Monday, September 16, 2013

Genius Hour in Kindergarten

Genius Hour In French Immersion Kindergarten

By Stephanie Bartlett

It is easy to read about Genius Hour and assume it is geared for middle school.  Having taught my Kindergarten students through the lens of creative development for the majority of the year, I wanted to give Genius Hour a try.  At the beginning of last June, I decided to devote most of our time to experimenting with this concept.  By this time of the year, my students were familiar with the process of generating ideas, experimenting and creating prototypes, and analyzing their own and their peers’ work, so I felt that as a class, they were ready to apply their knowledge and develop their own projects.

To make the initiative relevant and applicable, Genius Hour needs to be assessed.  I wanted students to be involved in the feedback loop, so I posted their assessment sheets on the wall to track what stages they were working in and what they needed to work on.  Using the visuals and seven strands of creative development on the assessment tool, I guided discussions using consistent vocabulary.  The nature of the feedback was very positive.  I only documented direct comments and student-generated goals, never anything negative or personal.  Click here for a copy of my assessment sheet.  The assessment tool in the photo was my own prototype that I trialled before I published it.

Generate Ideas:

Students were used to brainstorming discussions and wonder walls to collectively question and generate multiple ideas.  We started our journey by wondering what we were passionate or curious about.  Suggestions included building structures, protecting animals, writing books, gardening and much more.  At any age level, there are students who need more support and scaffolding than others.  Some students were very strong in the generative phase of creative development and this helped those who couldn’t quite articulate their interests by giving them a springboard.

Create A Plan:

I had students sketch out a small drawing of their plan.  This was put on our class bulletin board to document their learning.  Each time a student developed new ideas or sketched  more information, it was added to the board.

Research/ Investigate:

Students then headed to the computer, ipad or books if they needed to discover more about their interest.  Many students helped each other and brought information from home.


The experimentational phase is where we played by putting thought to form.  Students were taught to try, try again.  By creating multiple prototypes, students learn to analyze their thinking.  This is part of the metacognitive piece that we are striving towards as educators.  One student was very interested in caterpillars.  She drew a monarch caterpillar and then used plasticine to create a model.    In a conference with her, I showed her a picture of a monarch caterpillar in a book.  She then changed the colour and the markings of her prototype.  In a class discussion, someone suggested that she create another pattern showing the pattern of the markings and not just the colour.  By the time she created three prototypes, this student was able to clearly describe the characteristics of the monarch caterpillar and went on in her investigations to create a model of the life cycle.


Class tours and discussions played an important role here.  I spent time observing and then took the class on a quick tour of the classroom to showcase the work of a few selected students each period.  I would point out what I noticed, using the vocabulary of the seven strands of creative development.  Students would then collaborate and analyze by offering positive reinforcements and suggestions.  The next day at the beginning of the period, I would highlight those points again to refocus the students and sometimes use the tracking of the bulletin board to suggest a goal for individual students that day.


Many students reached the point of creative sustain by experiencing Genius Hour in Kindergarten.  I observed that some showed strength in different areas of the seven strands, for example, one student was highly generative and always had ideas on the go.  I would then encourage her to prototype and expand her understanding.  As described in the Learning Experience Design Model, some students never reach these Type 3 activities and require more scaffolding on the part of the teacher.  This is differentiation and personalization at its best.

Where does play fit in?

It is important to note that I knowingly taught Genius Hour for more than 20 % of the week in June because I wanted to play and try it out so that I had a plan of attack for following school year.  Because of this fluid schedule, I tracked students’ plans on the bulletin board and the assessment sheets.  Every time that students added a new prototype or drew a new plan, I would add it to their section of the bulletin board.  Our daily schedule continued on the same, so students worked on their Genius Hour projects during our hour of play. In this way, learning was completely self-instigated.  Many used the vocabulary and concepts that we were learning for spring to develop their learning, others went in different directions.  Rather than visiting other centres upon arrival in the morning, many would head straight for their projects or to look at the projects of other students.  The atmosphere was a focused, calm buzz that  never failed to move me as the students joyfully got to work and play in the sunlit classroom, with no reminders from me.

What is the role of the teacher?

My role was to guide and observe my students as they moved through the different stages of creative development.  I would often sit and listen to conversations. This allowed me to plan my class discussions and mini lessons.  Literacy and Math lessons were  embedded into this process .  I would use student project ideas for shared writing and reading each day.  When I noticed an opportunity for a lesson on patterns, 3D shapes or numbers, I would use it as a real life math lesson.  For example, the building centre offered lots of discussion points about 3D shapes and the garden explorations were the basis of many word problems.  Students were so engaged in their projects that there were no discipline problems.  Those who had a difficult time during large group activities benefitted greatly from having the chance to express their knowledge in this format.

And now…

As I head into year two of teaching creativity, I am convinced that I will do Genius Hour again.  The third week of school is about to begin and I am busy doing community building activities and setting routines so that we can delve into the world of creativity.  Trying to implement something too abstract will not fly early in the year, as we all know.

My plan is to investigate whatever theme we are working on from Monday to Thursday, gradually building the process of creative development into our discussions.  (I will enlarge a copy of the assessment tool for our reference.)  Sometime this fall, Fridays will become the day that we will explore Genius Hour.  In the beginning, we will work on our year long project involving building a sense of self and what makes each student unique.  Stay tuned for a future blog post highlighting this project.  An email will go home to parents within the week asking them to share what fires them up, what their passions are.  I can then call upon parents as experts, and find other specialists to guide us as students begin to identify their own passions and interests.  As with anything that requires skill building, I will go slow, do group explorations, and divide the group to work and learn with different volunteers.  As the year progresses, many students will begin to develop creative sustain and generate their own ideas and projects.  There are many teachers experimenting with Genius Hour and evidence of their discussion can be found on twitter in the #geniushour professional learning network.

As with any long term creative development project, my work with Genius Hour will continue to evolve. How do you teach Genius Hour in  your Kindergarten classroom?

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