Hi everyone! My name is Kimberly Crouch from English, Oh My! My passion as an English teacher is sharing my love of literature with my students and giving them the foundations of reading and writing to be successful in high school. I am truly honored to be guest blogging on Minds in Bloom, and I find Rachel Lynette to be a true inspiration and role model for teachers.
Besides my love of teaching, I enjoy sharing projects and my experiences with my fellow teachers. This year I implemented Genius Hour in my 8th grade classes, and I want to share some tips, successes, and, honestly, some obstacles I faced. I hope this will help streamline your process if you are considering assigning Genius Hour in your classroom.
What is Genius Hour?
Genius Hour (also known as 20% Time) is an inquiry-based learning project in which students work on individual projects focused on their passion. This project stems from the companies Google and 3M. These companies give their employees 20% of their time to work on a passion-driven or non-work-related project. Post-It Notes and Gmail were invented while these employees were pursuing their passions and channeling their creative mindsets.
Genius Hour brings the mindset of Google and 3M into the classroom. The students receive 20% of classroom time (one class period per week at the middle school level) where they can create, explore, learn, build, invent, modify, write, or follow any passion that they have in life.
Why Should I Assign Genius Hour in My Classroom?
Operation Genius gives your students the opportunity to choose what they want to learn, research, modify, build, invent, and/or create during 20% of their time in your classroom. It also gives your students the ability to break barriers, pursue their passion, explore topics outside the classroom setting, and a choice in what they want to learn.
Over the last five years, there has been a push in districts and in the country to make our students “college ready.” This is defined as using higher standards, analyzing difficult texts and complex problems, and making the learning environment more rigorous and demanding. I have no qualms with the importance of high standards and rigor in my students’ learning, and I find these to the most important elements within a classroom. However, I have noticed that there is one element that is beginning to disappear: creativity. I consider myself to be very creative, as many teachers are, and I absolutely love when my students are creative, imaginative, and think outside the box. Unfortunately, due to standards, rigorous curricula, and other requirements teachers have to meet during the year, creativity in the classroom is diminishing.
In Ken Robinson’s TED Talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”, he explains that instead of growing into creativity in schools, students are growing out of it (sad face). We are expecting our students to conform to a certain standard that does not apply to all of our students, and these standards are no longer giving our students the opportunity they need to be creative, inventive, and innovative.
In addition, I came across an eye-opening article called “How Schools Are Killing Creativity”. The author states:
Creativity isn’t a test to take, a skill to learn, or a program to develop. Creativity is seeing things in new ways, breaking barriers that stood in front of you for some time. Creativity is the art of hearing a song that has never been written or seeing a work of art on an empty canvas. Its essence is in its freshness and the ability to make dreams come to life.
This article truly inspired me to try Genius Hour, to try something new, to work outside my comfort zone, and to give my students creative freedom. Genius Hour allows your students the opportunity that they rarely receive in school. Not only does it give your students the chance to dream and to believe that they are talented, gifted, and unique, but it also teaches your students life skills, responsibility, planning, overcoming obstacles, and goal setting.
What Are the First Steps I Need to Take to Implement Genius Hour in My Classroom?
The first step you are going to want to take is getting to know the project, the expectations, the assignments, and the materials WELL. Before I started Genius Hour, I spent hours researching and educating myself on this project. Here are some amazing teachers, blogs, and websites to get you started:
Once you have really wrapped your mind around Genius Hour, you are going to have to start planning. Planning is a significant component of this project, and I printed out blank calendars for myself in the months I wanted to run the project. Since I am at the secondary level, I decided to run the project over 10 weeks (one quarter); however, you can run the project in the time period that works best for your classroom. Here are pictures of my calendars and my outline:
Let’s be honest…teachers are control freaks, and we have a very difficult time relinquishing control to our students. Some even cringe at the term “group work.” In order for this project to be successful, you have to be willing to “let go” of some control. One of the most challenging parts of this project is the teacher’s role. When a student does not know what to do next or s/he does not know the answer to a question, the student will immediately question the teacher. With this project the teacher is not supposed to persuade or influence the students in any way but rather guide and question his/her students. For example, if a student asks, “What am I supposed to do next?”, the teacher answers with a question, “What do you think you have to do next?” This is very difficult because teachers always want to assist their students, and sometimes the teacher answers the question before the student has the opportunity to answer. Our students are used to being told what to do next, and it is demanding for students to figure out the next step on their own. Genius Hour challenges students to answer their own questions, plan their own process, and figure out how they are going to meet their goal.
What Responsibilities Do My Students Have with This Project? How Do I Grade This Project?
We know our students are always concerned about their grades, and in this project the students are graded mostly on their process and not necessarily on the end product (though it is always exciting for the students to have something to show). Here is what the students are graded on throughout the project:
The “Thick” Question
I spent a class period with my students teaching them the difference between “thick” and “thin” questions. I wanted my students to create a question that was higher level, that did not have one definitive answer; instead, it had multiple answers. I gave my students a due date to hand in their “thick” questions, and I graded their “thick” questions on their questioning abilities and if the question was a higher level question and required critical thinking. Once the students handed in their “thick” questions, they were not allowed to change their idea for their project. Click HERE for the worksheet I created for my students.
The Elevator Pitch
There are two presentations during this project. First is the Elevator Pitch. Here, the students “pitch” their idea/creation/invention/passion to their classmates. This is a 60-90 second pitch that includes a short multimedia presentation. In addition, the presenter’s classmates provide constructive criticism to their classmate and decide if s/he should proceed with his/her project.
One of the major parts of the project is the blogging component. The students are expected to write a blog post each week, updating their peers on their progress with their project. I used Kid Blog because I wanted to be able to monitor my students’ posts and comments, and Kid Blog gives the teacher the ability to do this. Your district may have strict rules about students blogging, and you may have to modify this component (writing packet, notebook, etc.). You definitely want to incorporate a writing component so students are able to discuss their process and journey.
At the end the of project, the students present a second time; this time the presentation is 4-6 minutes. The students share their “product”/goal, as well as their process, obstacles, and successes with the class. A multimedia presentation is once again incorporated, but this presentation focuses on the process of the student’s project and pictures/videos showing his/her progress. In addition, I had my students write a reflection letter, and I counted this letter as part of their final grade.
All in all, I hope my information has answered some of your questions, streamlined the process, and has motivated you to try Genius Hour. I posted all of my worksheets, instructions, and timeline in my store. Click HERE if you would like to grab this resource!
I am a middle school English teacher on Long Island, and I have been teaching the middles for 16 years (time really does fly!). I received my Bachelor’s degree in English and my Master’s degree in Reading and Literacy. I have a darling husband who is extremely supportive of all my work as a teacher and seller, and I also have a handsome 6-year-old son, whose love of learning is contagious!