Genius Hour

Background

I saw a video recently about schools in Finland, and it immediately made me want to move there. I am well past primary school age, but my children are right in the heat of it. Schools in Finland seem revolutionary when compared to American schools, and they are getting fantastic results. They are ranked number one in the world, while we hover somewhere around thirty-seventh.

There are a few different things that set them apart, but one of the most important factors is that they give children space to pursue their passions. In America, classes are designed around teaching to standardized tests. Teachers’ jobs are even dependent upon student success. This type of teaching sucks the joy out of the experience for student and teacher alike.

Unfortunately, the people who make the laws in our country are so far removed from their school days that many of them have forgotten what it was like to spend six hours a day in a classroom. What’s more their classroom experiences were likely wildly different from what students now experience. They were probably allowed some autonomy and time to pursue their own passions. For the most part, our children today are not.

A new hope

One new trend in education that offers some degree of hope is “Genius Hour.” Under this model teachers provide a set amount of time daily in which students can pursue inquiry into their “pet” projects. While it would be preferable that this time be extended to the entire day, that is just not feasible in our current political climate. For the time being, this is our best solution.

Genius hour is grounded in the theory of inquiry-based education, which encourages students to think critically and creatively about topics that interest them. It encourages them to ask questions and to do research for the sheer joy of finding the answers.

Nuts and Bolts

The beauty (and secret power) behind genius hour is that it shifts the power structure within the class. Although that idea may sound a little scary to teachers, it is important for students to gain some autonomy and authority over their own learning process and paths. If the teacher moves from a position of all-knowing god head to coach, the student may be more receptive to feedback and more willing to ask questions. This will in turn create a culture that feeds collaboration.

Another great benefit of genius hour is that it opens doors for teachers. When you get a chance to really understand what your students love, you begin to learn some very important lessons about them, such as what motivates and inspires them. This will in turn translate into better classroom management, which is a boon for all involved.

Looking Forward

Finally, and perhaps best of all, genius hour is not an island unto itself. Instead, it is a flexible learning model that can be integrated with other pedagogies, especially some that are trending now like PBL.

Time and time again we have seen that inquiry is the engine that drives innovation, and innovation is the vehicle that pulls us all up. If we can re-design our school system so that inquiry, individualism, and creativity can again have a place, there may be hope for us yet.

Resources:

Carter, N. (2014, Aug. 4) Genius Hour and the 6 Essentials of Personalized Education. Edutopia. [Web log message]. Retrieved May 30, 2017 from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/genius-hour-essentials-personalized-education-nichole-carter

(2017). New Genius Hour and 20% Time Book. Genius Hour. [Web log message]. Retrieved May 30, 2017 from http://www.geniushour.com/what-is-genius-hour/

(2017). What is Genius Hour. Genius Hour. [Web log message]. Retrieved May 30, 2017 from http://www.geniushour.com/new-genius-hour-20-time-book/

Leslie. (2016, May 10). Implementing Genius Hour in Your Classroom. Minds in Bloom. [Web log message]. Retrieved May 30, 2017 from http://minds-in-bloom.com/implementing-genius-hour-classroom/

Robinson, K. (2006, Feb.). Do Schools Kill Creativity? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity?language=en

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2 Responses to Genius Hour

  1. Hi Carolyn-
    Your post made me think of how teacher’s are asked to learn through inservice trainings. How the material presented often is meaningful for few. In these situations, I and my colleagues, often find ourselves disengaging during these trainings because it does not apply to us or our direct situations.

    We can find ourselves in the same boat with our students. We give a one size fits all curriculum hoping that students will pick up what we’re laying down. Thinking about how we learn best, it’s through meaningful projects and interactions. Doesn’t this apply to kids as well? Won’t they learn best through concepts that interest them? I believe these are shifts necessary for reforming eduction in the U.S.

  2. Dr. F says:

    I like the idea of Genius Hour and think teachers could do so much if they incorporated it into their curriculum. You mention teachers jobs being tied to student success. I think that it fine, but I think we need to redefine student success. Student success should be based on learning, not on repeating. I don’t know how well that could be measured, but just spewing back what was told to them in a sterile testing environment is not going to work. Good ideas.

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