So last year I began what may have been one of the coolest, most rewarding, most enlightening experiments of my educational career. Somehow I failed to chronicle and share the development of this at that time despite writing an insane two blog posts a day! Just today I was asked about the growth and development of creating a successful Genius Hour in my classroom.
My first advice is this: be warned that most people will likely think you are insane. They will assume that this type of creative, multifaceted learning is beyond these young minds. They are wrong.
This does not mean you can simply say to a six or seven year old child: “Hey, what are you wondering about?” and expect success. There is a process I used to create some success with our first attempt at Genius Hour.
1. This should not be your children’s first-long term Project-Based Learning experience. I found it helpful that my kids had experience with a previous long-term project (our parody music video about telling time: What Does the Clock Say). They knew that the product would take some time. They understood that they would have to put in some effort, but that in the end there would be something special.
2. I started with the book “What Do You Do With an Idea?” which was a great story about how you can make your idea grow into something special if you feed it, care for it, and help it develop.
3. I called it GENIUS hour. Not 20% time, or any other thing. The word GENIUS gave my kids a special feeling of accomplishment before they even started.
4. Examine the LiveBinder on Genius Hour put together by Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr) and look at other projects that have already been completed. Do that on your own and with your class!
5. Create a wonder wall. Start asking questions…. LOTS OF THEM!
6. Eliminate any questions that can be answered by a single google search. The question needs to require both research and application. Some examples of questions my kids came up with are: How do they make dolls that can sing? How do you make a stuffed animal? How do you make a robot-kitty? How does a remote control car work? How can I make an exploding MineCraft Creeper? (there were others, but these were the ones that ended up as projects)
7. GET HELP! You have a large group of small children engaging in multiple, complicated independent projects at once. I could have never accomplished this alone. I had an aide with a free period in my room during Genius Hour and without her it would have never been a success.
8. Set up a timeline for kids to set goals. Break the project down for them into smaller projects: Research, Identify and acquire materials, initial creation and testing, presenting findings.
9. You will make mistakes, you need to model them yourself, model perseverance, and model positivity. Here were two disasters from my genius hour experience: First, I let a kid test his flying saucer in the classroom, it crash landed on a girl’s face… Next, I used Google Images to look up Olaf the Snowman… do it yourself, scroll down far enough and you will know what a disaster that could have been!
10. Have fun! It could be easy to get bogged down in the intensity of the projects. They are fun, incredible, and powerful learning opportunities for your kids.
Genius Hour is an incredible learning opportunity. During that time my kids used reading, writing, science, social skills, math, art, engineering, and technology to create the incredible things they completed. It is no small task for you, or them, but in the end you will be glad you did it!