You might be asking, “What is Genius Hour?” The answer has two parts:
- For teachers: It’s a chance to let students use critical learning skills—like research, writing, math and more—to create self-directed passion projects.
- For students: It’s a chance to say, “If I could study anything in school, I would study this.” And then they do so, whether it’s music, science, art or social justice.
Also known as “20% Time” or “Passion Pursuit,” the idea stems from companies like Google®, which allows staff members to spend 20% of every work week pursuing a passion project separate from their usual workload. Gmail® and Google News were just two ideas spawned from the practice. Of course, Genius Hour is not without its challenges. After all, helping students pursue their passions in class for an hour a week can seem daunting. That’s why we’ve assembled this list of ideas and student giveaways to help all of you succeed.
Idea #1: Set benchmarks
By design, all projects, ideas and students will have to move at their own pace to get the most out of the learning experience. To ensure everyone stays on track, build in time to document what they’ve done so far. Consider:
- Having students create a “pitch” in video or written form for the passion they want to pursue. In the pitch, they should discuss their potential final project and how they plan to make it happen.
- Asking them to select and document sources, such as someone they want to interview, a book they’ll need to read, or other materials they’ll need to study.
- Scheduling mini check-ins every two or three weeks, when students write up what they’ve accomplished in a journal or on a blog.
- Having them give a final presentation, whether it’s a how-to of a technique they learned or a short video documenting their research and findings.
Provide the class with student giveaways to make documentation and tracking easier. They can use a dry-erase memo board for brainstorming sessions or to create a list of ideas. Journals or academic planners will help them track their progress.
Idea #2: Schedule one-on-one time with every student
As an educator, your role is offering guidance and removing roadblocks—a process that’s much simpler when meeting one-on-one. By holding frequent check-ins, you can:
- Suggest or put students in touch with people they can interview or use as a mentor.
- Provide a possible list of reading or educational materials.
- Help them overcome barriers.
- Help them choose a new project if their current one hits a dead end—or if they realize their passion project isn’t actually a passion.
Idea #3: Let everyone work at their own pace
While students frequently learn in lockstep to avoid falling behind, the journey is part of the learning process for this project. This means hitting dead ends and going in new directions are normal parts of the process. After all, the answer to “What is Genius Hour?” isn’t about creating an elaborate project. Instead, it’s an opportunity to dive deeper into your students’ passions.
Idea #4: Take time to reflect
Once their final project is complete, have the students reflect on how the process worked (or didn’t work) and how they can improve the experience in the future. Questions to consider include:
- Did you get the support you needed?
- Was there another topic, research style or final project that would have worked better?
- Did the expectations help you meet your goals, and how could they be tweaked in the future?
Recognize their accomplishments with a cool sticker or bag tag that students of all ages would be proud to show off.
Directed pursuit of passions
Now that you know what Genius Hour is—and some ways to support your class—the next step is up to your students. Giving them an opportunity to pursue their interests will help them to learn in a new way, without feeling like it’s learning at all.