Presentation Recap: Genius Hour Quick & Dirty Tips

Genius Hour (also known as “20% Time” or “Passion Projects”) has been a presence in education for at least a few years now.  Based upon the 20% free time that was reportedly given to employees of companies such as Google and 3M, Genius Hour seeks to provide students with unstructured time in which they can delve into research on a subject of their choosing.  What results is often a product of some sort, which is what differentiates Genius Hour from your standard project.  That said, the hope is that students will be like the employees of Google and 3M: The Google employees created GMail during this unstructured time and employees at 3M accidentally created Post It Notes.

With such an unstructured project, how can one really get Genius Hour off the ground and ensure its success?  Based upon my personal classroom experience, conversations with colleagues, and research, I offered the following tips to participants of STEM-a-Palooza:

  1. Identify the right time to start
    • Are there any big tests, projects, or school events coming up?
  2. Start small
    • Yes, you can have a large and grandiose Genius Hour showcase at the end of the year, but do you need to plan that when you’re trying the project for the first time?  If you wish to enjoy and learn from the process, probably not.  Trust your gut and use your professional judgement.
  3. Set clear expectations
    • Make sure students, administrators, and parents know what Genius Hour is all about, and your class’ goals in participating.
    • Be sure that these expectations are included somewhere for easy reference by students and parents.
  4. Schedule regular free time
    • What are your students working on?
    • Offer your students weekly or bi-weekly unstructured time.  During this time, have informal conversations to see where they are in the process.  Brainstorm with them. Guide them in solving any problems that arise.
    • Of course, set clear expectations for this free time.
  5. Track student progress
    • How will you let students know that they need to work on their projects incrementally?
    • Blogs, Seesaw, Padlet, and Social Media (Edmodo, Instagram, etc.) can all be great progress monitoring platforms.
  6. Stick to deadlines
    • With such a free-form project, it is very easy for students to think that it does not really “count.” (You all know what I mean.)  Adhere to the deadlines you have set for the kids, even if they are soft deadlines (i.e. Project Proposal Rough Drafts due one week and Final Drafts are due anytime after then for the next week)
  7. Store presentations in one spot
    • Does anyone really like having to navigate multiple thumb drives? No.
    • Choose a resource like Padlet, Seesaw, or KidBlog to have your students upload their work (or an image of their work just to prove they did something substantive) to a central location.
    • Allow students and their parents to be able to view these submissions too.  If students only include their first names or their initials and class period, you can keep their projects public.  This also allows others to see the bar their classmates are setting for “done-ness” of their projects.  It also opens the opportunity for discussion around the projects.

As with everything new, it is important to be patient with yourself.  Give yourself (and your students) space for things to go other than you have planned.  That said, I highly recommend planning as much as you can up front to make the process as smooth as possible for everyone involved.

I wish you the best of luck in your Genius Hour adventures!  Be sure to embrace the unknown and learn as much as you can.

-Ms. W.

Check out my presentation from STEM-a-Palooza here.

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