Saturday, June 21, 2014

Genius Hour/Time- End Of The Year Review

The school year is over, the room is packed up, and quiet reigns inside its walls. Nothing visible remains of the grand experiment that took place among the 49 sixth graders that came thru the door in two classes. But the silent echo in the memory of this teacher still resonates.  By implementing the Genius Hour concept into four twenty-minute blocks each week the aptly renamed Genius Time became the overwhelmingly favorite learning experience of a very intelligent, boisterous collection of students.

A year ago I was trying to figure how to keep such an active, sharp group focused on learning. They needed a change up each day in their routine that ignited and kept their interest.  Genius Time did all that, and in the process allowed for the blossoming of a few, shy students into confident learners.

"Failure is just a marker on the road to success"
During the year many of the students experienced the "brick wall". They saw this as failure.  The toughest lesson of Genius Time was getting them to understand that failure is ok, as long as they get up, dust themselves off and use that painful lesson as knowledge in their quest for success. One student tried endlessly to create music using GarageBand on an iPad. They just couldn't find the sweet spot of instruments coming together.  Then one day while listening to another student's musical composition, the disappointed student quietly sang a few words, then grabbed a piece of paper and began writing.  A few days later a complete set of lyrics that blended wonderfully with the music was being listened to by several classmates. This student found a potential gift in being a lyricist.

Another student who has regularly struggled with academic motivation wanted from the very beginning to create a cookbook of family recipes based on her proud East African ethnicity.  No matter how distracted she was during ancient history time, nothing could pull her focus from working on her recipes.  During the annual Specials Fair night in May, she beaming as she showed her family the results of her efforts.

Other original efforts included a video on how to wax skis/snowboards for different snow conditions, a gluten-free cookbook for teens, a board game involving sports trivia, and a passionate presentation on zoology.  It's topics like the ones above that makes Genius Hour/Time so valuable to students. Without this opportunity they never would have explored (with possibly one or two exceptions) that topic. Instead it would have stayed a fleeting curiosity.

Looking back I can honestly say that this is one of the very few concepts/ideas in education that is truly new. Most everything else we educators heater or attend seminars about is just tweaked and renamed  with new graphics. Genius Hour/Time is the epitome of student centered and lead education.  The best part is it opens doors , some unexpected that can ignite a lifetime passion.

As one student who explored science fiction movies put it to me, "I felt like Jody Foster in Contact, going thru the wormhole and coming back smarter, but with more questions to be answered."

1 comment:

  1. Mark,
    I found your blog from Jennifer's Edutopia Genius Hour post. I love the stories you've shared of engaged students and Genius Time. The brick wall is definitely something all of us have encountered with some students. It's exciting to help them/observe them get through that, isn't it!

    I agree that most of our students' passions may have stayed just a fleeting curiosity had they not been given this time to explore. I'm so glad you and many others are allowing this learning, and the best part is, as you say, "It open doors, some unexpected that can ignite a lifetime of passion." In us, too, don't you think? Genius hour re-ignited my passion for teaching, and it's made my classroom a joy-filled, place of wonder.

    I just have one question I'm curious about. I love that you have Genius Time four days a week, but the twenty-minute period sounds so short. Do you find that too short a time frame to allow some projects students might like to do? Do you have room to let them keep their materials out, so they don't have the set-up and clean-up each day? Or are the projects mostly accomplished on computers?

    I think one 45-minute period isn't long enough for genius hour. I always liked our three-hour genius hours that we were able to do right before a holiday on an early-release day. That gave us time to get messy and really make some progress, especially on "maker" type projects.

    I would be curious what you find are the benefits and problems with 20-minute sessions.