In early March, I heard about this new idea called Genius Hour from Mike Taylor. It seemed like a strange, new idea. The whole concept is basically free time: Google allows its employees to spend 20% of their time on their own investigations, provided that what they learn could somehow help the company. The idea, as it has been translated into classrooms as Genius Hour, is that students spend an hour a week learning about something they are interested in. They can choose any topic they like. They can learn about a given topic, or they can learn how to do something. It seemed like an idea worth trying.
However, I was busy. I was trying all sorts of new technologies, and I didn’t seem to have time for it. I had to grade papers, my wife had a baby, I had administrative paperwork to take care of, etc.I kept putting it off. Thankfully, tweeps like Melissa Rosen and Sarah Nelson challenged me to go forward as soon as I could. As the year wound down, I found a few extra time slots in the week. I’d already secured permission from my principal, so I decided to go for it. I decided to unveil it with cliffhangers. Two days before we would actually begin, I told my students that we were going to do something new. Something that great companies were doing. I also said, “For this next activity, the way to succeed is to fail.” I said this to build up the excitement and wonder, and to encourage the risk-taking that is essential for Genius Hour.
The day I mentioned it, the excitement in the room was palpable. Students immediately set to task to learn new ideas and how to do things they had only dreamed of. Needless to say, I did not have any behavior issues. Everyone was on-task, doing his or her best to learn about something or to create something. Some students learned about cheating in baseball over the last thirty years, one learned about the history of the mafia, and others learned the background story of One Direction. One student wrote a six-page paper researching the real story behind the end of the second season of Sherlock. The results were amazing. One student learned how to create and use gore makeup for movies.
One student learned how to draw a face using charcoal.
Another learned how to draw a face using pencil.
Another student created a sword and demonstrated it through a video.
And yet another pair of students created a poster, which was inspired by Harry Potter. They imagined themselves as George Weasley, saddened by the loss of his twin brother Fred. They created a poster as a dedication, which included a four page letter to Fred.
I was blown away by their creations. Classmates were impressed as well, and they enjoyed learning what each other had created. I think that one of the truly wonderful aspects of Genius Hour is that no two people created the same thing. How many times have we had to grade essay after essay, or watch Powerpoint after Powerpoint? With Genius Hour, it is a chance for a teacher to kick back and be awed by what students can create if they can tap into their passions.
If you only try one new thing next year, make it Genius Hour.