The first day I introduced Genius Hour to my students, I asked, “How many times over your entire school career has anyone asked you what you want to learn?” I teach high school seniors, so this question created more reflection than if I taught young students with only a few years of learning under their belts. My Advanced Placement seniors looked totally baffled, which was a new experience for some of them. “It’s true,” said one student, perplexed. “No one’s ever asked me what I want to learn.”
There was never a genius without a tincture of madness. — Aristotle
Before this school year, I was also guilty of not asking students what they were curious about studying. If you saw the pages of Economics benchmarks and AP Psychology objectives that students must learn in my classes, you wouldn’t ask students for their opinion on much. I’ve learned a few things over the last year or two that have helped to change my mind.
Think about your typical school PD session. For years, I sat through PD sessions that killed my desire to teach. Two years ago, several required hours of PD had gone unplanned, and teachers were told to put together our own PD. While it still felt like a hoop to jump through, soon teachers were exploring topics, strategies, and programs that interested them. It was the best mistake ever. Teachers grouped together to research topics they had wondered about but didn’t have the time to explore otherwise. Soon teachers were collaborating and even developing websites for colleagues on topics they were passionate about, from PBL to flipped learning. I wondered why we don’t conduct PD in that way all the time. When given the time, I am excited to learn about educational strategies and instructional technology in any way that I can. When given the time, I am happy to share what I’ve learned with other teachers.
Is it the same for our students? I think it is. We use all kinds of strategies to make them interested in what we think they should learn or what we are forced to teach. But I’ve learned over 13 years of teaching that it’s a rare high school student who is passionate about learning economic theory. And while students see my passion for all things psychology, it doesn’t necessarily translate into their passion. I feel successful if they develop an appreciation for the science and look at life with a psychology perspective, but not all of them continue on to study psychology in college (though I want to hug the ones who do).
Genius Hour gives students one hour a week in your classroom to find their passion, to explore a topic of their choice in depth and over time, to research, think, and collaborate, and then to publish and share their reflection with the world through a personal blog. At the end of the project, students present their reflections in a TED-type presentation to their classmates and members of the school or community. Before jumping in, I spent a lot of time reading about Genius Hour and how other teachers have made it work in their classrooms. You can view the list of resources I have collected about Genius Hour here.
I started implementing Genius Hour at the beginning of our second trimester in late November, and my students continued their Genius Hour projects through May. I only offered Genius Hour in my AP Psychology classes because it’s a year-long course, and I know exactly what activities that I can whittle down or cut without skimping on content. The other courses I teach are one trimester courses lasting 12 short weeks, and I will have to look hard at my plans to decide what I can change about the curriculum.
The initial excitement about Genius Hour in my classroom led me to propose Genius Hour as an elective for the 2014-2015 school year, and the proposal was approved by our curriculum council. I’m a little nervous about how it will progress — it definitely was not all joy and cheer throughout the process — but I’ve learned a lot this year about success, failure, and student motivation, all of which will change the way I guide my students.