Pep Talk and Prep Work – Day 1 of The Genius Hour

Thursday’s writing classes started off with a little pep talk, not just for the students, but for me, also. Let’s face it, it’s hard to do something completely different!  Building on what we learned in our 6-week speech unit, but allowing students to explore topics of their own choosing, all while bolstering language arts principles meant that I needed to be  BOLD and BRAVE in my approach to this next unit! My comfort zone lies somewhere between organized textbook curriculum and hands-on project-based learning, but this was a departure, even for me! What would the parents say? How would I implement this across 6 grades and myriad writing abilities?  Needless to say, sometimes we all need a little pep talk to help us take the leap.


First Things First

What is a genius hour? The genius hour concept, also known as 20% Time or Passion Projects allow students the freedom to explore topics that THEY select. The concept came from the tech giant, Google. Google wondered what would happen if people were allowed to spend 20% of their work week on something they were really curious or passionate about? (Prior to Google, 3M had employed a similar strategy and thus, the Post-It was born!)  What Google found was that these “passion projects” actually made their employees more innovative and productive. Products like gmail and google + both came out of genius hour inquiries.

This semester, we will use what is known as the “Engineering Design Process” to  frame our projects.  Students will begin by asking questions.  “What am I interested in?” “What are my talents?” “what am I curious about?”  I used a modified version of the forms used on the Runde’s Room website. Scan_20160308 (2)

From those questions, we will begin to sift through topics that will eventually form the base of our guiding question.  Guiding questions are great because they help us filter all of the information that is seemingly at our fingertips nowadays.

Once we have our guiding questions, the researching begins! Students will gather information and data from all kinds of sources, make connections, draw conclusions, and test theories.  It is important to note that Genius Hour projects aren’t graded on the success of the final project.  Instead, students will write outlines for a final presentation that will be recorded (a la TED Talks).  In their presentation, students will share what they learned, where they succeeded and where their failed. They will share their insights and reflect on what they may do differently next time.  These “TED Talks” will then be available to view on our district YOU TUBE channel, as well as at the Share Fair in May.

If this seems like a lot of work, you’re right!  But I can not wait to see what we have gained as a result of the trying! In life, I believe that whether you win or you lose, you are always better off for having tried.  Perhaps we will find that this Genius Hour things is a great way to motivate and inspire our learners, and maybe we will learn some valuable lessons to the contrary. For certain though, the students will gain the benefit of stepping out of their own comfort zones and knowing that I am right out there on the ledge alongside of them!


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