Personalizing Learning With Genius Hour

Genius Hour supports students to choose learning experiences based on personal interests while targeting skills like critical thinking
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Genius Hour
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About This Strategy

Genius Hour is a personalized project designed, implemented, and managed by students. The format of Genius Hour will vary by grade level, allotted time and length, and the outcomes set by the teacher for the project, and can be used within a unit or as a standalone project. To begin Genius Hour, the teacher shares clear assessment guidelines for the project with the students, emphasizing the assessment of skills instead of just content and product. Once the assessment criteria are shared and a timeline is set for the project, students brainstorm, choose, and research a topic based on their interests. Along the way, students will self-monitor their progress, share what they've learned, and design a product to demonstrate their mastery of the content. Through Genius Hour, students are empowered to use their interests to gain research and presentations skills, while targeting 21st-century skills like critical thinking, communication, flexibility and adaptation, and self-direction. 

Implementation Steps

  1. Based on the grade level of your students, determine the appropriate length of time for the project and how often students will work on their projects. Will students work on their projects over a couple of weeks or a unit, a quarter, a semester, or an entire year?

  2. Backwards plan the Genius Hour assessment by determining what skills and standards you'd like students to master throughout the project using a Genius Hour Plan Sheet (see resource below). The assessment should focus on students' mastery of skills and their demonstration of their mastery via the product instead of just their mastery of the content.

  3. Provide students with the assessment, a project timeline, a 20% Time Grading Rubric (see resource below), and a method of brainstorming their topic.

    • If students struggle to come up with a topic, schedule a one-on-one conversation to discuss their interests and/or facilitate roundtable discussions in small groups to encourage other students to help with topic identification.

    • To learn more about supporting students to choose learning experiences based on personal interests, explore the I Wish My Teacher Knew strategy in the BetterLesson Lab.

  4. Develop classroom norms for Genius Hour.

    • What will students be required to demonstrate or have completed at the end of each Genius Hour time block?

    • How will students monitor their progress and document their mastery of their topic?

    • How are students expected to work during the Genius Hour time?

    • How are your classroom environment and expectations different during Genius Hour time?

  5. Give students the opportunity to engage in Genius Hour through flexible means. During this time, become a facilitator of learning. The students should be owning and self-directing this work. Circulate around the room and engage in one-on-one conversations with students.

  6. Consider using peer supports or virtual partners from other schools to hold students accountable for their progress and authenticate the sharing of their learning.

    • You can find other classrooms who are engaging in Genius Hour projects on social media sites like Twitter.

  7. Provide progress checkpoints for students to ensure they are adequately prepared to share their mastery of their topic.

  8. Consider expanding the reach of students' projects by talking to other teachers, parents, and/or community members about engaging in this work with your students and/or being an authentic audience for finished products.

    • How might you utilize stakeholders outside of your classroom to authenticate students' learning?

Genius Hour to Support Communication

Students research and document their learning by leveraging video and written descriptions. These can be collected within a shared document or on students' blogs and shared with an authentic audience.

Implementation steps:

  • Teachers determine the medium where students will share their learnings. Will students share their learning via a blog, by making a video to share with their peers, or by presenting to peers using a protocol like speed dating (to learn more, consult the "Speed Dating" strategy in the BetterLesson Lab).

  • Provide supports for students sharing written and video learnings.

    • These supports may include blog or video exemplars and sentence starters.

  • Pair students to conduct peer reviews of written and video learnings. Support students in providing feedback to their peers

Genius Hour to Support Research

Students learn research skills and note-taking skills while learning about a topic of interest.

Implementation steps:

  1. Students use library print materials, library databases, and/or online sources to research their Genius Hour Topics. Students can use graphic Organizers to Support the Research Process (listed in resource section below).

  2. The teacher supports students by teaching strategies related to identifying keywords for conducting an online search and determining appropriate sources.

    • Students can mindmap the keywords using paper and pencil or a digital tool, like Padlet, or by using mind mapping resources like the one included below.

  3. The teacher supports students by providing options for note taking while conducting their research such as the research process artifacts included in the resource section below.

Special Education Modification

Teachers can provide additional one-on-one support and feedback for students with learning disabilities during the Genius Hour process. Teachers can also create scaffolds to help students locate and use the resources needed for their project and use large text and visuals to label where resources are located around the classroom. Additionally, this strategy could be modified by creating a graphic organizer to help students document their work. 

Coach Tips

Jessi Anderson
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Genius Hour can be a daunting project if you just dive in and don't plan for the implementation. Spend time thinking about the outcomes you'd like students to meet and how you will assess those outcomes. The clearer your assessment, the easier it will be to allow students to personalize their learning during this project. Remember, Genius Hour is about student ownership and building skills. To ensure you're allowing students to engage in this opportunity, it's important that your role as an instructor also shifts. Don-t be afraid to take a backseat and become a facilitator of learning - just ensure you have appropriate norms set and you've created a classroom culture aligned to the project before you do.

Tech Tools

Kidblog

  • Kidblog is a blogging tool that can be managed for private classroom-only viewing or public viewing. This tool allows a teacher to have access to all students' blogs with a click of the button and for students to have a personalized platform to blog.
  • Kidblog is a great platform for supporting students in sharing what they've learned during the Genius Hour project. When students share their voice in writing, audio, or video with an audience beyond their teacher and peers, they are authenticating and globalizing their learning. Students feel empowered during the learning process.

 

Seesaw

  • Seesaw can be used as a journaling platform for students during their Genius Hour projects. Seesaw allows for documentation of artifacts, audio, video, and writing that can easily be shared with the entire class or with parents.
  • Seesaw is a great platform for supporting students in sharing what they've learned during the Genius Hour project. When students share their voice in writing, audio, or video with an audience beyond their teacher and peers, they are authenticating their learning. Students feel empowered during the learning process.

 

Padlet

  • Padlet is a digital corkboard type tool that students can use to gather information or reflections about their Genius Hour projects. It's a great tech tool for students to use during the research process to help students build organization skills and to document their thought processes while looking at each of the resources they find. Teachers can easily access each students' Padlet with a shared links.
  • Padlet is a great platform for supporting students in documenting and recording what they've learned during the Genius Hour project. One important aspect of Genius Hour is to help students build research skills. Part of building research skills is determining how to organize and document what is found during the research process. Padlet is one tech tool students can use to keep their research in one central spot.

Additional Reading

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