Next Year Will Be Even Better – Genius Hour Ideas

from think geek.com
from thinkgeek.com

For many of us, at least in the United States, another school year is over.  Even as we eagerly embark on our rejuvenation journeys for the summer, you might be thinking, as I am, of new ideas for the next school year.  This week, I would like to share some of the improvements I hope to make in my classroom for the 2013-2014 school year.  Today’s post is about Genius Hour.  You can find more Genius Hour Resources here.

I have been working on Genius Hour with my 5th grade gifted classes for two years now.  I definitely want to continue this, but, as always, I saw some areas that needed tweaking.  First, though, I wanted to clarify my purpose for Genius Hour.

Genius Hour Purpose:  To give my students the opportunity to indulge their curiosity on a variety of topics not included in the regular curriculum while learning best practices for researching, presenting, and extending their thinking.  

With that goal in mind, I intend to make the following changes to Genius Hour next year:

  • offer it to my 3rd and 4th graders (with gradual scaffolding of activities that will lead to independence)
  • require portions of Kaplan’s Depth and Complexity to be included in final products
  • place more emphasis on the art of presentation
  • scatter more lessons on research skills throughout the year

Here are some problems that I encountered last year for which I have tentative solutions:

  • difficulty selecting topics – students are so used to being told what they must research that telling them that they can study “anything you want” paralyzes some of them.  We will begin the year with brainstorming, and they will have a hot list of sites with tantalizing projects to choose from (you can find this list on my Genius Hour page).  I am also going to create a catalog of student “experts” in the class, and topics that they could possibly “teach” their classmates.  (One 5th grader taught another one HTML last year.  He wanted to know, and she was happy to teach him!)
  • unoriginal presentations – students often stuck with the safety of Powerpoint for presentations even though I offered alternatives.  I need to model other options.
  • rushing through the planning sheet –  I am going to “re-vamp” the planning sheet to look more engaging, and to ask different questions.  I might even have different forms for planning sheets throughout the year.  I think it’s important to plan, but my students got tired of answering the same thing for each project.
  • rushing through the reflection – Same issue and same solution.
  • chaos at the beginning of each hour – I will be assigning students to be in charge of technology and materials distribution so I can help students get started immediately instead of fielding questions while I am trying to pass out laptops, iPads, and planning sheets.

Just to be clear, Genius Hour was a huge success in my classroom, despite the problems listed above.  Here are the positive results that I saw:

  • students collaborating more, and with different people – For example, the pair that worked on HTML code would never have worked willingly as partners for a regular classroom activity.
  • absolute engagement during seeming chaos – Out of 16 students, only 1 was consistently off-task each time.  I was never able to discover what could motivate him enough to concentrate on it for the entire hour.  The rest, however, were always engaged because they had gotten to choose what they wanted to do.
  • learning how to learn – How do you find out something about an obscure topic?  How do you determine what sites are reliable?  How can you get help when no one in your class, including your teacher, has ever tried this before?  These are life skills that my students will carry with them from Genius Hour.
  • problem solving – What do you do if the outcome isn’t what you expected (like my poor student who was determined to make a rubber-band powered car, and spent the entire year trying to make it work)?  What do you do if you lose your entire presentation because you saved it the wrong way?  How do you transfer your wonderful iPad video to a PC?
  • perseverance – Again, my student with the rubber-band powered car, and so many other students who encountered stumbling blocks, soldiered on, and never gave up.
  • appreciation from parents and students – This one took me by surprise.  I suspected the students would be thrilled to be given this freedom, but I received many notes and e-mails from parents who were happy to see their children so excited about school and learning.

I would love any suggestions from those of you who have been implementing Genius Hour in your classrooms.  And, if you are new to this idea, or just would like more resources, please visit my Genius Hour page to learn more about what you can do that has the potential to have the most impact on your students out of your entire curriculum.

8 thoughts on “Next Year Will Be Even Better – Genius Hour Ideas”

  1. Hey,

    Love your post and section. It was funny to see as I had been thinking about building something around that as well after hearing about what Google does with their 20% time alotted to exploring other projects.

    Here’s a thought on the whole choosing what the projects to do issue. I was thinking of incorporating the projects at the diy.org site as a way for students to find projects of interest to them quickly and easily. It also has a built in reward system with the awarding of badges. Plus, students can explore other projects in their spare time.

    Looking forward to hearing more as you adapt and build Genius Hour.


    1. Hi Ian,
      Thanks for your comment. I did allow the students to use diy.org as a resource, but they decided that they did not want to get involved in the formal part of signing up and earning badges. They basically just browsed it for ideas. I agree that it’s a great site, though, to use for this type of project. Wonderopolis is another one that they went to frequently.


  2. I’ve been reading about google’s 20% rule, and thinking about how to implement this same idea with my STEM class of 5th graders. I love the “Genius Hour” idea. I’ve been working on contracts and some sort of accountability for this, but keeping it a little informal as well. Something I’ll definitely continue to work on for the summer. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I am glad to be getting responses from others who are thinking of trying this! Let me know if I can help with anything. I will try to put more downloadable resources on my Genius Hour page by the end of the summer.

  3. Hi,

    I am on holidays (mid year break in Australia) and have had a bit of time to read your posts on Genius Hour. It seems like a great idea and way to ensure inquiry based learning on students’ own topics fits into the curriculum. At the end of last term my Grade 2 boys chose their own topic within the theme ‘transport’ to create projects on. They focused for up to 90 minutes at a time, and possibly longer. If I told them what to do that would never happen!
    I was wondering if you’ve seen or heard of younger students doing Genius Hour?
    I think I’d really like to try this with my boys. I know a few in the class will need a lot of scaffolding, but the majority are independent readers who love researching on their own.

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