Genius Hour Motivates Students

Halfway through the year, we need to shake things up in our classrooms and get kids excited about learning.  Something strange happens in December, we all seem to get into a slump. With the new year, why not plan to hold a genius hour. This month, I will create a 3 part series to explain how genius hour might be a good idea to implement in your teaching after the new year. Let’s take a deep-dive into this teaching method so that we can improve our skills as educators.

Origins of Genius Hour

This awesome concept came from Google, one of the biggest companies in the 21st century. They give 20% of the total time to their engineers to work on a passion project of their choice. As this company policy was implemented, 50% of these projects were then released as products or services Google provides! Gmail and Google News are some of the projects that were made during this period. We rely so much on Gmail, can you imagine if it wasn’t invented!

We can also thank Daniel Pink and his work Drive. In this book, he discusses the tasks we receive in our lifetimes, the right way to frame our motivations, and the psychological needs that we are trying to satisfy. What it suggests as a healthier way of providing motivation is to allow people to exercise their creativity while creating a rewarding task whose goal is self-fulfilling.

Gallup, an analytics firm, produced Creativity in Learning back in 2019 which measured how creativity was included in and out of the classroom. They found that 68% of project-based tasks helped educators learn how much their students learned throughout the school year, compared to standardized tests (12%). This study also showed how both students and their parents prefer project-based tasks over standardized tests as part of school tasks, which is what Genius Hour is focused on.

Misconceptions of Genius Hour

  1. Students will work for 1 hour alone doing whatever they wish.

The first misconception about this classroom activity involves letting the students work by themselves. Some people have the idea that introducing this means that it is an entirely free hour for students to do what they want.  We all know what a mess that would be!! This is false, as the activity should be guided by the educator while THEY build their projects from the ground up. It is similar to letting a student driver drive the car while having an adult with a full license help them learn how to drive.

2. Not enough time and structure.

Speaking of giving students the reins, some people worry about how much time is spent “policing” students through this activity. The idea of genius hour centers on having enough time for educators to give feedback on student work AND enough free time for the students to work by themselves. The time allotted for these depends on the educator. If you can’t afford an hour a week, then maybe do it for 30 minutes.

If you work on creating the right process and forms for students to use then implementing genius hour will be a cinch.

Questions About Genius Hour

Educators might be wondering how they can fit it in their daily lessons with their students. You can add it as a special period in your students’ schedule within the week, or space within a subject (such as ELA/Science/Social Studies/Math) to allow a portion of time dedicated to independent research and learning.  Implementing it depends on you, your classroom and your students.

There are various learning standards that you can connect with this Genius Hour. Reading with inquiry, researching with inquiry, writing with inquiry, presenting with inquiry, evaluating with inquiry, creating with inquiry, criticizing someone else’s reasoning, and modeling with mathematics. Really there are so many choices you can give your students when you create your rubric.

Communication between students and teacher is paramount to make this project a success. Have good systems in place for checkins. Always ask students of any problems they have in their lives outside the project, ask if they need help from you, and help them align their passions and interests with learning goals. 

When it comes to grading your students during this session, it is better to focus on grading each project’s process rather than the final result. After all, that’s where most of the critical-thinking and creativity takes place. You can assess them based on their grit, resiliency, integrity, and tenacity, also known as the GRIT rubric. 

Examples of Genius Hour Applied in Classrooms

If this is your first time implementing Genius Hour, learn how various educators were able to apply Genius Hour into their classrooms, there are lots of resources to check out. Always start with homebase! Maybe there is a teacher in your district already applying it in their classroom. Try to check out what they are doing it. Colleagues are great sources of learning and feedback and that way you can think about how to apply it in your classroom too.

Aside from that, you can check out various blogs online of educators applying it in their classrooms. They have discussions on how to start to reactions from their own students. What’s Going on in Mr. Solarz’s Class is one of the many blogs that documents how he was able to apply Genius Hour in his class. For more research behind this type of learning experience, you can check out Dr. Jackie Gernstein’s and Chris Lehmann’s works. 

This blog post hopefully gave you a quality introduction to Genius Hour. From its origins at google to implementing it into your classroom.

Interested in knowing more? Stick around for the next installment of Genius Hour and how it will help your students in the long run!

Comment down below about your thoughts about Genius Hour!