This is what Genius Hour means to students

GH FairLast week, I wrote 5 reasons NOT to do genius hour and the one reason that you should. The truth is that, during the process, teaching in genius hour is a series of ups and downs that can feel exhausting and rewarding from week to week, sometimes both at the same time. Our fifth graders have taken on genius hour for the last two years, and at the end of each year, we have asked the students to write a reflective essay, sharing what they’ve learned from the process. This year we asked them to write it as a letter. It could have gone to their parents, their future selves, a future genius hour-er, or another person of their choice.

Here are quotes and passages from their essays, describing the learning that took place,

“Can you imagine that we got to choose a topic we wanted to learn about, and do a project on it! Whatever interests you! Wow, that’s a first. I learned about Tornadoes,  and their qualities. I did a Kahoot, a video, and a paper that I made. I learned that I am good at taking mistakes, and making them into a learning experience. I had a bad model of a Tsunami House. It fell apart easily and did not look very good. Remember that? It went straight in the trash. Yeah, good times.  I also learned that I work better independently.”

“Not only do you get to learn about your topic, but you also get to learn about yourself.”

“Remember that you can explore, don’t limit yourself.”

“I learned a lot from my mistakes and mishaps but I also learned from my successes.”

“I know what you’re thinking I should have done something simple like kahoot or a video, but know it gets better. At the start of this project I had an idea I liked a lot, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I thought that it would just magically get better, and through that thinking, I did not get much work done. At that time my thought was that everything would just magically get better, and fall into place. What I did not know was you have to work to get where you want to be, but now I know.”

“It’s okay to have weaknesses because they help you find out who you are.”

“Just remember ,sometimes your weaknesses can help you in the whole picture. Remember to stay positive and have confidence in yourself!”

“During my first genius hour project and the beginning of my second, I thought I knew everything, so I didn’t learn anything.”

“I learned that I can make what I see in my mind’s eye ‘come to life’. In my second project I had a very ambitious plan with lots of parts I didn’t think would come together. I wanted a scratch project, a Kahoot, a poster board, and a life size model. I wasn’t able to make the life sized model but everything else came together. All of my pieces are of good quality and great by themselves but when all of them came together my vision came true and it was awesome. Because of this skill I think you will make a great architect, don’t give up. I feel like genius hour may be more important than any of us think. If we only follow the standard curriculum and don’t explore or learn what we want to learn, and see who we really are, all we will be are a bunch of standard children and no one wants that.”

Seriously?!?! A student really wrote that last one. I hadn’t even seen it until two minutes ago as I finally found the time to look through their final drafts.

Throughout the genius hour process, I am constantly asking the questions: Is it working? Is it worth it? Why isn’t this student doing anything? Fortunately, all of these questions have been answered with these reflections. Is it working? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. Why isn’t this student doing anything? They were learning more than I could have imagined.

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