What is Genius Hour?

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At its core, Genius Hour is student-driven, inquiry-based learning. Students choose a topic they care about and want to learn more.

If you’ve heard of Genius Hour (or Passion Projects or 20% Time), but you’re not too sure what it means, you’re in the right place! This post is going to explain exactly what is Genius Hour. I’ll also look at specifically what it might look like in an elementary classroom.

I first learned of Genius Hour several years ago while I was teaching grade 6. After a lot of research and piecing together different ideas, I decided to give it a go in my classroom. The results were amazing and I was hooked!

I’ve used the same Genius Hour project template in grades 4-6 and it’s a success every time and it would work just as well in grades 7 and 8 as well.

How Genius Hour Started

Genius Hour (Passion Project) was made popular by Google. The basic idea is that 20% of their employees’ time was left for them to work on whatever inspired them. The only rule is that it must benefit the company.

It is thought that many of the greatest Google innovations have been created during this time.

The belief behind Genius Hour, or 20 percent time, is that people are at their most creative and productive when allowed to work on something they are passionate about.

This video outlines what Genius Hour is and how it started (it’s also included in my Prezi I share below):

What is Genius Hour, elementary style?

In more recent years, teachers have brought this idea into the classroom and put their own spin on it. Everyone does it a little differently but the basic principles should remain the same.

Genius Hour in the classroom needs to be:

  • Focused on inquiry-based learning with a focus on a deep, meaningful question,
  • Students choose the topic they wish to learn more about,
  • Needs to create some form of output that can be shared with the world (or class, school, community…).

What is a passion project for students?

The ultimate example of student-centred learning, passion projects for elementary students are the perfect way to deliver a personalized and differentiated education to all learners in the classroom.

To honour the true intention of Genius Hour, and as an elementary teacher covering all subjects, I recommend building Passion Projects into your Language Arts program.

Regardless of the topic, students will be reading and writing as they research their inquiry question. Every presentation will be a form of media and require oral communication skills.

Passion projects can also be completed within a subject area. For example, you could use the basic Genius Hour outline but give students boundaries to choose their topics. For example, topics must be related to space or ecosystems in a Science classroom.

Why use Genius Hour in the Classroom?

As mentioned above, these projects will cover all four strands of the Language Arts curriculum.

The fact that students are being given the freedom to choose a topic they feel passionate about will immediately increase student engagement and motivation. I’ve witnessed the most struggling, disengaged students become excited to work on their project!

Students are developing Learning Skills such as Independent Work, Initiative, Responsibility, Self-Regulation and Organization. It’s also a perfect opportunity to observe and assess these 😉.

Life Skills such as innovative thinking, time management, creativity and problem-solving are required to really develop a successful project.

How to Get Started with Genius Hour

There’s no one correct way to do Genius Hour or Passion Project for kids. However, there are a few main components to a successful project.

Firstly, consider how you want to schedule your Genius Hour projects. I like to do about one hour each week (Friday afternoons are perfect for this). In this way, I can make it a more integral part of my Literacy program and keep it running for longer. Other teachers, prefer to make it a standalone project and work on it every day for a month or so.

Introducing Genius Hour

In my experience, students have a (surprisingly) hard time identifying their passions and choosing their initial topic. There’s a good chance your students are used to being given a lot more direction and can feel a little overwhelmed to start.

Reading books like The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco is a great place to start. I also created a Prezi with a few videos and interactive prompts to introduce the general concept and to get students excited about it. Check it out here (and feel free to use it)!

There are 6 main steps to completing Genius Hour in the classroom:

  • Brainstorming passions
  • Choosing a topic
  • Researching
  • Creating a product
  • Presenting finished project
  • Reflecting

Have I convinced you of the power of Genius Hour in the classroom yet?? Click here for a detailed breakdown of exactly how I implement these 6 steps in my classroom.

Genius Hour in Elementary Classrooms

Genius Hour has been wildly successful for innovative tech companies like Google and can have the same effect in your classroom. I was nervous first introducing it to my students, not really having a clue as to the direction it would take, how to put the pieces together or if my students would buy in. I needn’t have been.

I would bet you’ve got students with behavioural, social-emotional and educational needs. And everyone is running low on motivation. When I have kids asking to stay in and keep working over recess, I know I’m onto a winner.

It takes some work at first as my students weren’t used to that much freedom. I’ve seen some quotes about education taking the creativity and imagination out of children. This is an incredible way to put some back!

Still don’t believe me? I challenge you to give it a shot. Let me know how it goes!

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Colourful paper balls turned into a lightbulb with the text What is Genius Hour?  And why should you try it.  Click the image to save on Pinterest for reference.
A sketch of a lightbulb with the text Idea inside it and colouring pencils around.  The text reads What's the big deal about Genius Hour?

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