Learning About Genius Hour

The only way that I think I can begin to sort out my thoughts about Genius Hour is to begin writing. I hope that by sharing my thoughts, I’ll get some feedback and maybe the concept will become less confusing.

My Principal shared a link that brought me to the Genius Hour Livebinder by Joy Kirr.  This morning, I took an hour to listen to the Classroom 2.0 Live video that discussed the concepts and motivation behind Genius Hour.  Take a peek:

I wrote a series of quick notes as I listened to each of the educators speak so passionately about the activities that were motivating the students in their classrooms, because I wanted to make sure I understood exactly what they were trying to share:

  • Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talks were discussed in the beginning of the video, and the quote that was shared was “If they don’t know, they’ll give it a go”. This was in reference to younger students as used in the video above.  The issue is that, as students get older (and they are graded), they become afraid of failure so they don’t try.  Therefore, schools are killing creativity.
  • Genius Hour is devoted to students in that they get to choose what they want to learn about without having to worry about grades.  One of the presenters attested to the fact that “when we take away grades… motivation goes through the roof”.
  • Several of the presenters appreciated and discussed Angela Maiers’ work, especially her book The Passion-Driven Classroom. (hmm… another book to add to my reading list…)

Of course, with any new idea in education, there are a ton of questions. I had some of my own, despite the fact that I thought this idea has great potential (and has already lived up to that potential in several classrooms).  The fact that 20% of classroom time is meant to be devoted to ‘Passion Projects’ was my first concern:  if I think about it in terms of classroom time over a week, that would mean I would spend one day each week devoted to projects that weren’t necessarily founded on the curriculum expectations as provided by the Ministry of Education.  Umm, ok, so… how do I do this?

A few of my other questions:

  • How does this work in a high school, where there are subject-specific courses?
  • If I teach art, but a student is passionate about mechanics, how does this work?
  • What choices do we provide?
  • How much structure is needed?
  • What about assessment?? If I’m not assessing, why would some students bother?
  • If this isn’t being graded, how does it relate to the very concept of school, where marks seem to matter so much?
  • What would I do if I introduced this idea to my class, and I still had students who were disinterested?  What if they were completely unmotivated?

Don’t get me wrong, I still love the idea, but it often takes me time to process new concepts.  I want to see this from a variety of perspectives in order to provide the best possible experience for my students.  I’m willing to take chances and I appreciate the value of risk, but I am still accountable to my students, their parents, and my employer.  There is a delicate balance that needs to be considered.

I was thankful for this post, which addresses some of the questions and reservations that several teachers (including myself) would have.  I’m also thankful for the Genius Hour Wiki, which is stocked with great resources and provides the names of other educators who are exploring new possibilities for student-led, passion-driven projects in their classrooms.

I’m somewhat comforted by the fact that my classroom already involves so much choice.  One of the benefits of teaching art has to be the focus on the Creative Process while providing several options for students as they learn how to develop their thinking.  Here is a recent quote by one of my students:

I could be happy that we are approaching the culminating. Why? It is the last assignment to do in the course to finished, and then it is summer! To know that I have spent another five months with this class is unbelievably nice. Instead of doing what the teacher wants for an assignment, the class has the opportunity to go ballistic with this assignment; which we can create masterpieces of epic proportions of art that no one but the artist can comprehend, even if they are familiar strangers. Now, I am kind of excited to approach this final task. (Shavone)

Ok, so maybe if I think of Genius Hour and compare it to the choices I already provide for my students, I won’t think of it as a new, scary concept.  Maybe my classroom has a few geniuses who are already pursuing their passions, and maybe I don’t have so far to go.



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12 Responses to Learning About Genius Hour

  1. Joy Kirr says:

    Oh, so glad to see an art teacher thinking about trying Genius Hour! You’re on the right track – doing your research, connecting with people who can help you with questions, and thinking about what you already do that could lead to such work.

    Your questions are great! Since you teach HS, you might want to connect with the teachers here: http://www.livebinders.com/play/play/829279?tabid=d6c1407e-bd05-28d1-bae9-0e858bd70fac , and start small. Maybe you can have them choose what they are passionate about, but connect it to art of some sort. Say you’ve got your mechanical types – could they create a sculpture with parts? Could they draw or make a movie about what they love? If you don’t suggest anything to them, they are likely to come up with their own ideas that relate to art AND their passions… (Although I think art is probably one of their passions, right?!)

    Just my two cents for today. I’m glad to have another blog post to add to the HS page of the LiveBinder – thank you for sharing your research, ideas, and questions! It’s good to know we are not alone. Please ask any questions on the hash tag #geniushour, and there will be many people to help you answer them.

    • colleenkr says:

      Thank you so much for such positive and supportive feedback. I’m really looking forward to investigating this idea much more, so your link will help quite a bit as I get started. I still have so many questions, so I’m interested to see how others approach genius hour in their classrooms with a variety of students. I’ll also be interested to see how parents respond to the idea of work without marks, since so often there are issues related to preparing for college & university programs.

  2. Colleen,
    I enjoyed reading your stream of conscience about genius hour! It is great to hear you wrestling with this. You ask one question that intrigued me: “If this isn’t being graded, how does it relate to the very concept of school, where marks seem to matter so much?” I have to answer that with another question. Is GRADING or LEARNING the very concept of school? I would suggest learning is, and when we free students to learn, they will remember how.

    Regarding your last question about possible unmotivated and disinterested students: Remember schools kill creativity, so you may have a few. They have forgotten how to learn and create for the joy of it, but you’ll be surprised at how few will have trouble with the concept. I wrote about that topic a bit here: http://mrsdkrebs.edublogs.org/2013/01/19/a-year-of-genius-hour-what-have-i-learned/

    I love that fun quote by Shavone! I think you are right, you don’t have far to go!


    • colleenkr says:

      Thank you for your thoughts, especially regarding the issue of grading vs. learning. How have other teachers in high school approached this sensitive issue? Have students and/or parents had any problems with time spent on interests rather than improving grades for college/university programs? I’ll definitely check out the link that you provided to help me understand and learn from your experience, thanks!

      • Regina DeDominicis says:

        I love this post. I love the ideas for me that it’s provoked so I’m tying in another idea I heard a while ago. I’m a graphic design teacher in the high school where we’re learning Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. As a result of this post, I think I’ve decided what to do for my final project for the year after they’ve learned both programs: a totally open ended project where they decide what they want to do for their final project. For grading (because we HAVE to have a grade in that spot on the report cards) the students will write me a one paragraph, or maybe a page, to tell me what grade they think they should get for this project and WHY! THEY determine what they will do for the project and what they should get on their report card. We’ll see how this runs this year!

  3. Well, one difference I would say that I see between high school and younger students’ genius hour is grading. I think high school teachers seem to grade more. However, I do think there is more grading done on the process, so a reflective blog post about progress is graded, more than a formal evaluation of the project as a whole. I know that is not true for all, of course.

    Two awesome high school teachers to check out are Kevin Brookhouser (@brookhouser) and A.J. Juliani (@ajjuliani). They do some great work on 20 % Projects. They do add some grades for their project, but they have 80% of their grades from the rest of their class too.

    Warm regards,


  4. Colleen,
    Great post with many excellent questions. I have had a lot of success using the 20-Time/Genius Hour model and I highly recommend it. Joy & Denise (who posted above) have excellent insight into this concept.

    I wanted to give my feedback on a couple points:

    1. One of the main concerns I hear when discussing this concept, is “How can I make this work if I teach a specific content area….for example Art?” I think this is one of the major faults with our education system. We compartmentalize each subject way too much. This year I co-founded an interdisciplinary high school program because I could not stand it any more when students in my science class would say “why are we writing/reading, this isn’t literacy” or “why are we doing probability, this isn’t math” or “why are we making models, this isn’t art”. Wow!!! They really think that science, math, literacy, art, etc… are just “classes that exist within a rectangular room”. In my opinion, students are not understanding that all of these subjects = LIFE!!! The 20-Time concept allows for you to teach them 21st century skills such as research, writing, communicating, collaborating, etc…. which should all be REQUIRED staples in every classroom in the world. With this being said, you will have many unique opportunities to tie many of the student’s passion to art and make a connection that would have never been made without doing this. It is golden!

    2. If it isn’t graded, why would they try? My advice to this is, JUST TRY IT! You will be amazed. You will find out that not as many of the students are there just for the grade and they will openly embrace this autonomy. The students that I have found struggle the most, are the “grade chasing” students that are “good at the game of school”. They will want you to tell them what to do. They will ask how many points it is worth. Many of them are not very self-directed and good at inquiry. This is the most wonderful discovery you can make because it is a great opportunity to intervene with these students and equip them with some extremely important skills before they are thrust into the real world with false expectations.

    3. If this isn’t being graded, how does it relate to the very concept of school, where marks seem to matter so much? No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You are starting to think like the “grade chasing” students that are “good at the game of school on this one”. School is NOT about grades. It is about learning. Feedback is great. Grades, as we know them, seem useless. I have a kid in my class that received an 86% in Biology. And…….?????? I have no clue what that tells you about that student. Be the change. Formative assessment, an electronic portfolio, and feedback on 21st century skills would be a golden change and probably bring a tear to a parent’s eye (maybe).

    4. What would I do if I introduced this idea to my class, and I still had students who were disinterested? What if they were completely unmotivated? This is what every teacher says about every change I have ever heard and is probably the reason that education has not changed in the past 100 years. Some students may not care. You will have a unique opportunity to sit down with them and discuss what they are passionate about and see what you can get them to do. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how many students, even those that have not cared, put a lot of effort forth.

    Please let me know if there is anything I can help with. I really hope that more teachers start implementing this. Students deserve it. It provides a unique opportunity to teach student to learn how to learn, become enthusiastic about education, and learn that all subjects are interconnected.

    • colleenkr says:

      Thank you so much for your helpful thoughts. Sorry, I was a bit facetious when commenting about the importance of grades & school (I need to watch my phrasing… in my rush to push out my thoughts I hadn’t considered how others would interpret it). I do embrace the importance of individualized education and teaching to student interests (if you have seen my students’ digital portfolios — http://www.mrsroseart.blogspot.ca/p/digital-portfolios.html — you’ll see how they help to guide and steer projects we choose to investigate & explore).

      Please feel free to take a look at my other posts as well as my class blog to see how students in my classes are already benefitting from feedback (which is one of the most critical aspects in the assessment cycle). It may provide you with a bit more context.

  5. Pingback: My experience in getting started with Genius Hour | ReconfigurEd.

  6. Pingback: Building a Framework | Northern Art Teacher

  7. Christopher says:

    Glad I found this info,you have a Twitter acct?

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