In theory, this sounded like the world’s greatest project to do with kids. I was so inspired by A.J. Juliani, Don Wettrick, and some of my colleagues doing this with their classes that I just had to give it a try. So of course before I found a class willing to try it out I started doing my research. I watched A.J. Juliani’s videos, read some books, so naturally thought I was good to go.
What I didn’t anticipate was how difficult it would be to give up some control, let go of some structure, and really turn that learning over. I like to think of myself as a progressive teacher, so this should be easy for me, right? Wrong, totally wrong! I call this post Genius Hour 1.0, because I know there will be a 2.0, and it will be even better. Still messy, but like everything, will be better the more we try it! We are still in the midst of this process, but here are 5 takeaways I have so far!
1. Stay the course! I’ve had several moments during this process where I’ve doubted myself, wondered if I should’ve done more research first, had a more concrete plan going in, etc. Several periods I worried that I was wasting the kids time, worried that they really weren’t learning anything. Those worries prevailed until this past Friday. I went into some classes that have been doing Genius Hour and was amazed by what I saw. Stop motion videos created, blogs starting to take shape, games being coded, and more. My favorite has been a automatic pet food dispenser. I really wondered what would happen with this idea, but as teachers we never said no to it. Now the girls have widdled that idea down to making a water dish that will refill itself, made with old plastic juice bottles and plastic containers. It. Is. Amazing. All the worry I felt over the past few weeks started to diminish. We are empowering students, and that in itself is a great achievement.
2. Have a plan for sharing the process. Thanks to one of my amazing colleagues, we are using Trello for the students to update where they are in the process. It’s an amazing way to keep track of what students are doing, can be a good exit slip, and also a good way to share resources with the kids. I have not been as good as I could’ve and making sure the kids keep up with this, but live and learn, and I’ll definitely try to maximize this tool in the future! Another great way for sharing the process and final projects is blogging. Through talking to my new friend, Joy Kirr, I learned about Feedly. It is a great tool for helping to manage the different blogs in your classroom!
3. Think of yourself as a learner. One of the things I keep trying to remind myself when doing this type of project, is what I do when I’m trying to learn something new. Learning to make my own baby food, trying to start my garden from seeds, writing a blog, etc. Thinking of how we like to learn things and then transferring that to the kids. In the end we want kids to find their passions and become lifelong learners, and the scripted process of the past might not always be relevant!
4. Forget the timeline! Or at least forget about giving a strict deadline to kids. When we started it felt like this will be about a 6 week project. We’ll do some brainstorming, come up with a project, do some research, and then share out! Easy peasy. What I didn’t anticipate was that each student’s project would be unique, requiring different amounts of time. I also didn’t anticipate students not knowing what to do! Students should love this new freedom to learn what they wanted to learn, right? Since this is a new way of learning for kids, some will not be used to it and even resist. We just can’t give up on them and be okay that they might be on a different timeline.
5. Talk to your colleagues! In one of the buildings I work in, three fifth grade classes are doing a form of Genius Hour. All three slightly different, but all three amazing. Through talking to my colleagues, visiting their classes, networking with other teachers through social media, my idea of what Genius Hour is, and what it could be, is taking shape. The best part of Genius Hour from my teacher perspective, is that there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to do this. And that’s pretty cool. But by working together, sharing our ideas, we can give students amazing learning experiences.
We haven’t gotten to the point of sharing our projects out yet, we’re still in the thick of creating these projects. But I couldn’t be more proud of the students for all the hard work, and I’m so grateful for all I have learned throughout the process. It’s been amazing so far, and I know there is more amazingness yet to come!
Great Genius Hour resources to take a look at:
See this page for additional resources.