Who, What, and How? Exploring Genius Hour

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 -- Madison Michell

The idea of “genius hour” takes several principles that are getting a lot of attention these days and turns them into practice. Incorporating authentic learning and student agency, the concept of genius hour is taking hold in classrooms far and wide.

The idea is simple: give students a reoccurring block of time to dedicate to a project of their choosing, and let students’ interests, creativity, and inspiration guide the way. By giving students a turn in the driver’s seat to steer their own learning experience, you will see an authentic opportunity for critical thinking and the application of learning unfold.

Where did the idea for genius hour come from? With ties back to the search engine giant Google, there’s no arguing with the success this approach can yield. Are you familiar with Google News or Gmail? Each of these started out as products of the “20% time” Google offers its engineers. The philosophy is that employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time working on a pet project for the company. The end result is increased creativity and productivity at the company as a whole.

So, how can you take a concept that’s been successful in the corporate setting and make it function in the classroom? This is where instructional best practices come into play.

1. Coach students through the learning process

Rather than devising the specific learning task and instructional approach that students should take, your job as the classroom teacher during genius hour time is to coach students through their own investigation. Some students will need very little oversight from you, while others will require more direct coaching. By applying this approach to instruction, genius hour becomes an opportunity for rich one-to-one conversation, intervention, and relationship building.

2. Encourage collaboration

The best part of creating a genius hour in your school day is that it takes shape in an environment that includes many different students and perspectives. As your learners develop their project concepts, conduct and analyze research, and prepare for their final reveals, create opportunities for students to collaborate with one another. Whether that takes shape as vetting different ideas or rehearsing for a presentation, these interactions are rich with real-world application.

3. Incorporate authentic assessment

At the end of the semester or school year, your students will have fully developed projects they are ready to share. The mode in which students share their new learnings, however, should be of their own choosing and in alignment with the concept of the project itself. While one student may have elected to create a podcast, another may have developed his or her very own website. Leaving the specific outcome of their genius hour creation wide open gives students the opportunity to take an authentic approach that incorporates their own interests.

Want to know more? Check out this three-minute overview video about genius hour, and dig into more resources about how to get started in your classroom here!

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