If you’re googling educational topics, chances are you’ve come across something called “Genius Hour” as there’s a lot of buzz going around this interesting approach to teaching.
To be fair, it’s not so much a teaching method, but a principle on how to structure your classes. It quickly became a popular movement because it takes very little time out of the traditional teaching methods, yet brings far-reaching benefits.
In fact, one of the main ideas behind Genius Hour is to prepare students for the real world. It’s not uncommon for high achievers in school to struggle to get accepted to prominent universities or get their dream job, while we frequently hear stories of people who dropped out of school only to become overwhelmingly impressive, such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and many others.
This gives the wrong impression to students that school doesn’t affect or maybe even worsens one’s chances of success in life later – which is not true, even when there’s room for improvement. For these reasons, many educators implemented strategies such as Genius Hour to inspire students to think outside the box and use the knowledge gained in school for practical matters – to be innovators!
How exactly is this achieved through Genius Hour? Keep reading to find out.
What is Genius Hour?
Genius Hour is a new movement where students are encouraged to learn outside of the traditional classroom setting. It’s a way to motivate students to explore their own interests and passions.
Genius Hour is a portion of the day where students can choose what they want to learn, while the teacher gives them the tools to transform that knowledge into valuable ideas, innovative products, or creative solutions to problems that are of interest to the student. At the same time, it represents a strategy for building independence, responsibility, and learning the importance of an initiative.
To give you a practical example, it’s basically one hour of the day or two hours of the week (the time you dedicate depends solely on you and your schedule) where you let students do independent research on the topic they’re passionate about or do a project they’ve always wanted to. This means that some students might decide to paint, learn sports techniques, find answers on a topic they find interesting, write poetry, and so on.
As a teacher, your goal is to guide the students until they feel comfortable working completely on their own. You can show them how to do research, where to start if they want to learn a new skill, or research a specific topic, but you should not give them assignments nor tell them what to do.
History of Genius Hour
While the term Genius Hour is relatively new, the concept has been around for a long time. The multinational conglomerate corporation, 3M, was one of the first to introduce this concept back in the 1950s. With their 15% project, they allowed their workers to spend 15% of the time on things they find interesting or are passionate about. Today, 3M is constantly featured in the Fortune 500 list and has developed more than 60,000 innovative products.
Following the success of 3M, Google also implemented a similar project where workers were allowed to spend 20% of their time on free activities. Soon, the success and popularity of Google turned the 80-20% rule into a trend and the name Genius Hour emerged.
In his best-selling book ”Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” Daniel Pink talks about the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things – the basis of Genius Hour. And, just like 3M and Google implemented these principles in the workspace, teachers can implement them in education, while individuals can try and follow them at home. In fact, this is exactly what happened.
Genius Hour in Education
Somewhere along the road from Google’s adoption of this practice in their offices to this day, professionals saw the potential this has in schools and they started to practice it in the classroom.
Most educators were inspired by Daniel Pink’s book or TED talks where he endorses Google’s practices and speaks about students’ motivation.
“Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.”
― Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
The school should still be a place where kids learn discipline, control, patience, and receive a structure that will guide them later in life. However, these skills or traits should be balanced by promoting creativity, independence, taking initiative, finding one’s true calling, exploring, discovering, and researching, too.
The reasoning behind this is quite simple and it’s the same for workspaces as it’s for schools – freedom and autonomy are basic human needs that when opposed, lead to apathy, disinterest, mediocracy, or even unconscious rebellion against the situation where workers or students feel they don’t have control. It’s a common image in schools, too – as students grow up they want to explore and prove their worth, which is why they might feel that school is boring, unchallenging, or even too controlling.
On the other hand, when these basic human needs are nourished, they lead to satisfaction, self-confidence, motivation, new ideas, and feelings of self-worth.
Advantages of Using Genius Hour in the Classroom
In the last paragraph, we already started to talk about some of the benefits of incorporating Genius Hour in the classroom. But, what are the other advantages that can convince you to put aside 20% of the lecture per week to let students explore their interests?
Genius Hour Promotes Lifelong Creativity and Critical Thinking
Let’s start with the advantage that we discussed several times until now – creativity. Traditional learning focuses on giving students a structure, guidelines, and ready assignments that they need to follow. This is a great way to acquire knowledge and understand crucial topics, however, it leaves no room for critical thinking, creative problem-solving by finding innovative ideas or solutions to current issues. Genius Hour addresses this and gives students an opportunity to pursue questions that previously caught their attention, but weren’t answered.
Exploration Helps Students Understand Modern Tools
Another advantage is the opportunity for students to learn all the available tools we have today for achieving their goals, whether that’s computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, the internet, apps, specific platforms, programming languages, or other non-tech tools. And, while they’re probably familiar with most of these, it encourages students to use them for professional benefits. When the teachers don’t have the answers, they have to find a way to get answers on their own, just like in the workspace, which brings us to the next advantage.
Genius Hour Prepares Students for the World After School
There is a popular saying students like to joke around with saying “When will I need this in my life?” regarding different topics in school. Genius Hour is a great way for educators to show them how to use the skills they’ve learned to solve practical problems – something that will be expected of them later in life. They’ll see what it’s like to do their own research and be challenged with the findings later by other classmates. But, most importantly, they’ll learn how to do things independently for their own interest.
Challenges and Potential Solutions for Genius Hour
Of course, every approach in education has its drawbacks, as well. When it comes to Genius Hour, this is mostly reflected in time management, resources, and administrative issues.
The Administration Might Not Accept Genius Hour
One of the main concerns when it comes to Genius Hour and its implementation in public schools is the reaction of the administrations. The truth is, Genius Hour might seem messy, uncontrolled, or even without purpose to many people. Teachers might find it a challenge justifying the benefits or the progress in an educational context. This is because the nature of Genius Hour is to not be controlled, evaluated, or directed. Using research findings and focusing on long-term benefits might be a good approach when talking about this.
Genius Hour Requires Specific Resources
Another obstacle is physical limitations. If you’re in a classroom that has no computer equipment or an extensive library, students might find it difficult to do research and find innovative solutions, meaning the whole organization might turn into a nightmare. The whole point is for kids to be able to explore topics of their interest, but without resources to do so, it can turn into a standard free time for the students – something you want to avoid.
Taking Time Out of Classic Teaching Methods Is Challenging
Another concern for most teachers is the adoption of the curriculum, so they can make time for Genius Hour. Some months this might not be a problem at all, but other months, where the schedule is more dense or more complex topics are on the horizon, Genius Hour can be a burden. Being realistic regarding your time management and planning ahead are the two requisites that prevent chaos from an unsuccessful implementation of Genius Hour in the classroom.
Kids New to Genius Hour Might Struggle in the Beginning
Finally, the last thing to consider is the students’ reactions. Because of the nature of Genius Hour, educators often overlook the potential negative feedback from students. Who doesn’t want more free time to focus on the things they like, right? However, when students don’t know how to do research, when they don’t know where to start, or how to think about things, negative attitudes should be expected. This is why you should prepare the students for independent work before implementing Genius Hour.
Principles of Genius Hour in Education
If you want to effectively implement Genius Hour in the classroom, there are six principles to guide you. This is an opportunity for kids to design their own learning during a limited period of time (eg. 20% of the day, week, month). The aim of Genius Hour is to give students a sense of purpose and inquiry skills to deliver creative solutions and socialize with classmates. Following these definitions, we can already identify the core principles of Genius Hour!
The first principle is one that provides a framework for Genius Hour and a structure that helps teachers to implement it in the classroom. Today, following the examples from 3M and Google, Genius Hour is envisioned as a portion of a typical work or school day – 20% to be exact, or one hour. This is considered to be just the right time to give students the freedom to explore without feeling the time pressure, but also to constrain them so they don’t procrastinate.
Sense of Purpose
The second principle is its aim to give students a sense of purpose in designing their own learning. This is why Genius Hour should be student-centered, flexible, and sensitive to the student’s specific needs, learning styles, wishes, and interests. One example of this would be to make sure visual learners have access to documentaries, TED talks, educational videos, images, infographics, and other visual materials.
The third principle is its unique design. This means that the teacher is not a provider of content or knowledge, nor they offer strict guidelines for how things should be done. In fact, the teacher is just a silent observer making sure that everyone is engaged and offers help if someone asks. The students are in an active role – they seek out information so they can learn. Usually, a guiding question is presented to the students before the beginning of Genius Hour and they use that as a starting point to create something new. One interesting example of a Genius Hour question is “How would you build a city?”
Inquiry as a principle revolves around the ways in which students make sense of the ideas presented to them and find creative solutions. Let’s stick to our example where you ask the students to imagine building a city. The principle of inquiry tells us that students would need to think of what’s most important for them, to find whether that works by gathering information online, reading books on government structures, interview an authority for other points of view, or take a survey on which they’ll base their proposals. There are no limitations for how students will complete their project, but to be able to give an augmented solution, they have to rely on inquiry in some form.
The final result of the Genius Hour should be a creative, innovative, or unique solution that addresses the topic or answers a question in some way. Through their solution, students can express their views, their passions, the things that they consider are important, or the way they see the world, what’s good or what’s bad, and so much more. This makes them feel they’re heard, that their voice matters, and it reminds them of their worth for the community.
The final principle of Genius Hour is socialization, which isn’t directly associated with Genius Hour and can be a source of misconception. From everything that we’ve said about Genius Hour, one might easily conclude that this is an approach where students will work alone, which is not necessarily the case. We’ve said that Genius Hour should be flexible and sensitive to students’ preferences, meaning everyone can work either alone or in a group if that’s what they prefer. However, at the end of the day, kids should be encouraged to contact other experts, have discussions with classmates, and find other ways to socialize with people who might offer a different perspective on the topic. This is how they’ll gain knowledge and build networks essential for success.
How to Incorporate Genius Hour in Your Classroom
By now, you should have a pretty good idea of how Genius Hour would look like in the classroom, but that doesn’t tell you where to start and how to turn this project into a reality. So, let’s do that here.
Step-by-Step Process to Incorporate Genius Hour in the Classroom
The first step, before presenting to and asking permission from the administration, is to build a bullet-proof schedule that clearly shows how students can reach their curriculum goals and still have time for Genius Hour. If you accomplish this, chances are you’ll eliminate most of the administrative obstacles to implementing Genius Hour.
The second step is to present the idea to the administration. Once you have a well-defined schedule and an outline for the structure of Genius Hour (broad topics and benefits) you should notify or ask for permission to change the structure of the traditional lectures. This is crucial for public schools or other educational institutions where the teachers have limited control over the organizational matters.
If step two goes well, the third step is to prepare the students and set expectations. Make sure to explain the concept of Genius Hour to students and ask them how they feel about it. Explain the rules and expectations, as well as the purpose and the benefits for students.
Fourth, pick a topic and develop guiding questions. In the first step of this guide, we’ve said that in order to present the concept of Genius Hour to the administration, you should already have some broad ideas for topics in mind. However, after everyone’s on board, you should sit down and refine the topics you want students to work on, especially considering the skills and benefits associated with each topic. For instance, think about how each topic will help students not only in school, but in life after school. But, also keep in mind that when we say a topic, we mean a flexible guiding question that students can easily adapt to according to their own interests. For instance, the topic of “Reviews & Evaluations” can be applied to anything that students find interesting.
The next step is to prepare resources. If your school or institution has computers, make sure students have access to the internet, but not social media. Also, ask if you can get access to journals, educational platforms, and other resources that you can show to students. If technology is not an option, contact the school library and ask whether they have good resources on the topics you have chosen.
Finally, it’s time to bring it all together and execute your plan! Make sure to inform students in advance about Genius Hour. You can even tell them the topic in advance to capture their interest. During Genius Hour, make sure that everyone is involved and not just using this time to scroll through social media. Supervise the students ensuring they’re not interrupted.
The final step is for reflecting and improving. Once everything is done, think about what was good, what went wrong, and how you can improve the next Genius Hour session. Ask students for feedback and try to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your plan.
Teachers’ Resources on Genius Hour
This was quite a lengthy article since we tried to cover everything there is to know about Genius Hour, however, we’re well aware that those interested in this approach would love to keep reading! Here are our favorite resources on Genius Hour for teachers!
- The Genius Hour Guidebook: Fostering Passion, Wonder, and Inquiry in the Classroom by Denise Krebs and Gallit Zvi.
- Genius Hour: Passion Projects that Ignite Innovation and Student Inquiry by Andi McNair.
- Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom: Using 20% Time, Genius Hour, and PBL to Drive Student Success by A. J. Juliani.
- Ready-to-Use Resources for Genius Hour in the Classroom: Taking Passion Projects to the Next Level by Andi McNair.
- The 20Time Project: How educators can launch Google’s formula for future-ready innovation Kevin Brookhouser.
Before You Go
We hope that our article provided you with just enough details for you to better understand the concept of Genius Hour and feel comfortable deciding whether to implement it in your classroom or homeschooling practice. In fact, for homeschooling, Genius Hour might be easier to adopt since it avoids some of the difficulties mentioned above. However, even if you’re a teacher in a public school, don’t worry! There are many ways to try the concept of Genius Hour. For instance, you can start by replacing traditional homework with Genius Hour. This way you won’t take time off the lecture, yet still encourage students to do their own research.
And, if you liked the concept of Genius Hour, make sure to check out our other articles on innovative teaching approaches, such as gamification, game-based learning, brain-based learning, personalized learning, and so much more. Follow the links or simply head over to our blog and explore everything else we have written for teachers and homeschooling parents.
Also, don’t forget to visit our main website and check out our large collection of worksheets and other teaching resources. We have covered many topics, and we’re tirelessly working on bringing you even more resources – available and ready-to-use with just one click!
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