Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Igniting Passion for Learning through Genius Hour


The holiday season is gone, the excitement of the new year has worn out (perhaps the resolutions are tossed aside?). It’s cold and dark outside. You’re in the thick of the second semester, and spring break feels oh-so far away.

Given the time of year, I decided to write about passion. Not just because Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, but in these dark February days I find it important to reconnect with what lights you up and gets you excited to get out of bed in the morning. What do you do that you can spend hours and hours working on and lose all sense of time? If time and money were no object, what would you be doing?

Have you ever asked your students these questions? They also long for more time in the day to do the things they really love to do. They get lost in researching and exploring topics of their interest, just like we do. What’s amazing about our profession as teachers is that we can create time in the day for our kids to do just that.

Thus...Genius Hour! Genius Hour (a.k.a. 20% Time or Passion Projects) is based on Google’s 20% Time, in which engineers are allowed to research anything they want as long as it has the potential to benefit the company. Many apps have been developed through their 20% Time, such as Gmail, Google Maps, Adsense, and Google Talk. Educators have latched onto this idea in order to inspire excitement and motivation in their students by allowing them to research any topic of their choice for a percentage of class time. At the end of the year or semester, students present their work in a variety of different formats.

Does it sound awesome, but scary? Are you thinking, “Cool, but I don’t have time for that”? I totally get that! I have been in your shoes, so here are a few suggestions:

Genius Hour Within Your Content

Rarely in our careers are we given time to do anything we want. Even Google has parameters around its 20% Time. So why not have your kids research anything  they want WITHIN your content standards? Give students parameters  and let them discover their passion within your content. They might just discover that they really do love a subject they thought they hated.
Genius Hour to Solve a Problem

How about having your students identify a problem in the world? What is happening in their communities that they feel is an issue? What resonates with your students that they feel needs to be addressed? Have this become the focus of your students’ genius hour. You could even combine this with the content area suggestion to have students discover a problem within your content area.
Genius Hour in Student Resource Period

Do you have a Student Resource period everyday/every other day (Cornerstones, Access, Aspire, SSR)? Why not do Genius Hour with these students? This would be the perfect opportunity to implement Genius Hour without having to worry about taking away time from teaching content.

While it may seem intimidating to launch, I can promise you that it will be so worth it. In the three years that I ran genius hour with my kids, I have seen students do the most amazing things. Here are just a few examples:
  • Create apps for iPhone and Android
  • Raise awareness and fundraise for important social issues like sex trafficking, global warming, and mental health
  • Form new clubs and in-school support groups
  • Learn how to play new instruments
  • Write songs and compose new music
  • Engineer a better football helmet using 3D printing
  • Teach a 7-week course on meditation to adults
  • Write a novel
  • Design and sew shirts to sell on their website
  • Launch YouTube channels

The list goes on and on. Oh, and did I mention that these were ninth grade students? Yep, ninth grade. Many of these students have gone on to form businesses out of their genius hour projects. This project has the potential to open so many doors for your students, simply by igniting their passion and excitement for learning. And it just might do the same for you.

***If you are at all interested in launching Genius Hour, or if you are already doing it, please let me know! I would love to support you in this awesome adventure!

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