Genius Hour

What is a Genius Hour?

Fostering 21st century skills with a genius hour of invention

Imagine a walking into a classroom where all the students are hard at work. Some students are on laptops, some are writing in notebooks, while others are creating 3D models. The atmosphere is electric. You can feel the concentration and determination in the room. Yet, upon further investigation, you realize that each student is working on something completely different. Where is the textbook? Where is the rubric? What is going on in here? Welcome to a genius hour!

The genius hour movement is sweeping STEM classrooms across the globe. It is based on philosophies used in the Google workplace, where developers and engineers are allowed to spend 20% of their time to work on any project that they are passionate about. This has not only increased employee productivity, but also creativity and excitement. Gmail was created during a genius hour! Why not harness this power and bring it into the classroom?

The heart of genius hour remains the same when used in the school setting. Genius hour is a time for students to work on something they are passionate about. Projects can extend weeks or even the entire school year, as long as they are on task and reaching their goal. Rather than solely focusing on content standards, genius hours develop students’ 21st century skills, such as critical thinking and creativity. The teacher becomes a facilitator and guide, rather than a lecturer.

Genius HourHow to Start a Genius Hour in Your Classroom

Bringing genius hour into your classroom may seem like a challenging task, but by following these three tips you will set yourself up for success!

Develop a Driving Question

Setting your students loose to create for the first time will be met with disaster if there is no guidance. A driving question will help establish some focus. Think of this question as a lighthouse to assist students when they get off track. This driving question can be linked to your content, your community, or world issues, among other things. To be a strong driving question, it must first be something that cannot be easily answered by a quick search on the Internet. Questions should spark critical thinking. Secondly, the driving question should inspire the creation of an end product. While these products may all be different, they should all somehow answer the question.

Some examples include:
What if we ran out of oil by the end of the year?
How should our local medical university spend a $1,000,000 grant?

Find more tips for driving questions here!

Manage Performance and Time

While you don’t want to tell students exactly what to create during a genius hour, you do need guide them along the way. This includes managing off-task behavior and an increased monitoring of their work. You should also assist students in their time management. This could include the use of a timeline, checklist, or just a few minutes to check-in with you. This will ensure that students not only finish on time, but are also meeting the goals of the guiding question.

Create Opportunities to Share

All products created during time spent in genius hours should be showcased in some way. Consider how this can be accomplished and include it in your introduction of the guiding question. This will keep students accountable and excited to show-off their hard work. Examples include a class website, a display of student work in the hall or library, a presentation at a PTA meeting, recognition at a city council meeting, a television news visit, and many more!

Ready to try a genius hour in your classroom? Check out this site for more tips!

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Alexandra D. Owens

Alexandra Owens is a STEM Education consultant based in Charleston, SC. She taught middle school science for many years and is now completing her doctorate in STEM Education at Texas Tech University.
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