5 Genius Hour Strategies to Get You Started

“Hang out with us for just 10 minutes, and you’ll come away with 5 clear, practical strategies you can use immediately!”

GHG-GHO-featureOn March 3, Gallit and Denise had the privilege of being the first in Routledge Eye On Education’s new Google Hangout series for teachers, “5 in 10.” Here is the recording of our ten-minute Google Hangout.

Those 10 minutes went by so quickly! We had lots more we wanted to share, so we are going to answer Lauren’s same questions here, with a little more depth. We hope this post will give you some practical strategies to use immediately as you grow Genius Hour in your classroom.

Strategy 1: How to get kids started. What do you do when kids say they don’t have a passion or can’t think of a topic?

Gallit: Many students come to our classrooms never having been asked what they want to learn. That is why it is important to spend time introducing the Genius Hour concept. Watch the videos, read the picture books and brainstorm as you go.

Use our top 10 worksheet. Create bulletin board displays and wonder walls, so students can be inspired and use the ideas posted. Their projects can be just something they wonder about. Not all Genius Hour projects are passion-based – many kids start with inquiry-based projects as their “wonders.”

Denise: One thing we as teachers can do is to celebrate wonder throughout the day, throughout the year. This gets our kids ready for Genius Hour, yet it goes beyond Genius Hour to create a classroom culture of continuous learning.

Make your classroom a safe place where the values are WONDERING, LEARNING and GROWING – not compliance and getting acceptable grades. Ask another question instead of giving an answer. Give students time to think. Commend thinking, rather than settling for quick answers from the few students who already know the material.

If students are well-prepared when we introduce Genius Hour to them, we find there are very few who struggle to find something they want to learn.

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Strategy 2: Approving their topic. How do you make sure their project topics are rigorous enough and won’t hit a dead end?

Denise: First, have conversations with students while they are deciding on their projects and their inquiry questions. Teachers can question and steer students to a more specific project, so they don’t choose something like “Chemistry” or “Rock and Roll” as a Genius Hour pursuit. Perhaps you can guide them to a bigger, more essential question. A valuable lesson before or after the first round of Genius Hour will be to learn the difference between Googleable and Non-Googleable questions.

On the other hand, I want students to become engaged and develop as independent learners. If I give too much direction, then it becomes flavored with my requirements. It becomes less theirs. Because I want them to make learning their own, I allow for topics that may not be “rigorous” enough. (What does that even mean? “Rigorous” enough? In whose opinion? You may be surprised. We often are!)

I allow students to hit a dead end. In fact, failure must remain an option in Genius Hour. If students choose a topic that doesn’t measure up to their own standards and hopes, they soon learn from experience how to make better choices.

This reminds me of one of my own “Genius Hour” projects from last summer. I was visiting my sister for a month. She had an overstuffed chair that needed reupholstering. I said I would do it. It was harder than I anticipated, and the end result was terrible. I didn’t have time left over to try again, but I’ve already determined to redo it next summer and be fully prepared to succeed.

We can trust students. Students who have less challenging projects will see the products of their peers who set greater challenges for themselves. Seeing the presentations of their friends often inspires students to do even better next time.

Gallit: Also, what about asking students to make something as part of their project? That way they won’t just be “done.” They can build a model, create a documentary of their learning, etc. Making things is fun and also touches on so many of the skills we want kids to have.

I also want to add that I have been thinking about this word ‘rigor’ a lot lately. I wonder if everything has to be rigorous? What about just doing, making, learning something for fun? Does everything have to be rigorous to be meaningful? Or is it also important to just do things because we like them and because they are fun to do? I think this is really worth thinking about! (And here’s some food for thought.)

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Strategy 3: Scaffolding and support. How much guidance/structure do you give students before their very first GH and during each GH?

Gallit: I try to have quick one-on-one conferences during Genius Hour so that I can see what kids are doing and ask them questions that may guide them if needed. It is hard to remember who you got to, so I would definitely suggest taking notes on a class list or something like that. So you can see who you missed and get to them the next week.

Denise: Some students definitely need more structure than others. Once I had a student who was working on Minecraft, but every week he seemed to be starting over. I felt he was just playing with the app, and it seemed to be a mirror of his school life – never following through or finishing up.

I began to challenge him to come up with a plan and finish it. He did. He decided to re-create a government building using Minecraft. He did the math and attempted to make it with the correct proportions. During those next few weeks of Genius Hour, I probably had a half dozen conferences with him to keep him motivated and committed to finishing this one. Other students need very little support and guidance. Just a quick check in once in awhile is fine for many.

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Strategy 4: Classroom management for Genius Hour. How do you manage kids working on different things at the same time?

Denise: Before I ever start Genius Hour with a class, I spend several weeks helping students to build trust, community, and classroom expectations. Make sure your classroom is a safe place. Classroom management isn’t really a problem while working on Genius Hour projects because students love what they are doing.

We can bring in experts on a topic – which can include parents and grandparents – so there are more leaders in the room. With additional teachers or school staff involved, students can also use multiple spaces in the school. Some students might be inventing a new sport in the gym or taking photographs outside.

Gallit: I totally agree with Denise. Behaviour management hasn’t been much of a concern for me – the students are usually fully engaged. Sometimes kids are quietly off task, but that is why I circulate and try to check in with everyone. A student might just need some help to figure out their next step. But I really have never had students “act up” or “misbehave” during Genius Hour.

I do make sure that I keep track of who is doing what project though, and how long they have been at it. Again, we just want to make sure that no one has hit a roadblock and ground to a halt (or something like that).

And I love what Denise said about bringing in experts. I haven’t had experts come in yet, but my principal would help out sometimes and the kids absolutely loved working with him. I would definitely recommend having admin come and join in with the kids!

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Strategy 5: Assessment. How do you assess the final results?

Gallit: Formative assessment is all I do. I give them feedback during Genius Hour time, or on their blog posts about their projects, and then students self-assess/reflect. But there is no evaluation of the final results for me.

One of our rationales for doing Genius Hour is that students will learn more deeply when they are motivated by autonomy and not by letter grades or final assessments. So I believe: Formative feedback? Yes! Summative evaluation? No!

Denise: Students will have time to practice and demonstrate success at skills in the Common Core or whatever standards you use. Especially for teachers who use standards-based grading, one can find evidence of students using many skills throughout the process – research, evaluation of resources, producing and publishing writing, presenting, collaborating with others, and on and on, through a myriad of literacy skills that include listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Thanks for reading through our 5 (strategies) in 1000 (words)! Here are some more resources that can be helpful to you as you learn more about Genius Hour.

Keeping up with Genius Hour: The Student Ideas List

Books That Genius Hour Teachers Love

Videos That Genius Hour Teachers Love

And, of course, our book! (For a 20% discount use this code at the Routledge site).

Genius Hour Guide

The Genius Hour Guidebook: Passion, Wonder and Inquiry in the Classroom is co-authored by Denise Krebs & Gallit Zvi and published by Routledge Eye on Education, in partnership with MiddleWeb.com. Learn more about the book.

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