Sunday, September 08, 2013

Introducing Genius Hour in Grade 7

By Erin Quinn

Genius Hour is an idea that’s catching like wildfire lately in the field of education. Genius Hour goes by many names - 20% time, Innovation Week, Fed Ex Days, Passion Projects - but all these monikers essentially mean the same thing: passion-based, self-directed learning. Students choose what they want to learn about, investigate, and create something to show for their learning.

My teaching partner Kate Steinfeld and I decided to embark on the journey of Genius Hour together this year. We introduced the concept to our grade 7 students on Friday. Plenty of other educators have gone before us, so we relied on them to show us the way, and borrowed parts of the way other educators have introduced Genius Hour.

We started with this brilliant video, which was thoughtfully shared by Drew Minock here.

Then we showed a modified version of this Prezi, made by Crystal Wilson.

We were inspired by EspoLearn’s brilliant questions from her kickoff slideshow.

We borrowed EspoLearn’s words when she said that Genius Hour projects are about:
  • You being in charge of your own learning
  • Finding your genius
  • Asking questions and working to answer an Ungoogleable question
  • Finding a problem and working to solve it
  • A little about the product and a lot about the process
  • Learning it’s okay to fail

After the Prezi, we posed these questions to our students:
  • If you could learn anything in school, what would it be?
  • If you could solve any problem in the world, what problem would you solve? What breaks your heart?
  • If you could make anything in the world, what would you make?
  • What would you do if you weren't afraid?
  • What will you create to make the world more awesome?

Finally, we watched this short TED Talk of Jack Andraka, a 15 year old who invented a promising, cheap, and shockingly effective test for pancreatic cancer in his spare time.

We asked our students to ponder these questions over the course of the week, and come back next Friday with as many answers to the questions as they could. I could already see the students were intrigued by these questions. One girl said, “Ms. Quinn. If I’ve already filled up my page, what do I do?” I answered, “Go on to the next page!”

The best, most hopeful comment I overheard was,
“I can’t WAIT until next Friday!”

Genius Hour will allow the students to fully experience all seven strands of creative development in context. With their answers to the five questions, the students began to experience the phase of Self-Instigation. What's great about Genius Hour is it's one of the only experiences in a classroom where students will be able to truly self-instigage without curricular content interfering. Students get to pick a topic about whatever they want.

Next Friday, we are planning to have the students share their ideas with their classmates. We hope that by sharing, students will continue to add to their own list of ideas. Only after they’ve spent a good chunk of time on self-instigation can they move on to narrowing down their ideas to something good.

I will continue to write about our journey through Genius Hour as we go!

For more educators’ great ideas about Genius Hour, please check our Joy Kirr’s comprehensive Livebinder on the topic.
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