Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Genius Hour

Last fall, I set a goal to incorporate Genius Hour into one or more of my classes. Working alongside Mrs. Erickson and her 6th grade class and Mrs. Bubar and her 5th grade class, we set forth on a Genius Hour journey. In fact, our passion project became Genius Hour.

Our mission was to give our students an opportunity to think creatively. We wanted to give them time to explore their own passions, wonders and curiosities. We wanted them to take risks, to learn from their mistakes, and then take some more risks. We wanted them to work on new ideas and to develop new skills. We wanted to give them the gift of time each week to find and follow their passions. We wanted to create a very student centered learning opportunity where all learning was celebrated. We wanted to cultivate wonder!

We were ambitious and anxious to get started with the kids! We had energy!  We were on fire! We had visions of our students asking prolific questions and pursuing their passions with grit and rigor! We shared all of this with our students and we let them go! We then waited for the enthusiasm of pursuing a passion project of their choice to pulsate within their veins and very existence. We waited. We waited some more….

We met twice a week to give students time to pursue their passions, during this time, we worked to build a culture of innovation where the students felt safe to take risks and to have autonomy in their learning. As excited as we were to see the learning sparks flying between our students, the reality is that Genius Hour got off to a slow start. It was almost as if the students weren't sure what to make with the time they were being given and many struggled to identify anything they were passionate about and wanted to learn more.

The first thing we learned was that our students needed a lot of guidance brainstorming ideas and narrowing these ideas down into “good” questions.  Much more than we had anticipated. When asked what they were passionate about, many gave a one word statement or no answer at all. With further conversation, it was evident that many of our students had many life experiences from which to pull ideas from and others did not. Their initial questions were Googleable and we wanted them to be Siri proof. As a result, we learned that we needed to take a few steps back in order to keep moving forward.

After a lot of conversations with the students, we decided to create a Wonder Wall where they could share their passions and post things that they wondered about. We then worked with students to build some essential questions based off of these ideas. This seemed to help those students who struggled to come up with an idea for their passion project. On the other hand, we had some students who has so many questions and ideas that they struggled to narrow it down to one. The dynamics were quite interesting. It verified to us that Genius Hour was what our students needed more than ever to ignite their passions, to inspire their learning, and to provide them the avenue for creativity.

As the year progressed, the ideas blossomed and the students slowly, but surely, pursued their passions with enthusiasm and motivation to learn. They researched their topics and made their learning visible. They learned from each other and collaborated. They set goals and met them. We as teachers learned so much about Genius Hour from our students and will continually work to make improvements to the process and to build a culture of innovation. There were countless benefits to partaking in Genius Hour this year, but the absolute best was building relationships the students and getting to know them better!
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