In my never-ending quest to refine Genius Hour for my students and make it meaningful, I have created a few new digital resources that I intend to use this year with my 3rd-5th grade students. We will be using Google Classroom, so I decided to design some Google Slides presentations that the students can use for collecting research and keeping track of what needs to be completed. Here is the link to the folder of resources, which you can copy and edit to suit your needs.
Assign the Research Planner as a copy to each student. Reflections 1 and 2 are to be done at certain points as students progress through the Research Planner. The Research Planner also has links to some other helpful resources, and a great activity from Ian Byrd to help write good research questions. This slideshow is not their presentation – just a collection of notes.
Assign the Exit Tickets presentation as one copy to be edited by the students in the classroom at the end of each Genius Hour.
Include the Skype Interview and E-mail templates as assignments for students to complete when appropriate.
Once students finish the Research Planner to my satisfaction, they will be allowed to continue to the Presentation Planner. This includes links to “What Would Steve Jobs Do?” and “The Worst Preso Ever,” both of which are great to show students before they design their presentations. It also includes links to two TED Talks given by students.
After students successfully complete the Presentation Planner, they will be allowed to make their presentations, create interactive portions to follow up on the information given, and rehearse.
Finally, they will present!
If you’ve followed my Genius Hour adventures at all, you know that this plan will not work as hoped. I am pretty sure that it will be an improvement over what I’ve done in the past, though.
The Genius Hour pages on this site seem to be getting a lot of views lately, which is good to see. As teachers prepare for a new school year, I am hopeful that more Genius Hours will be incorporated into curriculums around the world. Since I have been doing Genius Hour for several years, I thought it might help for those of you who are new to it to learn some of the giant mistakes I’ve made so you can try to avoid them.
Genius Hour Mistake #1 – Allowing Students to Work on Anything They Want
I have never known what people meant by “deer in the headlights” until the day I announced to my 5th grade class that they would have the opportunity each week to work on a topic they chose. Instead of the expected enthusiasm and “what an awesome teacher you are” smiles, I got a roomful of confused panic. These students had already spent at least 5 years in school being told what to learn every minute of the day. Suddenly being offered unlimited freedom was more debilitating than empowering. I learned that I needed to scaffold the process of choosing topics by guiding them through brainstorming passions, and teaching the students how to select a good research topic that was not too narrow or too wide.
Genius Hour Mistake #2 – Telling Students They Could Choose Any Way to Present their Topic
Genius Hour Mistake #3 – Thinking You Can’t Teach During Genius Hour
I wanted Genius Hour to be a sacred time of independent learning, and was reluctant to ever do lessons during that time. However, when I noticed that many students were encountering similar challenges (such as searching for reliable information), I began to offer mini-lessons during Genius Hour every once in awhile to help everyone get back on track. They never last more than 10 minutes, but can quickly help to fill in gaps that a large portion of the class may have when it comes to research, copyright reminders, and other general information.
Genius Hour Mistake #4 – Leaving No Time for Reflection
Giving students time for reflection has always been a weakness of mine. We often get caught up in what we are doing and realize it’s time to go seconds before class is over. I’ve been working on that for awhile, and one thing I have learned is how essential reflection is for Genius Hour. It has to be varied, so it doesn’t become boring and rote, but it is so valuable to do it. Regular feedback throughout the project from the student, peers, and the teacher will definitely help to make it better. Last year, we did our research in Google Classroom, making it easy for all of us to give each other feedback and improve.
Genius Hour Mistake #5 – No Presentation Rehearsal
When students finish a Genius Hour project, that should mean that they are ready to present. However, if it’s left up to them, they will spend very little time practicing, and just inform you that they are done. After the first couple of years of erratic final productions, I came across the, “What Would Steve Do?” slideshow that includes the following image.
I show this to my students every year. We talk about the ratios on the slide and how you should spend just as much time on practicing as you do on each of the other steps. Sometimes, we choose a sample of students from the class and the presenters go to another room to practice in front of them and get feedback. Keep in mind that some of their presentations are game shows and other interactive ideas, so it’s not always slideshows. However, students can use slideshows with the simple rule that what they are telling us cannot be text on the slides (another suggestion from, “What Would Steve Do?“)
These are the 5 biggest mistakes that I’ve made while incorporating Genius Hour in my classroom – but there are many more errors I make each year. Genius Hour/Passion Time/20% Time, or whatever you want to call it, is an inexact, often chaotic process. It’s hard to decide when to add your voice to the mix and when to stand back. Sometimes everyone needs you at once, and other times you walk around a surreally silent classroom as each student immerses him or her self in research. I often dread Genius Hour because so much is out of control. I often can’t wait for Genius Hour because I learn so much from giving the students control. Genius Hour makes all of us vulnerable and reveals who we really are.
It’s terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.
In my GT class, each grade level meets with me once a week. The 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders do a cooperative blog post for our class blog at the end of each their GT days. A couple of months ago, one of my students wrote this:
“GT today!” is what we yelped happily this morning. We have been doing genius hour and I would replace Social Studies with time to work on reports on whatever we want. It would be fun to finally have some freedom on the things we do in school instead of a teacher walking in and saying, “We’re going to learn about blah blah blah. Yes there’s only one right answer. GT kids. Bleh. Who came up with the idea of GT. I’m going to have a talk with that rat.” I love having freedom, but most teachers don’t understand that always having that ONE answer just keeps our brains cooped up. It doesn’t help us learn very much. If kids were alowed to enjoy learning they might do it more. our teachers would have a less stressful time trying to get us to listen and learn if we had some time to learn about what we want. It would still be learning and it would be more creative because we have to keep everyone intrested by coming up with different ways of presenting the research from everyone else. I hope this change is soon made.
I asked the student and her mom for permission to publish the student’s request on this blog, and they agreed.
I’ve thought a lot about how I wanted to present this young lady’s desire for more control over her own learning and assessment. She is not the only student who has written about this in my class, and certainly not the only one to express this frustration with our education system. I have a lot to say, but I am more interested in what you think.
I would like your comments on her suggestion, particularly if you are a classroom teacher. Is it possible, even with the mandates of a required curriculum and high-stakes testing, even with classes of 22 or more students, and even within a non-flexible school day schedule, to grant this student’s request? If not, what is one change you would recommend that would make it possible? If you have done this, or seen it done, in a regular classroom, please comment on the secret ingredients to make this work.
Since many people are returning to school during the next couple of weeks, I thought I would re-visit and share some of last year’s more successful projects in case you want to try one. Monday’s post was on the surprise “You Matter” videos that I asked parents to make for their children last year. On Tuesday, I wrote about the Global Cardboard Challenge. Wednesday’s post was about bringing a Maker Studio to your students.
Before I get deep into this post, I want to emphasize that I am not, by any means, an expert on this topic. If you look at the bottom of my Genius Hour Resources page, you will find many other far more qualified people to give advice.
Let’s start with the name. You don’t have to call it Genius Hour. Some call it Passion Time, Wonder Time, or 20% Time. Don’t get hung up on what it’s called – although you may find more resources on the web by searching for those titles.
Also, don’t obsess over the time; it doesn’t have to be an hour or 20% of your total time with your students. It can be more. It can be less.
Some teachers worry about the freedom or the departure from the curriculum. It doesn’t have to be a free-for-all. You can have guidelines, even particular generalized topics. For example, if you are studying landforms in science, one student might choose to investigate Pompeii and another might try to design a new vehicle for exploring the interior of volcanoes.
Other teachers are concerned that their students will choose topics that the teacher doesn’t know very much about. From personal experience, I can tell you that this is actually a gift. It’s in our nature to help kids too much, but when we can’t, they learn the value of struggling.
The point is to give your students time to pursue something that is of deep interest to them. It’s about choice and flexibility. It’s about voice and creativity. And, it’s about making things relevant for your students so they want to learn and find it meaningful. Along the way, students learn valuable lessons about research and problem-solving. They learn about grit and the importance of communication.
You can see from the entries in this LiveBinder maintained by Joy Kirr that Genius Hour can happen in any grade level from Kinder-12th, and that there are many ways to do it.
My best advice is to model it and scaffold it. You will tear your hair out if you just open up by saying, “I want you to pick something you want to learn about and come up with a presentation for the class.” Students usually have no experience with this kind of freedom, and some will have meltdowns just trying to select a topic. Take a look at my resources and see what would work best for your situation.