One of the hardest things to do as a teacher is integrating students’ individual interests with a strict curriculum. We learn best when we’re engaged with a topic. That’s true whether we’re talking about children, teenagers, or adult learners.
Genius hour is a great solution to this problem. It lets you encourage students to do first-hand research into subjects they enjoy. It encourages freedom of expression. As well as this, it can be worked into any part of a set curriculum to engage students with almost any subject.
What Do We Mean by Genius Hour?
When we say “genius hour” we’re talking about setting aside one hour a week for a long-term project. Students choose their own project and are responsible for planning, researching, and creating it.
Of course, this happens within a set structure to give students focus and motivation. There are no hard and fast rules for genius hour. It will be up to you as a teacher to set the rules and goals for your students.
We’ll discuss a standard structure for a typical genius hour project below. The teacher's role in genius hour is support. Students will often need guidance or inspiration to keep them from getting off track.
What’s the Purpose of Genius Hour?
The idea behind genius hour sessions is a term you’ll recognize: active learning. As students move through the project, they’ll develop a variety of new skills firsthand. The nature of the sessions encourages creativity and collaboration.
Making the classroom a safe space for students’ ideas to be heard fosters their self-confidence. These sessions can help fill in the gaps that exam testing leaves in critical thinking, social interaction, and self-led research.
Genius Hour Benefits
There are five main areas in which students can benefit from genius hour sessions.
Students rarely get opportunities to express their individuality within the confines of a set lesson plan. Genius hour sessions give students time to explore their own interests. This can lead to a more personal connection to the subject.
2. Research Skills
Part of a genius hour project is research. Online, in a library, or firsthand, whatever’s most relevant to the subject. This can help students learn early that doing their own research around a topic can give them a deeper understanding.
3. Social Skills
Especially early on in the project, genius hour should be very collaborative. You will be encouraging students to share their ideas and inspire each other. Genius hour is not about competition. It’s about everyone's ideas being heard.
Creative skills are highly encouraged in genius hour sessions. The active learning method lets pupils learn by doing something they enjoy. Creativity is often an underdeveloped skill set in subjects that are more academic, but creative problem solving has value in both study and work.
5. Problem-solving Skills
Developing problem-solving skills is vital for students as they move into higher education. Genius hour nurtures this by having students share their progress on projects. Workshopping and brainstorming ideas are part of the process.
This can help students develop skills in analyzing problems they face and how to solve them as well as further developing social interaction skills. It also introduces the concept of crowd-sourcing solutions.
How To Introduce Genius Hour to the Classroom
Genius hour might sound difficult to integrate. Taking an hour a week adds up to a lot of class time over a term or a year. However, it doesn’t have to be. Rather than thinking of sessions as outside the curriculum, try combining them with a subject students are already learning.
For example, media students might benefit from an open-ended project to produce a podcast. Introduce them to real-world practices like remote workgroups and help them use their personal interests as a starting point.
Similarly, business studies pupils could learn a lot from developing an app or planning a startup. You can integrate modern business ideas like building a quality culture. You can even help them answer practical questions like what is a CTI? And keep it relevant to their project.
Both these examples teach vital skills but leave room for individual expression. What’s important here isn’t just the success of the project. It’s also the lessons that students learn along the way.
Genius Hour Projects in Five Steps
Whatever your genius hour project is going to be about, there’s a set structure you can follow. This will help students focus on moving their projects forward. It will be up to you, as a teacher, to ensure students get the support they need to use their time effectively.
The first step is research. Once you’ve set the broader topic for the project, have students research ideas. Then organize a brainstorming session where students can share what they’ve learned.
At this stage, ask your students to complete a project proposal. Review these with the students to help them get their ideas off the ground.
Once the proposals have been completed, move on to planning the projects. Encourage students to think about things like materials or equipment they might need, how they will plan their time, whether they will need space outside the classroom to complete the project, etc.
There are many questions you can ask at this point to teach students about scheduling and basic project management.
Once the plans are in place, it’s time to let your students get creative. Make sure you organize a way for students to feed back about their progress on the projects. This will help them develop their critical thinking skills as they examine their own projects and others.
Have students share both their progress and eventual results with the group. This will help encourage students to work together to solve problems as they go. It will help you highlight any areas where students need support, too.
Make sure your students have the tools they need to succeed but try to avoid intervening in every misstep. Part of the purpose of genius hour is to encourage students to find creative solutions to problems.
Once the projects are completed, take the time to review them. Encourage students to reflect on their successes and where they could improve. Doing this, both as a group and individually with your students, can help reinforce the lessons learned.
Common Ideas for Genius Hour Project Guidelines
Okay, so you know the structure for your genius hour project. How do we take a classroom topic and expand it into an open-ended project, though? Let’s take a look at some examples of how you can really take any subject and give students room to explore.
Business Studies: Business Structures and Hierarchy
This seems like a fairly dry and uninspiring place to start. This makes it a good example of how genius hour projects can enliven a subject. Start with the most open-ended question in the topic – what is your business?
Let students come up with ideas for their ideal business. This is where the brainstorming sessions can let students’ ideas come alive. Use visual aids like word walls or even thought clouds on a whiteboard.
Once you’ve narrowed down the project proposals, you can start guiding students into researching more practical questions. Maybe their business would need a call center. They would need to know how a phone monitoring system works and so on.
Obviously, the objective here isn’t to take these businesses to market! What’s important is that the students are able to consider and solve the practical problems they would face in starting their own business.
Computer Science: Coding and App Development
These skills are in high demand in the current job market. However, they’re generally very collaborative processes. It’s difficult to teach the life skills a student needs for these roles while demonstrating the complexities of a coding language in the classroom.
Genius hour projects are perfect for this type of scenario. They give students both time and motivation to collaborate on a project. Again, start with the most open-ended question you can, like “What kind of app would you want to develop?”
Try to match up students with similar areas of interest as you brainstorm ideas. Show students how each of their areas of skill or interest can come together to complete a project. Don’t be afraid to make the sessions highly collaborative.
For example, if your students from the business studies class would need an app developer, let the computer science students fill that role. Maybe they need someone to code an automated call queue system for that call center.
The reason that even successful companies use genius hour sessions is that they can teach skills that often get ignored in standard learning models.
You might need to instill a core business idea like visitor segmentation or teach a wider principle like good mental health practices in a remote learning scenario. Genius hour lets you incorporate both work skills and life skills with student interests to keep engagement high.