom, in a stage, or into a whole school. As busy educators, time is a key factor in the implementation process for any new initiative. It is about time spent well. To begin the journey, it is important for teachers to do their own reading around the possibilities of Genius Hour. This will get them passionate about the possibilities in their setting. Secondly, they need to timetable 45 minutes to one hour into their busy schedule. Thirdly, teachers need to consider how they wish to monitor and manage the project. Finally, consideration needs to be given as to how Genius Hour will be launched in their chosen setting.
Teachers should focus their time on the biggest areas of impact. Time should be used to design the tracking process of the projects. A Google Doc and Google Classroom can become the hub of Genius Hour time. The Google Doc provides one place where all the research questions are shared. Any member of the learning community can go in and see what another person is working on. This allows the class to support each other. Students may have knowledge or skill linked to others’ research. Some students may even have connections with industry.
These virtual spaces also allow for ‘experts in the room’. Teachers, parents, heads of school and the principal can be connected, enabling them to not only see what is happening in the classroom but to also participate in the learning. They can ask questions or be asked questions to broaden the research base and real-life experience. This is when the impact of the students’ work can become evident, and the audience can be an active factor in their learning.
Justifying the one hour of time from a crowded timetable is a daunting concept. However, Genius Hour can be justified through many learning areas. The English curriculum is met as students learn and develop their research skills. There will be informal and, in many cases, formal texts produced. It requires responses to reading, thinking critically and creatively, and the create phase requires self expression. Each of the students’ questions could be linked to other Key Learning Areas. The life skills developed through this process are hard to ignore; development of a love for learning, encouraging a ‘growth mindset’, self-worth, personal interest, collaboration questioning, and the list goes on.
These are the skills that employers are looking for in future employees. Suzan Adams (2014), a writer for Forbes, led her article The 10 Skills Employers want Most in 2015 Graduates with, “Can you work well on a team, make decisions and solve problems? Those are the skills employers most want when they are deciding which new college graduates to hire.” It is the desire of educators to prepare students to be successful and productive members of their future. These skills should start to be developed as young as possible. Learning through play is important to develop social skills; team sports allow for goal setting both personally and as a part of the whole. Genius Hour can provide a vehicle for the 21st century skills to be developed, giving students the opportunity to see the need and value of this skill set.
Finally, teachers should consider the marketing of the Genius Hour brand in their setting. Get students excited and engaged before they even know what is coming. Consider using the image of a light bulb as the catalyst, placing these around the classroom and the school a week out from telling anyone what it is about. A couple of days before the launch, add the words ‘Genius Hour is coming!’. Students will talk and ask questions about it and, by launch day, the only thing they will want to know is, “What is Genius Hour?” This marketing process will only take 20 minutes in total, but will have students ready and willing to listen.
James Watt, a Year 4 student at Inaburra School, was set the challenge of Genius Hour and he was immediately hooked. James has dyslexia and finds many of the everyday structures of school more challenging because of his “learning difference”, as described by James. He chose to research the question, “How can I tell the world about dyslexia from kids’ perspective?” What eventuated from this young man’s quest to tell the world about something so personal will be an inspiration to his learning community for a long time. He created a powerful and thought-provoking clip and then entered the online Genius Hour Fair, developed and facilitated by Melbourne-based educator Eleni Kyritsis. This gave James the global forum to share his message. James’ impact on children and adults around the world was seen through the comments left for his presentation. He also received awards for both Outstanding Question and Most Votes for the 2015 competition. James’s experience is just one Genius Hour success story.
Now it is your turn. If you are keen to see students engaged, grow their love of learning, have great questions asked and develop a learning community that is keen to support your students, then set the three guidelines:
- Research something.
- Create something.
- Share it.
Welcome to Genius Hour!