As I mentioned yesterday, I have published my first online course, An Introduction to Genius Hour (free until March 1st, 2022). I’ve already begun to work on the follow-up course, but I definitely want to improve as I go. Therefore, I’ve decided to offer a 50% discount on the next course (which will not be free) to the first 5 people who give me productive feedback on my first course. There is a form linked in the curriculum in the course that you can fill out when you complete the rest of the lectures. Peer feedback is super important, and I really want to make these courses the best quality that they can be! There is nothing you can say that will hurt my feelings more than my own self-criticism, so be honest!
Okay everyone, my first course is up and it’s free (until March 1st). Intro to Genius Hour will give you a short history of Genius Hour, dispel some myths, and give you practical advice for getting started to plan your own Genius Hour. And you will get a certificate for 1 hour of Continuing Education at the end of the course (check with your CE administrator to make sure it will be accepted).
I’m going to admit that some of my videos are not as crisp as I planned. Any constructive feedback you want to give will be deeply appreciated as I am going to begin recording the next course in the series later this week. My adventures with Laryngeal Dystonia, which have resulted in periodic botox injections in my vocal cords, have made my speech somewhat unpredictable – not to mention a Great Dane whose breathing/snoring you could hear during several segments where my voice was actually decent and a Schnauzer mix who likes to walk back and forth behind me while recording. I’m definitely going to upgrade some equipment when I can!
Anyway, I hope you find the course helpful and I’ll let you know when the next one drops!
I’ve updated the free Genius Hour Presentation Planner, and I’ve added it to my Genius Hour Resources page under “Free Genius Hour Downloads.” This is a digital planner made in Google Slides, and is meant to be used after students have completed the Genius Hour Research Notes (also on the Free Genius Hour Downloads page). In the past, I noticed that students often jumped to creating their presentations before acquiring very much new knowledge, so these two resources gave them a framework to help them with gathering information and preparing to share with others. I would also recommend taking a look at my post, “Step Away from the Slideshow,” to get some ideas on how students can present without boring themselves or their audiences to tears. One particular addition I made in the update to this Presentation Planner was to add some guidelines for the Timeline to help students understand what needed to be done before each of the three dates (Rough Draft, Rehearsal, Final Presentation).
(“From Jaded to Joyful: Galvanizing Students with Genius Hour” is one of the many Professional Development sessions that I offer, and can be done virtually or in person.)
UPDATE 7/6/2022: You can now download a PDF page that summarizes these ideas!
Many of the Genius Hour resources that I and others have made assume a basic level of reading and research skills. Of course, with Kindergarten and 1st grades, many students may not have those foundational skills. I wanted to round up a few suggestions for primary teachers, so I went in search of resources that I could summarize and/or link to in case you want to save yourself a bit of time.
Of course, Joy Kirr’s Livebinder for Genius Hour is always my first stop because I definitely don’t want to reinvent the wheel. There are many examples of Genius Hour projects from every grade level, as well as links to teacher blog posts that are very helpful. This post is not comprehensive, but might be a good place to begin for some suggestions. As I say when I speak with other teachers, Genius Hour can look dramatically different from room to room while still maintaining the goal of student-directed learning, and its structure should vary based on student needs. It is not a free-for-all time, but it’s also not an “I’m going to tell you what you need to learn, how to learn it, and how to show you learned it” time.
There are three basic steps to Genius Hour: Wondering, Finding and Noting Information, Presenting. With younger students, I would take a very gradual release approach for each of those steps. Begin with whole group modeling, and slowly transition to giving more freedom of choice as students grasp the concept.
How does one begin Genius Hour with the youngest of our students? It’s actually quite easy because they naturally wonder about the world, and haven’t had this curiosity stifled as it often is in later grades. Another Genius Hour expert, Denise Krebs, wrote about transitioning her students from large groups with common interests to smaller, more focused groups in this post. Or, try a Wonder Wall, like this teacher. Of course, a favorite way to start is with a picture book. Here are some great recommendations from Gallit Zvi, who wrote The Genius Hour Guide Book with Denise Krebs.
But, wait! What if my students can’t write? You, as the teacher, could write for them, of course. To make this less overwhelming, you could have small groups settle on Wonders. Or, you can do what many of the articles I read seemed to recommend – link your students with Buddies. Whether they are students from another grade level or parent volunteers, Buddies can foster a great sense of community while helping with some of the challenging tasks during Genius Hour time. Another idea is to partner with your librarian. You can also try a rotation process.
Can students this age really come up with research questions? Sure! Again, modeling with the whole group a few times is key before starting to let students work independently or in small groups. Since these students are new to research, you don’t need to insist on “thick” research questions with complex vocabulary from all of them, but certainly differentiate for advanced students with higher Bloom’s questions. Here are some question stems you could use.
And then they’re going to research? But they can’t even read! This is another phase where rotations, Buddies, and/or your librarian can be essential. One tip that I like from teacher Renee Dooly is to use QR codes to help students find digital information. I used to introduce different types of resources to my students one at a time. For example, I checked out a bunch of books by the same publishing group about different countries, and showed them how to find the information in those books. They had a choice of country, but we stuck to the same type of resource and presentation. As they learned about other resource types, those choices were added in on other projects later in the year. Also, don’t forget about free tools like Immersive Reader, which are getting built in to many online educational resources.
What about methods for presenting what they learned? Some teachers have one way for all students to present, such as using Book Creator. Others give a limited number of choices, as you can see in this blog post. Once the whole class has learned how to do something, make that a new option. Or, get together all of the students who want to do the same type of presentation, such as a video, and give a mini-lesson. (Buddies are good for this, too!) Got a classroom iPad? Record your mini-lessons, upload them to Google Drive, and give students QR codes to scan when they are ready to watch.
Genius Hour can be done with younger students, but a lot of scaffolding is needed. The good news is that students who get this exposure in younger grades will really be able to take the skills for self-directed learning and blossom with them in later grades.
I am gearing up to do some professional development sessions on Genius Hour this summer, and realized that it might be helpful to have a one-pager for teachers to refer to as they begin planning to do Genius Hour with their students. Genius Hour can come in many forms, depending on your situation, so I thought it might be helpful to have a way to look at the “Big Picture” before designing the details. Most of the planning sheets that I see when I do searches are for the students, but I’d love for you to let me know if you have seen any that are for teachers. I am in the process of updating my Genius Hour resources, including the digital ones, and will let you know when the new and improved page is posted. In the meantime, if you are thinking of doing Genius Hour next school year, feel free to download this planner. Let me know if you see anything that needs to be tweaked! Also, if you are interested in me doing a professional development for your school or district on Genius Hour, Design Thinking, Coding, or Maker Education, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
The single most impactful adjustment I made to my curriculum in the later decades of my teaching career was to make room for students to work on issues they chose that were interesting and relevant to them. This was scary for me because I never had any idea where the year would lead me. But I learned so much along with the students that the risks I took and mistakes I made were definitely worthwhile. One year, my small 3rd grade class decided to investigate overfishing for their Genius Hour project. (I always did a group Genius Hour project with my 3rd graders because it was their first year doing major research in Gifted and Talented, and my classes in that grade level were generally tiny.) If you had asked me at the beginning of the year about my interest in overfishing on a scale of 1-5, I would have said 0. But these students were all passionate about the ocean, and that is where their interest took us. Weeks into their research, I was just as committed and concerned as they were – especially after our Skype session with a journalist covering the issue.
From that project to many others that I could describe where students were making plans to solve real-life problems, the message was clear – when students see the value of their work, they are much more engaged and ultimately become more empowered. This is where the Design for Change website could help you. Instead of starting from scratch as my students and I did, you can begin with a framework that is chosen by your students. With racial justice, educational equity, and climate change as the three main topics to select from, they can then find out more from podcasts and other materials that have been curated to guide them on paths toward making positive contributions toward our world as they learn. Whether you want to do a long-term unit, or focus on “Empathy Warmups,” “Design Sprints,” or “Community Action” individually, the free resources on this website – including a teacher platform to monitor progress – will give you much more support than I ever had when my students initially began passion projects.
Design for Change has a site for the United States and a global site. Both boil down the Design Thinking process to these four steps: Feel, Imagine, Do, Share. The global site even provides toolkits written for specific countries in their major languages. There are also options for using the materials virtually or in face-to-face environments.
Though we can’t always do this in education, I found that engagement comes quicker if you start from a place a student already values rather than working to convince a student, “this is what you should value.” But students often need to investigate a bit to realize what is important to them, and this is where Design for Change can help.