This one is for all my fellow teachers out there! 🙂
Over the break I was doing some personal professional development – reading books like Matt Miller’s “Ditch That Textbook,” scanning Pinterest, and perusing several teacher blogs. Something I came across several times that really intrigued me was the concept of “Genius Hour.”
For those of you who don’t know, “Genius Hour,” or “20% Time,” was originally an idea from Google. The company encouraged their employees to spend 20% of their time working on a “Passion Project;” something that they were interested in that may not necessarily be a normal part of their day-to-day responsibilities. Many schools are adopting this idea as a way to get students to take ownership of their own learning, allow them to work on something they really care about, and show them that their ideas and work can pay off in real-life ways.
While my main duty at Highlands is to teach high school social studies, I also teach a Typing class. This class was difficult for me first semester as I have never taught a computer class before, and I was a little bit unsure how to fill up the days with meaningful material (especially after my students flew through their typing tutorial program faster than I expected!).
Light bulb! I could use this Typing class as a time to implement Genius Hour here at Highlands!
I was definitely nervous to start Genius Hour. The whole point is to have students take control and really guide their own learning, and that can be really difficult for teachers to learn to let go! However, after our first three weeks of school, I am so glad that I did!
My students really seemed to get excited about the opportunity to choose and control their own projects and research. The ideas that they came up with were so impressive! Realistic, yet truly impactful for our community.
Let me back up for a moment. For those of you following along or wanting to implement a similar idea in your classrooms, I’d like to give you some specifics about how I set this up. While keeping it open and flexible, I did give my students some guidelines. My main guideline was that their project had to be something that would impact the local community (school, church, neighborhood, etc.). They couldn’t do a project about ending world hunger, but they had to choose something they could realistically research and potentially see actually come to life locally.
The first day, we brainstormed as a class, just to get some ideas flowing. Then, we moved on to more individual brainstorming. Questions like: What are you passionate about? What ideas do you have? Why is this topic important? We worked as a class to transform our topics and passions into researchable inquiry questions (a staple for Genius Hour projects). Then, the students were able to “pitch” their ideas to their classmates and some school administrators using mini-posters, and give each other feedback on these initial ideas using Post-It notes. (By the way, I stole this awesome idea from a blog called “Finding My Teacher Voice” written by Sherri McPherson. You can find the original post here: http://findingmyteachervoice.blogspot.ca/2013/09/genius-hour-beginning.html.)
The ideas and feedback that the kids gave each other was really positive! Some examples include students who want to better utilize our school’s many open outdoor spaces, make our school cleaner and more environmentally friendly, change our school’s discipline program to be more effective, use our school property to impact our local community, create a more student-friendly study space, and more! I was so impressed!
While this is only the beginning I cannot wait to see what will come about as students finalize and delve deeper into their inquiry questions, topics, and research.
Stay tuned to see what becomes of my Genius Hour experiment, and for more practical tips for those of you who want to try something similar in your classrooms!