3-5, 6-12, Education, Independent Study, Research

Genius Hour Tune-Up

I finished the school year on Friday.  Like many other teachers I know, I am already thinking about what I’d like to do differently next year.  Genius Hour is one area where I really want to add some depth.


I teach Gifted and Talented students from K-5.  I have been doing Genius Hour with 5th graders for over 5 years.  Last year, I added 3rd and 4th grades to the mix.

The progression has been this:

  • 3rd grade comes up with one topic as a class, and each student or pair of students develops a project about that topic. (This year was “Recycling.”)
  • 4th graders come up with individual topics that are meaningful to them, subjects about which they are passionate. (One student loves dogs, and did research on how they pass on their genes.)
  • 5th graders research something that “breaks their heart” – generally in an area that is meaningful to them.  For example, a pair who loved animals did a project on animal abuse.

Over the years, I’ve gotten much better at guiding the students to pin-pointing their research topics.  The presentations have improved in entertainment value.

Where I seem to have faltered is in the research part.

I get the students so jazzed about being able to study something that truly interests them and the freedom to present it in any format they desire, that a few them spend way more time on the “final act” than they do on the learning part.

Next year, I plan to do something radical that I’ve never tried with Genius Hour; I’m going to require all research be completed to my satisfaction before they can even propose the type of presentation they would like to give.

The above idea is probably a no-brainer to most of you, but I really thought that the presentation planning was vital to keeping the students engaged throughout the project.  This may be true, but it also became a real hindrance to quality research.  I was constantly asking students, “But what have you told the class that they didn’t know before?” and “How did you convince us that this was something we should care about?”

This was definitely not their faults.  I need to scaffold the experience more for them.  I also need to give them the opportunity to present more than once, so they can reflect and make it better.

Here is the sequence I am looking at for next year:

  1. Topic Selection and Approval
  2. Review of how to conduct online research and find reliable resources
  3. Locate at least 3 different reliable resources, and use a checklist to verify (possibly have a peer verify as well).
  4. In a Slide Show provided through Google Classroom, students will take notes.  They will identify at least 4 new things that have been learned from the resources, and why people should care. (Possibly using a template like this – but I will probably make it look a bit more exciting.)
  5. During research time, I would like to have students rotate through a center where they can learn about possible creation apps to use for their presentation.
  6. Teacher monitors and makes suggestions.
  7. When finished finding information, students will have a peer edit it, then turn it in to the teacher.
  8. If notes are approved, student may then propose a presentation method.
  9. Prepare presentation.
  10. Present to one peer and revise.
  11. Present to class and revise.
  12. Present to larger audience – possibly parents or other staff members.

I think the revision part is another key element that I’ve been missing.  I spend my time teaching students the mantra from Invent to Learn, “Think, Make, Improve.”  But I frequently forget to give them time for that last part.

Genius Hour has never been perfect, but it has always been valuable.  I feel like just the topic selection part helps the students to learn so much about themselves and what they believe in.

So, I’m not fully satisfied yet.  But I have a lot of ideas for making it better.

If you are interested in more Genius Hour (also called Passion Time or 20% Time) resources, check out this page on my blog.

5 thoughts on “Genius Hour Tune-Up”

  1. Hello Terri

    I have been curious about Genius Hours and was intrigued by your post. It’s always a pleasure exchanging ideas with educators who are self-reflective. I have been thinking hard about your revision plans. A comment that you made toward the very end really struck me as key:
    “Genius Hour has never been perfect, but it has always been valuable. I feel like just the topic selection part helps the students to learn so much about themselves and what they believe in.”

    My thinking: that is huge! Having students learn about themselves and what they believe in… wow! Maybe Google wasn’t thinking about when they came up with the idea of having employees work at anything they were passionate about, but I think it is an outstanding outcome for students.

    It seems to me you accomplished what may be called Phase 1 of hosting “Genius Hours” – you sparked enthusiasm and motivation for learning, as your students explore what they are passion about. Improving things and not losing those outcomes is what I began to ponder.

    I thought perhaps the research aspect can be approached as Phase 2, the next challenge; and prior to introducing your plans, have them brainstorm ways to meet that challenge. Make them aware of what needs to be accomplished for Genius Hours to be even more effective than they have been, and then provide the opportunity for them to be part of the process of improving the research component. What do you think?

    I look forward to exchanging thoughts with teachers such as yourself, who care and are self-reflective.

    Angelo Truglio

  2. You are not alone in focusing on the presentation style.  I wrapped in my “Big Idea” exploration in our TED-Ed club (which we did in class with our 3rd – 5th grade students), so we spent a lot of time on talking about the effective use of visuals, and we analyzed quite a few TED talks in our class from the presentation standpoint rather than content.  I’m with you, though–students need to learn to not only articulate their passion, but research what’s out there and how to look for related information.  I only get most of my students once per week, though, so it’s more of a challenge to manage their time.  

    1. I agree. Once a week makes it difficult. But I think it’s a great idea to have students analyze more presentations by others. We did this informally last year, but I think I am going to put that into my plans this year. Thanks for that idea!

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