Sunday, April 3, 2016

Intro to Genius Hour

So, my sweet friend Meghan Loyd (@meghanloyd, beat me to blogging about Genius Hour. If it were anyone but her, I might need to beat her up.  Sometimes I’m so competitive. J

Even though it’s old news (thanks, Meghan—that was said with a tone, of course. HAHA!), I want to blog since I’m tackling this with my AP Lang. and Comp. students.

Pre-Genius Hour: I honestly don’t remember where I first heard about Genius Hour. Recently, I was talking to another teacher about this. He had heard about it at a GAFE Summit. I’ve taught GAFE classes, but not attended a Summit. Oh well, I do know it was around last summer. I began teaching at a new school; and as ill prepared as my students were for an AP ELA class, my plate was more than full first semester. Over Winter Break, I spent some time planning my second semester. I was desperately looking for ideas for my sophomores (sigh…) and remembered Genius Hour. Thus began my journey.

I googled “Genius Hour” and found the Genius Hour website ( and A.J. Juliani’s series of brief videos. The website includes many resources to get started with Genius Hour. I spent much of the break watching videos, reading articles, researching what other teachers had done, and writing my “instructions.”

Day One: (I should be including some links here--I contacted the owners for permission to include their work in my blog.)

I shortened some of the info since my students are older, and I’m diligently training them to be more independent. This is my plan for “Intro Day”:
  1. Has anyone heard of Genius Hour or 20% Time? Each Friday for the next several weeks, we will engage in Genius Hour. I am hoping to put part of your education back into your hands
  2.  Give students about 5 minutes to Google “genius hour” or “20% time.” Discuss what they found.
  3. Go over instructions
  4. Let students brainstorm for rest of hour
  5. At some point early on, discuss how to backwards plan (I ended up not doing this, but I’ve discussed this with some students individually)
  6. Set up blogs/journals (I set a deadline for this—helped as needed on their first “official” day) 
I explained I would take a lot of their time with AP test prep; therefore, I wanted to give them something to eagerly anticipate at the end of each week. Yes, we’ve been prepping all year, but after Spring Break, I start intense training sessions: three essays over three days. We do this for several weeks. It’s exhausting, but gets them ready for the test—and improves their writing…if they take it seriously.

We also talked about America’s lip service about creativity and innovation, but public schools do their best to drain that from students. I told them they needed a reason to get out of bed, other than compulsory attendance. We discussed that sometimes you are lucky enough to enjoy your job, but sometimes a job is a paycheck—they need something to feed their souls. This is where Genius Hour can help: maybe they will find their passion.

Week Before Spring Break: I won’t criticize how the week before Spring Break is handled in my school. Suffice it to say, between the activities all week and the break, I went two weeks without seeing students. That’s not a hyperbole. I did assign work because that’s a lot of time to give up, especially in the spring. Plus, right after the break, I did not see my morning classes for three days due to an ACT cram session. Okay, enough prefacing.

I used that time to help students brainstorm, “sign” their contracts, plan their upcoming Genius time, submit preliminary info through a Google Form, and work on their proposals. I was not able to sacrifice class time for students to present their proposals to their classmates, but they’re already talking to each other and their parents.

Through the early stages, my one restriction has been can their idea be sustained until May? I’ve also brainstormed with students on how to do their weekly updates, how to measure their successes/failures, and how to do a final “project.”

Some are in love.

Some are terrified of the freedom, but with a little handholding, they’re opening up.

Some, definitely the minority, are not taking this seriously. But, they’re the students who should not have been in AP English because they hate to read and write. They’ve spent the year doing the bare minimum. Maybe this will eventually excite them to life’s possibilities. Maybe not. Students reach an age where the more you push, the more they resist; therefore, I’m picking my battles.

The Night Before: I received this tweet

First Work Day: Last Friday, April 1, was our first workday. I spent much of the time encouraging, checking up on, setting up blogs, discussing how to submit weekly updates, acting as a sounding board, and simply listening to my students express joy and excitement. I shan’t update every week, but after school is out, I will have a link to my class website with a page dedicated to some of the projects. In the meantime, let me share the myriad of ideas pouring from my crazy children:
  1. A “Crash Course” (like John Green’s videos) on bees.
  2. Several students learning to code for different reasons (make a video game, to make a program that deals with books/reading, etc.)
  3. Learn Russian
  4. Learn Mandarin Chinese
  5. Improve their Spanish
  6. Tackle a different hobby each week to find one the student actually likes
  7. Try out Pinterest projects and record success/failures
  8. creating a list that will provide students who are about to start college or a new chapter of their lives with activities, routines, or ways to help them relieve any fears they may have about moving forward”
  9. A student is trying techniques to conquer her shyness
  10. Several students are trying to become better photographers
  11. Two are working on a mural
  12. A few are working on their art
  13. One is foraying into a psychological experiment
  14. One is trying to make biofuel at home
  15. One is trying to recreate a smaller version of a (moving) Lego car engine
  16. A few are working with their chemistry teacher to do some more risky experiments (yes, I will need to do something nice for any mentors)
  17. One will be trying family recipes and compiling them, with pictures, into a cookbook
  18. One is testing the how relaxing coloring actually is (legitimate after a week of AP practice!)
  19. A couple are working on conquering levels of video games and tracking their progress
  20. Two are working together to work out and keep scientific track of their progress
  21. One is working on improving his dancing skills
  22. One is working on sewing her own prom dress and making other clothes
  23. One is creating her own travel brochures with hacks she’s picked up
  24. One is working on learning more about forensics
  25. A couple are exploring the world of reality TV by making their own videos (should be hilarious)
  26. One is a future teacher and will be working on lesson plans for her 2nd graders (so adorable)
  27. One is planning his “old folks home” that does NOT look like or feel like a prison (there’s a library named after me—don’t be jealous)
  28. One is planning a park for children with disabilities so they can feel included and safe
  29. One is working on a website to record people’s personal stories. It’s called the Heart Museum.
  30.  One is working on a first-person perspective video on what it’s like to be bullied. She thinks that will have more impact on students. I’m inclined to agree.
Folks, this is only a taste. When given a chance, students can and will again tap into their innate creativity. They’re already discussing continuing this over the summer and want class time again next year. If I’m blessed enough to get at least one section of 12th AP, they will have that chance. Some of these projects are simply stress relievers or ways to relax; some of these could become lifetime passions; some of these could be their life’s work.

I am simply thankful for “discovering” this idea and for the chance (and autonomy) to take this journey with my students.

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