In case you missed our Got Genius? Google Hangout last week about the joys, hazards and epiphanies of Genius Hour, I’ve put together a little recap. Before I dive in, however, I want to make sure you’re all familiar with Genius Hour. It is a movement that gives kids time in school to unleash their creativity, explore their passions, and drive their own learning.
How it works is for a set period of time each week, students are free to explore their own interests, and teachers help by, more or less, getting out of the way. What caught our attention about Genius Hour was how it values a child’s natural creative talents and encourages curiosity, invention, taking chances and free thought. It’s a chance for imagination to run wild, and for children to explore the realm of possibility.
The Got Genius? Google Hangout featured six inspiring teachers who have successfully implemented Genius Hour in their classrooms. They are:
Joy Kirr:@joykirr – 7th grade – Arlington Hts, IL
Gallit Zvi:@gallit_z– 6th & 7th Grade – Surrey, BC
Paul Solarz:@paulsolarz– 5th Grade – Arlington Hts, IL
Robyn Thiessen:@robynthiessen– 4th & 5th Grade – Surrey, BC
Hugh McDonald:@hughtheteacher – 6th & 7th Grade – Surrey, BC
Louise Morgan:@MrsMorgansClass – 2nd Grade – Fort Worth, TX
During the chat, the teachers offered tips and ideas for their fellow educators, knowledge about what works and what doesn’t, and stories about how the movement has made a major impact on the kids in their classrooms.
Here’s the full chat:
Hangout Highlights (with timecodes):
Q: How did the teachers make the transition into using Genius Hour in their classrooms?
5:36 Gallit: Genius Hour came at the perfect time because we were thinking, what does teaching look like and how do I go about a more student-centered classroom?
7:01 Hugh: When we had the first day I remember pointing out to Gallit that I was able to just leave and have everybody come look and see that all my students, who had been a challenging group, were basically focused on their own questions, their own passions and their own wonders. It was pretty amazing.
7:45 Joy: I had just gotten back into the classroom…and we were doing those quarterly book projects where you had to read one book a quarter and you had to do something about it. One quarter they had to make a CD and put songs on it and it had to be related to the plot. I just hated it. I said, this is not authentic, and like Gallit said, the pedagogy was changing and we needed to go more authentic. I came up with—we’re going to read and we’re going to share what we read—and that’s how it started. People starting reading things that weren’t in books; they started reading blog posts or articles and they started sharing what they learned. And then about a month after that I saw the #GeniusHour hashtag and that’s what they were talking about… it grew from there.
Q: Were there any challenges with kids being receptive to Genius Hour?
10:00 Paul: The second year into it, the way I introduced it was not a way I would suggest to anyone. I kind of told them what the year prior looked like and it was an hour lecture which is the antithesis of what passion time should be about. By the end of it they were so upset that I spent an hour boring them that they didn’t want to do it… After that, they’ve all been receptive to it and have been pretty much enjoying it from day one.
10:54 Robyn: I’ve done it for three years and I started with the concept of, “Who am I and what is it that I’m passionate about?” The students are only eight and no one had asked them this before. Everybody did the same project with the same thinking idea but they all presented it in a different way. That was very personalized as well…. From there we moved into individualized small group projects of their choosing.
11:45 Louise: My kids are second graders and a lot of them don’t know what they’re interested in so I wanted them to just be able to explore freely without having to be told how to do it. A lot of them never painted at home, they’ve never used play-doh at home; they don’t come from homes that really nurture creativity and imagination….The first time we had Genius Hour I put out materials and let them explore… My whole thing was to get their juices flowing. I didn’t say “you’re going to have to come up with a project or present this.” I just wanted them to explore and find out what they really like to do and what their passion was.
Q: How much time do you allot for Genius ‘Hour’?
About an hour is the norm for this group.
14:47 Robyn: For me it was always a dedicated time. I was very methodical about my time. I purposefully chose not a Monday or Friday because we miss too many Mondays or Fridays and there was severe backlash if you had to miss Genius Hour. I chose Wednesday because I was really working on the whole thing of building inquiry and wonder and curiosity in the classroom and so we had Wonder Wednesday. That was our big inquiry day and we always did it on Wednesday afternoon. The whole afternoon was given to them for that.
16:35 Joy: We do it on the first day of the week…You have to make sure the kids are sharing what they are doing otherwise their motivation goes down.
16:52 Robyn: We built in reflection time so they would always be writing at the end on their blogs. I felt like I needed to check in with every group but I felt I didn’t always have time during Genius Hour.
Q: What are some challenges? Have you gotten push back?
28:50 Joy: You’ve got to be proactive with the parents…You’ve got to let them know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
30:35 Gallit: One of the things I didn’t do, but wish I had done more and will going forward, is I didn’t get them [the parents] involved at all….I’ve never invited them in to join us during Genius Hour…I want to take that more into consideration. Bringing in the community, bringing in parents, bringing in grandparents, whoever is available to come in during Genius Hour and help out and mentor, but also afterwards to kind of celebrate what we’ve done.
Q: What are some success stories, successful projects that have come out of Genius Hour?
39:49 Paul: I’ll tell you about one of my resistant students. It ended up being very positive. He had trouble; he didn’t know what to come up with and it bothered him greatly….Watch the video to hear Paul tell the rest of this success story. It’s pretty inspiring.
41:40 Hugh: A lot of times students don’t realize that what their passion is actually matters to us. A lot of times they think they need permission to be able to do something. Someone was into music and he created this whole beat box background beat and he had the kids captivated. They were coming up to him afterwards asking, “How does it work?,” “How did you do it?” It was this powerful moment where you can have experts in the room and it doesn’t necessarily need to be me. It can be a peer, somebody who you never really usually talk to.
43:52 Robyn: If anything, I think that Genius Hour empowers learners. It really gives them a voice and choice and the only way that we can make any shifts in education is to start honoring the voice and choice of our students.
46:40 Joy: My excitement during the year is….talking to the kids and getting to know them really well. The one-on-one conferences you have with these kids at this time is more important I think than what they produce or what they’ve gone through, their process. It’s getting to know them and making the rest of the week just stellar.
Where do you want to take Genius Hour in the next year?
49:44 Joy: I want to get more mentors and community members in. That’s my goal for next year—to step it up a notch. After that, I’ll go with let’s make a real difference in our community.
50:24 Gallit: For the next year I’m going to be teaching teachers again so my other little goal is to try this with my adult learners and see how Genius Hour goes over at the university level.
Watch the last six minutes of the video to see where the other teachers want to take Genius Hour next year!
Genius Hour Manifesto: A guide to anyone who wants to know WHAT Genius Hour is, WHERE the idea came from, HOW to facilitate it in the classroom, WHY it is a next-practice in education, and HOW to get involved.
Scaffolding for Students Resistant to Genius Hour: This Google Doc is a reservoir of great ideas for helping students (and teachers) who are struggling with Genius Hour.
#Genius Hour Twitter Chat: Join the Genius Hour conversation led by Denise Krebs and Gallit Zvi. The next one will be held on Thursday, September 4 at 6pm PST.
From The Storybook:
‘A New Movement Ignites the Genius in Every Child’ – https://bit.ly/1gJUckh
‘Picasso, Cardboard and Imagination Help Kids Make a Home in America’ – https://bit.ly/1l0unOQ