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.
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.