Genius Hour Reviewed

For several weeks the topic of conversation in our classroom surrounded our trial of Genius Hour.  Students were excited about being given the time and opportunity to pursue topics of interest to them.  They LOVED the term – Student Driven Learning!

Most students had an idea right away – while others needed time to think and plan.  Some students decided to work together while others chose to work independently.  Some students would use the computer, while others would use different tools.

Our ‘hour’ began at 1:45 p.m. Students excitedly collected their supplies and went straight to work. The level of engagement was something at which to marvel.  For over an hour students were completely engrossed in their learning while they created comic strips on the computer, sewed a pillow, researched hedgehogs, experimented with volcanoes, created mazes from wood, researched a Brazilian Gospel singer, and so many other topics.

There were audible groans and moans when the bell sounded signaling the end of our school day and thus the ending of their Genius Hour.  The disbelief that the ‘hour’ was up was clear by looking at the disappointment on my students’ faces. Many had not accomplished the tasks they set out for themselves.  Many asked if they could have more time the following day.

Appreciating the students’ involvement in their learning I decided to give them some extra time the next day to ‘finish’ their Genius work. When I announced it in the morning there were fist pumps and ‘yays’!  When the time came, students again began to work diligently.

Over the next two days there was time for students to quickly share their learning with their classmates.  Students listened intently and asked thoughtful questions. At the end students all wanted to know when to expect the NEXT Genius Hour.  This makes me realize the power of allowing and trusting students to follow their interests and passion.  Success in learning!
Ideas for next Genius Hour: 

 Allow more time (one student told me she needed a “Genius Hour-Forty-five”)
  • Assign work spaces so students are not crowding each other.(Some students who were working independently needed to be further away from the partner groups.  A student or two could have used a study carrel for less distractions.)
  • Require supplies be brought to school ahead of time. (Some students were scrambling to find supplies around the classroom as they thought of last minute items.  Some students relied on their partner to provide supplies only to find out there was no follow through.)
  • Conference with students to see what plan they are followingand make suggestions or guide students in this critical area. (While I asked them to write their steps down a day or two beforehand, it wasn’t enough time for me to ascertain if students had really had a good idea of how to begin and what to do next. While some students didn’t need this planning piece; several others could have benefited from a little guidance from me.)
  • Embrace sharing (Sounds silly, but I wanted the students to be more interested in what they were doing/learning,  but many of them were just itching to share what they had learned.  When the students finally shared I was able to really get a better sense of all they had done.  It also strengthened their learning while inspiring others.)

Questions I’m still pondering: 

    • Should students be allowed to start their work at home? My directions stated the learning was to be done DURING Genius Hour in school.  However many of my students went home and started researching right away, which showed enthusiasm. Some others elicited help from their folks. Both make me wonder about the amount of parental involvement.
    • What kinds of suggestions do I make for those students who are not sure WHAT to pursue? A few students finished early and were not sure what to do. I asked them to extend/expand on what they had done.  These students came to a standstill.  I was taken aback but a colleague said – “why would you be…we are always directing the students’ learning so they aren’t sure what to do when given the chance!” That made sense to me!
    • Should I discourage the use of tools like hammers, nails & power tools? One group of students used a hammer and nails and they banged their thumbs at least once! One boy got a splinter with the wood he was using.  Another child was planning on bringing in a power screwdriver.  While I like the idea of allowing students to try using these types of tools, I’m not sure if the safety issue outweighs the learning aspect. (Interestingly, one student recommended we not “allow” the use of power tools in class.)
  • Should I insist on having a back up plan or alternative learning plan for early finishers? A couple of students finished early and they seemed to be stuck when it came to extending the learning on their topic.  I was in a quandary as to whether to send them in another direction or not.

Genius Hour is here to stay! I am convinced in this first showing that students need time to pursue their interests.  I am convinced that allowing them time will further promote their curiosity.


Originally posted to Nancy Carrol’s, blog.

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