The Genius of Genius Hour

Author:  Leslie Barrett, Specialist:  Technology & Library Media Services

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

 

Genius Hour is an education trend that is getting a considerable amount of buzz lately.  It is a concept inspired by Google’s 20 percent time, a policy that affords Google engineers 20 percent of their work time (one day per week) to pursue “passion projects” related to their official job duties.  This encouragement of choice and innovation has resulted in the development of many of Google’s products, including Gmail and Google News.

Translated to a classroom setting, Genius Hour is a small chunk of time – the hour part is arbitrary – where students are allowed to investigate any topic of their choice.  While the topic does not have to be related to any specific content area, there are guidelines and checkpoints that teachers and students should adhere to in order to maximize the educational benefit of the experience.

While student choice is key, topics must be presented to and approved by the teacher.  This helps provide structure for students in crafting a topic that will result in deep exploration, and not just questions that can be answered by a quick Google search.  It also sets the tone that although this project will be fun, there are still expectations around topic acceptability and student learning.

Students are expected to present their investigation findings at the conclusion of their research.  This accountability piece communicates that Genius Hour projects are not just goof-off free time, but a project to be taken seriously.  Additionally, presentations give students experience communicating to an audience and designing a presentation with an authentic audience in mind.  It also creates a platform to inspire new ideas and thinking about future projects among classmates.

Genius Hour project timeframes can vary based on individual teachers’ schedules.  Some teachers choose to do projects with prescribed timeframes (i.e., a 6 week cycle), while other teachers find it better to allow each individual project to conclude naturally.  Even the “hour” designation of Genius Hour is just a suggestion.  Some teachers, particularly secondary teachers who are subject to finite class periods, allow one class period a week to be devoted to Genius Hour projects.  Some teachers incorporate Genius Hour time as part of daily activity options when students are finished with their assigned class work.  Other teachers, particularly at the elementary level, may choose to implement Genius Hour in lieu of Fun Friday activities that have little academic value.  The key is to mold the idea to what works in individual classrooms.

A key component of Genius Hour projects is regular teacher-student check in conferences.  This is how teachers help students stay on track, and how they can address misconceptions or guide learning.  Teachers can offer mini workshops during Genius Hour time to help groups of students who are struggling with similar issues.

Through the course of Genius Hour topic exploration, students are developing a myriad of skills in an authentic, student-directed learning environment.  The most obvious is information fluency.  Students are driven by a need to locate accurate and reliable information about a topic that is meaningful to them.  Students will need to organize and summarize the information they are locating, and it’s a perfect platform to reinforce the digital citizenship skills of avoiding plagiarism, fair use, giving attribution and citing sources.  While investigating information students are naturally applying the reading and writing skills being taught in the content areas.  As they learn more about specific topics of interest they are expanding and internalizing content knowledge in various areas.  In preparation for their final product students are synthesizing the information they have uncovered and reassembling it in a new and creative way to showcase new understanding.

With so many educational advantages, it’s easy to see why many teachers are making room for students to explore their passions through Genius Hour activities.  To learn more please access the following links:

http://www.geniushour.com/

Eight Pillars of Innovation by Susan Wojcicki, Google Think Insights

The Google Way:  Give Engineers Room by Bharat Mediratta, NY Times Job Market


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