Don’t do Genius Hour (Unless it’s the best thing for you)

I am currently wrapping up my third year using genius hour in my classroom. Year one was a bumpy road with my third graders as I threw myself into the process, gave my students too much choice, and then tried to guide them with minimal structure for students and minimal support for me. In year two, I was moving to fifth grade and was fortunate enough to join an all-star teaching team that helped me develop genius hour into what I had hoped for at the beginning. It went so well, that we were asked to have a group of fifth graders present their projects to the school board. All of a sudden, genius hour was promoted in school documents and people were asking about its success.

At the end of the year, the sixth grade teachers met with us to consider how they might use genius hour. Here is my advice for any teacher consider genius hour:

Don’t do genius hour because we did and people are talking about it.

Don’t do genius hour because our students liked it and they might ask to do genius hour next year. 

Don’t do genius hour because it sounds good. Who wouldn’t want to be a genius for an hour if all you had to do was put those two words next to each other on a schedule.

Definitely do not do genius hour if you think that it will be a time to let students do whatever they want academically while you can take a break from real teaching. The truth is I work harder to guide genius hour than any traditional teaching I’ve done. There are days when genius hour is energy giving, meaning I’ve worked incredibly hard, but also feel incredibly motivated at the end. There are also days where I just feel exhausted afterward, when I’ve poured all my energy into the students and received nothing in return. Genius hour might be like golf though. Those energy giving weeks, like a good shot, can keep you going for a long time.

Don’t do genius hour because another teacher or administrator tells you to.

Genius hour is valuable because of the elements it combines – student voice and choice, creativity, research, problem-solving, design thinking, reflection, and more. Not because it is called genius hour. One of my fears is that genius hour becomes a fad, rather than a teaching tool. That people start doing it because it looks good on paper or twitter, without doing the work that makes it meaningful. So don’t just do genius hour.

Give your student’s a choice and a voice. Give them time to be creative, explore design thinking, research with a purpose, problem-solve, and reflect. You don’t have to do genius hour to incorporate these elements, which should be a part of every classroom, and in some way should be part of every lesson, unit, or project. There are many ways to incorporate these skills into your teaching and your student’s learning.

Look at the way you teach now. Look at your schedule. Where are you using these skills already? Where can you find a home for them? Can you design a unit, project, problem that allows your students to use all of them at once?

Which leads us to the one reason you should do genius hour:

It is the best way for you to incorporate student choice, creativity, design thinking, research, problem-solving, reflection, and any other critical skill that you know is important to teaching and learning in your classroom. 

If you do genius hour for the right reasons, it can be successful. Make it your own. Give it a new name. Find other teachers that can join you on the journey – in your building or through social media. You’ll want and need the support. Get feedback from your students along the way; don’t be afraid to let them guide you. You are giving them a different kind of freedom and opportunity in the classroom. They will be glad to help you make it even better.

In genius hour, we tell students to make the learning theirs, to own it. You have to do the same. Make the teaching your own. If you choose genius hour as the framework for delivering all of the skills mentioned above, the resources available right now are amazing. (AJ Juliani, John Spencer, Joy Kirr, Angela Maiers, Don Wettrick )If it’s not right for you, there are still an incredible number of teachers ready to help you change the way you teach, to change the way student’s learn. We want to innovate with you.

4 comments

  1. Thanks for this reflection post Chris! I definitely fall in the category of teachers that want to implement Genius Hour with my kiddos but struggle to find/make time given all of the other demands. After reading, I don’t feel so ‘guilty’ and understand that when the time is right, it will happen.

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  2. I’m so with you. I tell people “It’s the toughest day of my week, and it’s the most rewarding, as well.” My gears go go go during and after days we have Genius Hour. I’m adding this to the LiveBinder under “Teachers who struggle with this idea!” ;D

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