A Stroke of Genius

jobs-300x225There’s a lot of googleable information about the origins of ‘Genius Hour. From the perspective of being based on Google’s 20% time  or inspired by the ‘Caine’s Arcade‘ video… you can take your pick. In our classroom, the idea for our ‘genius’ time comes from a desire to be absolutely engaged in learning.

Any of us that pride ourselves on being life long learners know how this works. We get hold of an idea that goes around and around in our minds until we have an opportunity to spend some time digging into it. The REALLY good ideas can’t wait and the digging often happens when we should be sound asleep!

The premise for genius projects in our classroom is based around that same idea. We are always looking for ways to better engage kids in learning. We want them to be enthusiastic learners during classes, so… why not give them an opportunity to learn about something that they are already enthusiastic about?

Over the years I’ve done this with my students, I’ve heard the arguments against it. Where’s the structure? How is this covering the curriculum (hmmm)? There’s no control over what’s happening? How can you be in charge of so many different projects at once? For many teachers, this can be a difficult concept to grasp. The idea of students co-constructing the learning… students setting the structure around the project… students investigating the curriculum… is something new for many. I am NOT in charge of these projects, students are. Isn’t that the end game? We want to develop students that become independent learners? Surely they aren’t going to achieve this without practicing it.

I think, sometimes, we create too much of a gap between what WE expect as learners and what we see as acceptable learning for kids. We have all been to professional development that we see as sub standard. It’s either too much talk… it isn’t pitched right.. or we just aren’t interested. Why do we expect that our classrooms are any different? When we have an opportunity to design our own learning and make it completely relevant to us we are more engaged. We not only commit our working time to it but will dig deeper into it at home. This is what genius projects do for students.

Seeing the value in loving learning is essential. If kids are cheering when you say it’s time to work on these projects, that’s got to be a good thing. Not only are they engaged, but they are learning. Currently I have a student creating scale models of famous political buildings (yes this is his passion) using minecraft. This is a student that doesn’t engage in maths lessons, but here, he is calculating scale reductions of measurement.. area, perimeter, volume. He’s writing willingly about types of government.. it amazes me every time. We have another student who is challenging our school’s fundraising policy to get her idea off the ground and raise money for motor neuron disease. She is writing persuasive texts, preparing presentations for the principal, designing a business plan and budget to support her idea. It’s a wonderful thing.

Another criticism of ‘Genius Hour’ is that this type of learning should be happening all the time… and they are right. That is part of the reason that we’ve opted for the ‘Genius Projects’ title and dropped the ‘hour’. In reality, whatever amount of time we allow kids to work on these ideas at school, they spend more of their own time own it at home.

We are certainly a long way from all learning being as engaging as this, but we are working on it.