Genius Hour: Where Our Passions Intersect with the Needs of the World

The COETAIL Course 1 readings this week provoked a lot of thinking.

First, the ISTE standards for teachers blew my mind with many opportunities for growth. I know I can’t tackle them all at once, so here’s what I will focus on first:

1.a Promote, support, and model creative and innovative thinking and inventiveness.

1.b Engage students in exploring real world issues and solving authentic problems using digital tools and resources

2b. Develop technology-enriched learning environments that enable all students to pursue their individual curiosities, and become active participants in setting their own educational goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress.

The study Living with New Media also gave me much to think about. I am convinced that “new media” has changed the way youth socialize and learn. I know that my students need time to tinker, explore and make connections with an authentic audience outside of the walls of our classroom. I am also aware that my students need to become responsible digital citizens.

My brain is full of the endless possibilities for learning.  So, last weekend I spent some time reflecting on the question: What is one small change in my class that could make a big difference? I kept coming back to the idea of giving my students time to explore their own interests and passions. This led me to researching 20% time and Genius Hour. Interestingly, I discovered that fellow coetailer, Jackie Raseman also blogged about implementing Genius Hour in her third grade class. She included many useful links to help me get started.

Genius Hour originates from companies like Google that give their employees 20% time to develop their passions and talents in a way that will further the goals of the company, increase innovation, and enhance productivity. It is based on the principle that we all have interests and passions that can make the world a better place. Recent research in education has shown that when students are given free time to work on projects of their choice, they are more engaged and learn new things in a deeper way. Here’s how it works according to Chris Kesler:

  • Students develop a question they want to answer.
  • They research and design a project that answers their question.
  • They present their findings in some way.       
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I am passionate about community development and helping my students believe they can make a difference in their world.  So, I want to guide them toward what I call their “sweet spot.” I want to help them discover the place where their passions intersect with the needs of the world. Other educators like Oliver Schinkten are also using Genius Hour this way.

So here’s what I’ve done this past week to implement Genius Hour: 

  • Received my administrator’s approval. She allowed me to fit a Genius Hour block into my timetable every Friday.

  • Built up interest by telling my students that we were going to have a special time on Friday called “Genius Hour.”  I didn’t give many details but just told them that it would be fun.

  • Decided to organize three centers for the initial weeks to give the students some structure and ideas of how they could use their time. This week was a lego center, an arts and craft center and an “invention” center (which was mostly just tape and cardboard). Each week I will introduce another new center or idea.

  • Wrote a letter to the parents.
  • On Friday, I showed the students a Kid President video and told them that I want them to think of things they could make or do that would help make the world a better place.

  • Then I turned them loose.
Constructing mini-homes for insects
A Game Idea

I was amazed at how quickly they settled into different projects.

Some students went straight for the legos to start building. Two girls started working on a game they called, “We Treat Others,” (not sure what that will be about but we’ll see). And, one small group worked on making houses for the insects and worms they had been collecting all week. 

Next steps for me include:

  • Introduce a few new ideas weekly. (electronics, coding, websites with project ideas, design challenges, etc.)

  • Keep an eye out for students who are lacking focus or not engaged.
  • Lead students through a process of thinking up a question they have or a problem they want to solve.
  • Introduce age appropriate research strategies and tools.

I’d love to hear from others who have tried this successfully!




15 Replies to “Genius Hour: Where Our Passions Intersect with the Needs of the World”

  1. Wow Michelle! You didn’t just do the readings, some additional research and thinking this week, you got started. Congrats! I feel that sometimes that can be the hardest part of something new. Also, it’s wonderful your principal supports your idea. I also have a desire to “get started” with Genius Hour and I’m going to use your step-by-step list this week. Thanks for sharing!

    I also found it interesting how you combined both the idea of Genius Hour and also teaching empathy simultaneously. I’m excited to hear how this concept grows.

    It seems that we have a group of us all working on the same thing. What a wonderful connection just through COETAIL! Searching for the hashtag #geniushour on Twitter I ran across this website and post
    about some of the ups and downs of getting started. I thought it might be helpful for you too! Also, there’s also a monthly Twitter chat about Genius Hour. It’s the 1st Thursday of each month at 6 pm Pacific/9 pm Eastern.

    1. Hi Megan! Thanks for the feedback. I’m excited that we are on this journey together. The resources you recommended were ones I hadn’t found on my own, so thanks so much for passing them on. I’m looking forward to connecting and sharing our progress.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Michelle. I like the way you have planned genius hour. I will also give it a try with my middle school students. Will share my experience.

  3. Michelle, I love what you have done this week! I really want to adopt Genius hour into my class and get my students involved in some real, self-directed learning. My students currently have Quiet Time for 15 minutes each day after recess. I have always used it as a time for the students to decompress after lunch. I put soft music on and they can read, write, draw or rest, or do anything else they like, as long as they are quiet (not silent). I have been amazed by how students spend their time and the mini-projects that come out of it, as well as the different social interactions that happen during this time. This year’s group is really into creating origami flexigons and drawing characters from Clash of Clans. What I have noticed is that students reach out more to each other during this time than any other time of the day. Students who don’t normally seek each other out will all of a sudden be working on a project together. You’ve inspired me to change Quiet Time into Genius time!

    1. Hi Jennifer!
      Thanks so much for the encouragement! This is all new territory for me so I excited to know that some other fellow coetailers are experimenting with Genius Hour. I loved all the resources you shared in your blog and I’ve already used a few of them! Let’s stay connected and keep sharing our ideas, successes and failures.

  4. Hi Michelle
    Its so great that your school advocated iTime/Genius Hour/Passion projects. This is HUGE. This is a growth mindset for the community and teachers, admin, learners and also parents are invested partners. Also very cool- youve identified and given TIME. Its our rarest resource as a teacher right? But I think once you realise that being creative needs time and you see what kids can do and take all those awesome things and brig them back into the teaching and learning…its what its al about it. And do the kids like it. You bet! I mean who wouldnt!

  5. That’s great Michelle, what an amazing amount of progress in a week! I love the variety of what your students are planning to do. I tried Genius Hour last year and will repeat it this year, learning from the experience. Some students flew, but a lot were very stuck in finding something appropriate to do. I feel I need to help them to take more time in planning and give them more structure to come up with a rewarding project. We also need to conclude the projects with an exhibition or TED-style talks.
    Good luck!

    1. Thanks Steve! I am thinking I need to give the students some time to explore and pique their curiosity. I also need to connect them to other young people who are using their talents and passions to make a positive difference in this world. I love the idea of having the students share TED-style talks. I’ve never tried that before.Thanks for the suggestion.

  6. Greetings Michelle,

    Thank you for sharing the step by step process that you used. For me the idea that you used toward connecting empathy and possible service learning opportunities to Genius Hour was perfect! I am glad that your admin was on board too. As a principal, I’ve been working hard to support my teachers in grades K-3. We implemented a 1:1 program last year and it has been slow going in part because of the approach we have taken. While we use the expertise we have in our teachers, it is mostly sharing of apps that people have used and that tie into the content they are teaching. What we really need though is for teachers to let the kids “have at it”. The framed approach through service learning/global citizenship is a nice first step that I will try. I like this learning through Global Communities. Thanks.

    1. Hi Ken,
      Thanks so much for your feedback. It’s great when an administrator says they want the kids to “have at it!” I am curious how it will go as my students develop ideas that reflect their passions and contribute to their society.

  7. Thanks for a great post Michelle!

    I completely empathise with what you had to say – since starting the Coetail course my head has been spinning with so many interesting ideas and approaches to education. It is hard to focus in on just one. You have taken a great approach: What is one small change in my class that could make a big difference? It is one that I am going to follow.

    I look forward to seeing the different ideas and projects that your students come up with. I imagine they were thrilled when you introduced the idea to them!

    Thanks for the link to the compassion based learning site. What an interesting read and one that I couldn’t agree with more. I think that too any educators underestimate children and that our practices have been stuck in the past for too long.

    One quick question – you mention your administrator putting space in your timetable. What do you mean by ‘administrator’? Is that the principle/head?

    Good luck with the project!


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