It occurred to me today that I have written about Genius Hour before in quite a bit of detail as I was learning and going through the process but I really hadn’t summed up my learning overall. Not to mention, thoughts and ideas change over time as teaching and pedagogy changes as well. You can see some of the other Genius Hour posts by clicking here.
Genius Hour in the primary classroom (or any classroom) can be quite a daunting undertaking if you don’t share a philosophy that students can construct their own learning and that their learning is not just academic but social and emotional in nature as well. Let’s take a look at what Genius Hour is and the things I have learned over time. I collected all of my understanding of Genius Hour Implementation into an Interactive Genius Hour Notebook to make it easier for you to do this too!
The first thing I did was to start looking more at Personalized Learning (Edweek.org) That term was becoming more popular in the literature I was reading with organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation adding to the definition. I became interested because my students were harder to keep engaged. I wanted to know about the rumour that I heard that every student one day would have an “IEP”!! I thought – how on earth could that be? I’ll admit it. It was a scary thought to me. How would I manage all this? Is teaching really going to be just all about kids sitting at computers?
While computers and iPads are a great tool for personalized learning, I learned that technology was there to support and enhance the learning. As I began to personalize some of my students’ learning tasks, I realized that it wasn’t so scary after all. The more I adapted my instruction and learning outcomes to what my students needed (the ones that were sitting right in front of me, and that changed each year), the more my students loved learning. It was all about taking the direct teaching from me, and giving the teaching and learning to the students. The more active the learning was, the more my students were on task.
When I first heard about Genius Hour, I thought it was the perfect way to put some organization to my students’ learning so that not only was it was fun for them but they would be leaning more than I could possibly teach them in a lesson. Of course, we all know that if students are interested in something, they are more engaged. Genius Hour seemed like a no brainer to me. I started out doing Genius Hour on Friday afternoons for the last hour of the day. After a while it became longer because my students were enjoying not only thinking about their projects but also putting their ideas out there with their peers and collaborating.
Watching my 2nd graders involved in such fascinating projects that they had come up with themselves was exciting! Some did projects based on Science. Some worked on learning more about a place they had already travelled to. Some students were interested in things FOUND in the places that kids had already been to so they were able to collaborate. What fun and what great learning! I think if there was ever a magazine cover out describing the process it would have looked something like this:
Sharing the process was important for me – the trials and tribulations. Nothing ever goes as smoothly as you hope it will. There are always distractions – assemblies, sudden needs that you hadn’t anticipated etc. That is why I blogged as I went along. (The link I shared about that is above). So, I created this Interactive Genius Hour Notebook to help students document their learning and also to help teachers begin the process. It can be overwhelming to start Genius Hour because everyone is doing something different. When you consider giving up your “control” as a teacher – it can be a very scary thought!
Genius Hour and letting go of control doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds though and that is why I created this interactive notebook. I am so happy that this notebook has been in classrooms around the world. It’s important that we share our learning and help others that may be just starting out. Since, our curriculum is slowly moving towards project based learning and inquiry, it’s important that teachers are supported along the way. If you have been teaching as long as me, you know that this method of instruction is far different than what you learned in university. The beauty of Genius Hour though, is that it teaches students to THINK and it supports the skills they will need as they proceed through school and then into the work force. (Yup, I think way ahead from the primary classroom that I have taught in for years.) We are setting the foundation here my friends. What an awesome and somewhat overwhelming thought. It’s powerful, don’t you think?
This notebook is step-by-step and starts with the student. Who are they? How do they learn? As they plan their project, there are steps along the way that keep students moving forward. Some are reflections, some are “road maps” of the process and others are collaboration times with peers. The teacher is a HUGE part of the process in the facilitation of the learning.
What do I love most about Genius Hour? I think it’s the fact that the students are doing most of the learning. It seems like a silly thing to say but really, if you think about teaching, historically it has focussed more on the teacher doing direct lessons. Then of course there’s photocopying, keeping kids engaged (a full time job these days!) and on task, then all the time spent marking. Who’s doing all the work? The teacher. Are kids benefitting? Yes, to some degree, but can they learn more and more deeply when given the opportunity? YES! Genius Hour puts the learning emphasis on the kids and the learning SUPPORT on the teacher. The teacher helps facilitate the learning, offers constructive feedback and helps the students to provide their peers with useful feedback. The teacher also gives students the benefit of their wealth of experience in learning and life and the knowledge to help them develop their project.
Where would I go next with this now that the process is locked in? I would have students focus more on social responsibility and hopefully gear their projects towards helping others and promoting positive change.
That’s what learning is all about, don’t you think?
This notebook can be used (and has options) for intermediate students too!