I’m excited to announce that I have taken the plunge into the unknown and introduced Genius Hour to my students. We are all absolutely loving it! Following the first few sessions, I want to use my blog as a platform for reflection. As I type, I’m considering successes so far and how I can make better use of Genius Hour in the upcoming weeks and in future projects. The title of this post sums up, in my opinion, what a good Genius Hour project should be about: passion and purpose. So far, the passions are well underway, but we now need to revisit the purpose.
What is Genius Hour?
Genius Hour, Passion Time, iTime, Passion Projects, Personal Inquiries, etc. are many names for what I think are the same thing (if there’s a difference between these terms, please comment below and let me know). For the sake of this post, I’ll continue to call it Genius Hour. For an introduction, please watch the video above.
The successes so far
For me, it’s a joy to learn about their passions and to watch the students come alive as they are allowed to explore them in school. I’m reminded of key messages from Sir Ken Robinson, who acknowledges the problem that students’ passions are often unvalued by traditional education, or worse, they are stigmatised. Similarly:
“Too many children today go to school only to bide their time until they get home and do something that truly interests them.”
Paul Solarz, Learn like a PIRATE
I want my classroom to be a place where passions are ignited, encouraged, developed and celebrated. That’s why I love Genius Hour.
It was surprisingly difficult for some students to generate ideas for Genius Hour, and even more difficult to develop these initial ideas into project proposals that would have longevity. The sudden freedom to choose their own area of learning was too overwhelming for some! However, this is such an important stage if we are to value the ‘passion’ in ‘passion projects’. Without the passions, we should just stick to the curriculum. Chosen topics need to be personal, of genuine interest to the individuals and provide ongoing engagement. Through discussions, suggestions and tweaks, I now feel that my whole class has reached this stage. Today, for the first time, Genius Hour in my classroom was in full flow. Every student was engaged in their learning from the start of the session to the end. Many students asked my favourite question, a question that always tells me everything that I need to know as a teacher: “Can I carry on at recess?” Nailed it.
Following advice from Steven Allan at a PYP Network Meeting, I asked the students to consider their final outcome of the project (by the end of the six weeks) through the question, ‘how will you prove what you have learnt?’ This gives them a goal to aim for by the end of the project and a concrete, measurable outcome to determine the project’s success. The students have suggested their own end products such as a blog, playable video games, video tutorials, presentations, etc. As the video above states, there should be something by the end of projects that can be shared. My students have excellent ideas for this and I look forward to the process of getting them there.
This is just a snapshot of what was going on during our Genius Hour session today:
- Four students were intrdocued to coding as the first step towards their video games/robotics proposals (https://code.org/learn)
- One student started designing iPhone cases based on her target audience
- One student planned the interface of his own NBA news blog
- Three students were learning and practising the basics of their chosen foreign language
- One student started to create his own Pokémon game using data from different pokémon
- Another student made her own play-doh (messy, but successful!)
- A fencer brought her equipment to school so that she could take pictures for her website
The list goes on!
“When people are in their Element, they connect with something fundamental to their sense of identity, purpose, and well-being.”
Sir Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
Considerations for taking it further
The session was followed by a thought-provoking discussion with Danielle (my head of year). She popped in to see Genius Hour in full swing and was impressed by the students’ enthusiasm, independence and engagement. The question for us now is, as she calls it, the most important question in education:
So far, I have focused my energy on the ‘passion’ part of this post title. As I said, I believe that it’s extremely important to get these right. The session today proved that the passions are now in place, so I should now revisit the purpose.
Why did I decide to dedicate valuable class time to Genius Hour? How can I maximise learning through these passions? Whatever changes I make, I must do so without allowing the passions to dwindle. The purpose should drive the passions without overriding them.
“By including a focus on strengthening their learning capacity, we prevent this time from simply being about ‘doing a project’ and value it as another context in which to grow inquiry skills and capacities.”
Kath Murdoch, The Power of Inquiry
Admittedly, my students have simply been ‘doing a project’ up until this stage. However, I feel that this has been an ideal starting point for the students (and teachers!) who are new to this. I didn’t want to overwhelm them further by adding restrictions and teacher-decided targets. With the next Genius Hour projects, I will aim to make it more purposeful from the start. For current projects, I want to consider the next steps very carefully in order for to maximise what the students get out of it. I think that they are now ready for it. Ongoing discussions with Danielle and the team will consider these points:
Good questions should guide their inquires and provoke their thinking. The challenge for teachers, as Kath Murdoch acknowledges, is to spark their curiosity, maintain it, and encourage them to continually ask good questions. This is not as simple as it perhaps sounds. It’s a classroom culture that takes time to develop. For students who need the support, I will help them with the questioning through feedback, suggestions and one-to-one discussions. I will help them to create un-Googlable, conceptual, ‘big’ questions that guide the students without disengaging them. Maintaining the passions is critical.
“Curiosity is the grease that helps turn the wheel of learning.”
Kath Murdoch, The Power of Inquiry
What am I assessing?
As a PYP teacher, Genius Hour provides a way for me to assess other elements of the programme. As a grade, we will discuss how this will work and ideas for taking it forward in a structured, organised way. Regardless of the content or topic, we can use the personal inquiries to assess particular skills or attitudes (for example). The projects provide a context for teaching/developing these and the students should be made aware of which ones are the foci.
In summary, it’s important to once again emphasise that the teacher’s aims should not restrict or stifle the students’ passions. But the passions without purpose would be a disservice to the potential of Genius Hour. When executed by experienced Genius Hour teachers who know how to purposefully ignite passions, I believe strongly that Genius Hour (or whatever you want to call it) is an exemplary model of teaching that prepares students for the twenty-first century. I’m excited to become a more effective facilitator and committed to this goal.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Watch this space!
If you have any comments or advice about Genius Hour, please comment below. It’s a learning curve for me, but one that I am thoroughly enjoying! Any support will be hugely appreciated. For more information, visit http://www.geniushour.com/ or follow the conversations on Twitter #geniushour.