Friday, February 5, 2016

Genius Hour: Unlocking the Passion in Your Students

Happy Friday everyone!  Is it just me, or did this week drag by extremely slowly?  The PTA came in to set up Book Fair on Thursday and we opened today, which meant we saw a lot of traffic in the library.  I will definitely be ready to stay in bed late and watch a ridiculous amount of Netflix tomorrow morning!
On Tuesday I started a new club with some of my students.  I came across the idea of Genius Hour a year ago when I was looking for research projects for my students.  The idea intrigued me, but I was hesitant to take on the chaos of Genius Hour with 25 second graders.  This new trend actually began at Google, where they allow their employees to spend some time working on pet projects (as long as they could potentially benefit the company).  This idea has spread into classrooms, where teachers are setting aside time for students to research something they are passionate about.  I could type out all the information about Genius Hour, but the video below gives the history of the idea and how it is being applied to classrooms.

Here are a few reasons I like the idea of Genius Hour:
1.  Giving Them Choice
So much of what we do is dictated by standards, administration, and other forces that run the education world.  I know when I was in the classroom it seemed like I was constantly being told what to teach and how to teach it.  Trying to fit every child's interests into your lessons is daunting and impossible.  This gives them a chance to be in charge of a small part of their school time.
2.  Sneaking in Skills
As students do their projects, they will naturally have to use research skills.  This gives you a chance to teach these skills as they do their projects, having them apply their research skills in an authentic way.  It will be a great opportunity to informally review things such as how to choose a search term or how to check if a source is credible.
3.  Creating Lifelong Learners
We all want our students to grow up to be lifelong learners that have a passion about something.  If a student is having trouble trying to find a book I always start the conversation with "What are you interested in?"  You wouldn't believe how many times the answer is "Nothing."  I throw out some popular answers (animals, sports, crafts, drawing, etc.) and we come up empty.  Helping students explore various topics lets them discover these passions that they will be able to carry into the future.

For our first meeting we came up with topics we might want to research and narrowed it down to one specific topic.  When I was preparing and making my own list, I realized it was even difficult for me to narrow down my topics.  I chose to use a blank bracket to help us make the process easier.  Students started by making a list of topics they might want to explore during Genius Hour.  I reminded them that they can include things they want to learn more about, hobbies they currently have, or even things they know nothing about or skills they want to learn.
After we finished our list, I modeled how to narrow down our list using the bracket.  Some students had over 20 items (whoa!) and had to narrow down ahead of time since there were only 16 slots.  We discussed things like what supplies we would need to make our final product, if it would be hard to find information on the topic, or if one topic sounds more interesting.  In the end they were all able to choose a topic for Genius Hour!  We had everything from Shopkins to aeronautics to snakes.
Next week we will be looking at the difference between a Google question and a Genius question.  Then we will use our topic to formulate a question that will guide our research.  I'm excited to see what these kids come up with!  Have you ever done Genius Hour or something similar in your classroom?  What are your opinions on this movement?  Until next time, happy reading!


  1. Wow! That sounds overwhelming! Are you only doing this with 2nd graders? Is it an afterschool club? What do you think about first graders participating in this type of activity? I think with 1st the research would be the difficult aspect but am really considering trying this : )


  2. I am doing it with a group of fifteen 3rd to 5th graders. I was able to keep it this small since it is an afterschool club. I've seen a few posts on Pinterest about 1st graders doing Genius Hour, just in a simpler fashion. Below are a few links to two blogs with teachers that have posted about it so you can take a look!