Monday, September 7, 2015

Why I’m Doing Genius Hour In My Classroom

Last school year, I’d read posts from a few blogging friends (especially Literacy for Big Kids and Runde’s Room) about Genius Hour or passion projects. So when I heard Nick Provenzano (The Nerdy Teacher) talk about his experiences with Genius Hour during our keynote at INeLearn, and I saw the things his students accomplished and learned… I was hooked.

Genius Hour is a time set aside for students to choose and complete an independent learning project that they will share with the class- and maybe the world.

I introduced Genius Hour to my students with this video:

As I introduced the concept to my students, I could see the disbelief in their eyes. Surely, their teacher was just going to TELL them what they’d be learning, stand in front of them and teach it, and then tell them how to show what they’d learned at the end- probably with a worksheet or test.


Genius Hour is all about student-driven learning and giving students the choice to do something they’ve always wanted to try, or learn about something they’ve always wanted to know more about. It gives them a chance to accomplish something that they’d normally NEVER get to do within school walls, and it gives them a chance to accomplish something that can go beyond their school walls, too.

The excitement my kids have had for Genius Hour since Day 1 has been incredible.

As they started to brainstorm and share, I realized this wasn’t just about learning. This was about validating my students’ dreams.

One student wants to create a fashion blog. And while that may not seem to have a lot of learning involved, when you think about creating a blog, finding out why some blogs are successful, writing content, changing a blog design, taking photos, etc… I think this kid’s going to get a lot out of this project. And even if someday she doesn’t end up making a living as a fashion blogger, the skills she learns may still be valuable to what she does do.

Another student wants to make the next Minecraft, so he’s set out to learn more about video game designers’ jobs and how to code. He’s pretty sure he’ll finish his game in the next few weeks… and I’m pretty sure he’s going to fail miserably at that goal. But I’m even more certain that he’s going to learn a lot in the process- and because Genius Hour doesn’t have grades and I’ve made it very clear that learning is the priority, he can feel disappointed but know that he’s in a safe place to fail.

One kid wants to write a book. Another kid wants to find out about how engines work. From making posters about an endangered animal to finding out why so many shelter pets die to raising money for kids with cancer, very few of my kids had a hard time deciding what to learn during Genius Hour.

Most of them had an idea from the very first day that I asked them, “What do you want to learn?” which really says something about education, doesn’t it?

The kids WANT to learn.

They know WHAT they want to learn… but no one ever asks them.

Genius Hour is one way we’re tapping into that.

It’s not to say the process has been easy… and that’ll be my next post. But when I have students working on projects at home without being asked, asking their parents if they can please go places in the community for their project, or disappointed that we’re not researching today, I know that there’s something powerful in giving students this kind of choice and independence.

The kids are excited. I’m excited. And I can’t wait to see the amazing things they do!