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.

Genius Hour During Distance Learning

Valerie Librizzi
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Genius Hour encourages students to choose learning experiences based on their interests while targeting skills like critical thinking. It is especially useful in distance learning as it allows students to work at their own pace either synchronously or asynchronously. 

Implementation steps:

  1. Before employing Genius Hour during distance learning, backwards plan the Genius Hour assessment by determining the following:

    • What skills and standards would you like students to master throughout the project? How will you have students demonstrate their mastery?

    • Will students work independently or in small groups on their Genius Hour Project?

      • If students will work synchronously in small groups, consider having them pre-determine a time that works well for them to meet via a video call and with what frequency they would like to meet.

      • If students will work in groups asynchronously, determine how they will share their learnings. For example, they could use a tool such as a shared googledoc or padlet to share their research. Then they could use a tool such as a google presentation to synthesize their learnings.

    • How frequently and using what tools will you provide feedback to students throughout the project?

      • Consider having frequent, regularly scheduled synchronous check in meetings with students on the progress of their Genius Hour project. If students are not able to meet with you synchronously, consider having them share a Genius Hour Project check in google document with you regularly, on which you can provide comments and feedback. The document could include the following questions:

        • What questions do you have about your Genius Hour Project?

        • What are you currently working on for your Genius Hour Project?

        • What do you plan to work on next for your Genius Hour Project?

        • How can I (the teacher) help you? 

  2. Schedule one-on-one or small group live, synchronous brainstorming sessions to help students identify their Genius Hour topic. If students cannot meet synchronously, use a tool like Padlet to help students brainstorm Genius Hour project ideas.

  3. Have student groups divide up the work for the project and develop progress checkpoints with students to ensure they are adequately prepared to share their mastery of their topic. Consider using a project management tool such as Monday.com to support students to create progress checkpoints and assign tasks to each other.

  4. Once students have completed their projects, decide whether students will share their projects with their classmates during a synchronous learning session or asynchronously. Students can use tools such as flipgrid or google presentations, or any of the other tech tools listed in the Tech Tools section below, to share their work with each other.

Special Education Modification

Nedra Massenburg
Special Education Specialist

Genius Hour projects are an excellent option to engage students with disabilities who may struggle with traditional classroom learning strategies.  Giving these students opportunities to pursue their interests in an academic setting can increase their overall buy-in to their learning long term.

The complex, multi-step nature of Genius Hour projects requires developed reading comprehension, writing, verbal communication, and executive functioning skills (task initiation, prioritization, working memory, impulse control etc.).  In order to support students with disabilities who have difficulty in these areas consider the following modifications:

Modifications:

  1. Use visual timers and verbal reminders during the problem-solving process to help students with task initiation and task completion. 

  2. Consider giving students with disabilities different or more scaffolded methods to access content during Genius Hour projects. Intervene to push these students to refer to these methods when they are stuck or confused on the next steps in solving problems. See the "Adapting Curriculum to Make PBL Accessible to All Students" and the "Modified Genius Hour Planning Sheet" resources in the resource section below for more information.
  3. Depending on the level of need of students with disabilities in a setting, teachers should consider scaffolding tasks for the whole group.  For example, a teacher may decide to more slowly introduce phases of Genius Hour projects.  Over the course of planning a unit, a teacher could isolate giving students time to learn to identify solid research topics, then wait until the next unit to actually complete the research portion of the Genius Hour project, before using part of a final project to have students present their projects.  

  4.  If multiple teachers are present in a setting, consider having one teacher work in a small group of students with disabilities to provide them both more scaffolded modeling and more frequent feedback on their completion of tasks during Genius Hour projects.

EL Modification

Shannon Coyle
English Learner Specialist

Genius Hour is an excellent way to invest learners in their own learning. English learners benefit from the authentic use of all domains of language through guided practice in research and presentation. Teachers have the opportunity to engage learners in authentic academic pursuits. 

English learners need to independently learn from what they read and listen to, and convey their learning through speaking and writing. Learners are also required to create and follow plans in writing. In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:

Modifications:

  1. Ensure learners understand the language, parameters, tools, technology, timelines, products, expectations, and rubrics used during Genius Hour. For instance: modify language in rubrics and timelines, preview materials and expectations, ask learners to restate or summarize directions and expectations. Partner with learners’ language specialist to support previewing and orientation to tools and materials for learners at lower levels of language proficiency. See the "Teacher Tool: Leveled Question Stems" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  2. Provide English learners with comprehensible research content. Consider providing home language content as available during independent or technology-based activities. When available, home language content can be a powerful tool in developing and progressing skills. See the "Research and Bilingual Content Sources for English Learners" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  3. Perform 1:1 check-ins with English learners. Use independent work time to give English learners an opportunity to use their academic language, and teachers a chance to formatively assess content language use and to guide research and timelines. Consider consulting learners’ language specialist for insight about appropriate expectations. See the "Teacher Tool: Leveled Question Stems" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  4. Guide choice. Some English learners may benefit from teacher curation of topics while still leaving room for learner-driven research. Consider: providing a list of topics you know to have comprehensible content available, encourage learners to use a current topic of study in another course or ESL class or hobby to branch off of, pair English learners with peers or home language partners to share a topic, prescribe which tools should be used to perform research and/or presentation. Consider partnering with learners’ language specialist for topics of interest to suggest. 

  5. Provide a variety of ways for learners at lower levels of proficiency to present their learning including visually and with limited, scripted, or pre-recorded speaking. Consult learners’ language specialist and use data about learners’ language levels to determine appropriate presentation formats. See the "Descriptions of What English Learners "Can Do" at Various Language Levels and "How to Use "Can Do" Descriptors in Designing Learning Activities" resources in the resource section below for more information.

  6. Provide familiar graphic organizers and/or models of final products. 

  7. Provide “rehearsal” time for presentations to the large group

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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