Genius Hour

Of all the recent buzzwords and catchphrases, we definitely have a favorite: Genius Hour. I mean, it just sounds cool. And it is.


Here’s the premise. Also known as 20 Percent Time, Genius Hour is an inquiry-based practice where students work on individual projects exploring their personal passions and creativity. It’s an approach that sprouted from companies like Google, where developers devote 20 percent of their work time to projects that interest them. And it’s been incredibly prolific — resulting in products like Gmail, Google Talk, and Google News.

Genius Hour brings that mindset to schools, where students use 20 percent of classroom time (about an hour a week in a given subject area) to create, explore, invent, modify, and build on a passion of their choosing. Tossing tradition out the window, Genius Hour challenges students to pursue learning on their own terms — while holding them accountable for high standards.

I can feel your comfort zone trembling. I get it. How does anyone give up that kind of instructional time? We teachers aren’t so good at letting go of control; it goes against just about everything we’ve been taught. But to make this work, you’re going to have to.

To get started, you need to do a little research. Here’s some places to start:

Next, you need to get planning. Summer is a great time to map out how you want to run your project. You need to break out your calendars and lesson plans, and outline just how Genius Hour will look in your classroom. Surf the web looking for examples and tricks of the trade that fit your style. Consider what structures you need to set in place, how students will be graded and held accountable, and what materials you need to gather and create to help everything run smoothly. However you decide to implement Genius Hour, keep these tenets in mind:

  • Inner Drive. Students need to be driven intrinsically to work on their chosen project.
  • Self Design. Learners are in charge of designing, scaffolding, and presenting their projects; they mold their own learning experience.
  • Research. Inquiry-based learning means that kids should be investigating their topic thoroughly, recording what they’ve learned, and implementing it in some form of publication, act, or creation.
  • Communication. Students are not one-person armies. They need to conference, plan, and produce with you, their peers, and experts outside the classroom.
  • Visible Product. No matter what the student’s inquiry is, there must be a visible product or presentation of the learning, and it needs to be shared — ideally on a big (even global!) level.

In the beginning, starting up Genius Hour is going to be just as challenging for you as an educator as it is for your students. The truth is, you will be learning and growing just as much as your kids.

But 20 Percent Time is 100 percent worth it. As radical and impossible as Genius Hour sounds, the payoffs are immense. Giving your students this kind of trust and freedom is empowering and launches intrinsic motivation and confidence. The best part? You will see students’ creativity come to life in new, unimaginable ways.

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