Journey to Genius

One of the things that I introduced my students to last year,  that I knew for sure I wanted to repeat again was Genius Hour.  I was so amazed at the ideas my students had when they could be in charge of their learning and in a lot of cases, I was equally as amazed by the things they learned and shared with others.

In September when school started, my, now, grade 7 students were already asking if we would do Genius Hour again and when we could start.  On the first day I asked my students to give me some feedback on what I had done last year that they really liked and what I had done that they hoped I would never ask them to do again.  What the majority of them told me that they liked, was the opportunity to do Genius Hour and learn about things they were passionate about.  I am not willing to share the things they hoped I would never do again, but you can bet I have taken their feedback to heart and will try to change my teaching to accommodate as many as possible.


So what is Genius Hour? To me Genius Hour is a set aside time dedicated to student driven and passion directed learning.  Students choose what they would like to learn about and teachers get out-of-the-way, basically, and let them follow the path to creativity and discovery.  It is learning from our mistakes, reflecting on how we could do things better, sharing and learning from each other in a culture of collaboration.  It is my job as a teacher to coach and advise them as they move through the process.  Some students require more support than others, but one thing is for sure…Learning is messy!

For our students to really learn, to learn vigorously, they need more than hypothetical questions, more than information, more than textbooks and tests.  They need to know how to dig in and really answer tough questions they have about the world, they need to know that it is okay to make mistakes and learn from them, that we need to open up our ideas to others and learn how to listen and learn from each other.  I was intrigued by a blog post I was reading the other day called What can I teach that a You Tube video can’t? It made me think about some of the things we spend time requiring students to learn and memorize that are easily at their fingertips.  Is this really the best use of our time?

The idea of Genius Hour was developed through many ideas from many people, but one of them was Google’s 20% time.  Many of Google’s products and innovations,  such as Gmail came from the 20% time their employees have to work on their own ideas.  It goes to show that learning and working do not always have to be directed from above.  Many good things come out of times when we are allowed to be creative and pursue our own thinking.  One could argue and prove through looking at history that we would not be where we are today without the opportunity for innovation.

Some of the ideas my students are working on right now are:

  • What role could Mind Craft play in the classroom?
  • Why do teenagers need sleep and have such a hard time waking up in the morning? (Stemming from a discussion we had in class about teenage brain development)
  • What are the origins of Halloween?
  • How does a bullet proof vest actually work? (Stemming from our recent tragedy in Ottawa)
  • What are optical illusions and how do they affect the brain?

I recently watched one of my grade 7 students present his ideas on Stan Lee and the Marvel Comics history.  He presented with such grace and knowledge there was not doubt in my mind he was passionate about his learning.  It was a very proud moment for me as his teacher.

Genius Hour Presentation
Genius Hour Presentation

As their teacher, I cannot argue the learning that is going on around me and I cannot deny the level of engagement in that learning.  I continue to think of ways to help them make the most of their time, help them dig deep and really find things out, help them know how to spread their knowledge and learning to others and use not only the experts in our classroom, but more importantly beyond our classroom walls to help them with their learning.

I can’t wait to see how many things I learn with my students this year.  I look forward to our Journey into Genius.

My Take on Teachers

Two things have prompted me to choose teachers as my topic for blogging this week.  The first reason was the fact that it is World Teacher Day today and that is worth talking about.  The second reason, and much closer to my heart, is because I had the privilege of spending Friday talking to most of my teachers about their personal growth plans.  I enjoy my job most days but two of my favorite days of the year are kindergarten orientation day and I don’t even have to explain why I love that day.  My second is when I actually get to have time to sit down and connect with the teachers in our school and talk to them uninterrupted about the things going on in their classrooms and their lives.  The meetings are short and sweet, but so valuable to me.

I have been a teacher myself for 27 years.  I seems kind of weird to put that number down in writing and I have to admit that makes me feel a bit old.  During that time I have had many different experiences and have taught every grade from kindergarten through grade 12 in one capacity or the other.  I have also had the opportunity to work with countless wonderful teacher colleagues from who I have learned many thing about life and teaching.  When I am walking around our school and in and out of classrooms, I am able to observe learning and teaching at its finest.  It is a great feeling I get to have as a principal knowing that the students in our school are learning and growing everyday under the direction of the hard working and dedicated teachers we have. reading Countless studies conducted on teacher effectiveness support the fact that effective teachers not only make students feel good about school and learning, but also  a teacher’s work results in increased student achievement. As a matter of fact a number of them indicate the teacher is the single most important factor.

Research studies such as these would be no surprise to someone like me who witnesses the effect of a teacher on his or her students every single day I am at my job.  Teachers are not only presenting lessons on curricular outcomes and helping students work through academic problems.  More importantly, they are helping students every day work through many social issues and problems, wiping away tears and helping students fix mistakes that they have made, handing out hugs when they might not be there from other sources and offering support for students in countless other ways. As a principal, it makes sense to me that one of the most important parts of my job is to support my teachers because I know the effect they are having on our students every day.  It is important to have days such as World Teacher Day, so we can stop and think for a moment about the countless ways a teacher has had an effect on our lives.  I hope we do not have to wait for a day such as this to be set aside for us to see the importance of supporting and thanking our teachers. I know I don’t.

“This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there’s something behind that and I want to reach that person, I want to influence that person, I want to encourage that person, I want to enrich, I want to call out that person who is behind that face, behind that color, behind that language, behind that tradition, behind that culture. I believe you can do it. I know what was done for me.”  —Maya Angelou

What do Pleasantdale students want to teach the world? @kidpresident