Genius Hour Guidelines: How to Make the Most of Open-Ended Learning
Genius hour can be a great addition to your daily, weekly, or monthly classroom schedule. What exactly is genius hour and how does it work? How can you make the most of your limited time? And how can you make it a productive time even for unmotivated students? Get the answers to all these questions and more with our genius hour guidelines for the classroom.
What is Genius Hour?
Genius hour “allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom.” It is an opportunity for open-ended learning about a topic of the students’ choice for a set period of time in the classroom or even at home. Much of a child’s day is structured with teacher- or parent-driven activities, so the freedom to follow personal passions is really exciting for kids.
How Does Genius Hour Work?
Genius hour is freeform by nature, which can make it difficult to know how to get started. The good news is that it’s also flexible, and can change and adapt over time to better meet students’ needs with just a few genius hour guidelines in place.
Projects in the Classroom
Genius hour doesn’t have to be complicated. It can begin as 20 minutes in the library or on the computer where students can research anything they want from outer space to poetry.
Some teachers are interested in a more long-term approach through genius hour projects. Students begin by choosing a topic they are interested in and create a long-term, hands-on project around that topic with help from their teacher and even input from fellow students. They might build a geologic model of the Earth, write a long-form story, or even create a performance for the class. Think “passion projects,” but for students.
Projects at Home
Open-ended learning is also a great way for parents to get involved in their child’s education at home. It doesn’t require in-depth knowledge of curriculum or any specific topic, which makes it accessible for many parents.
Genius hour can operate much the same way at home as it does at school. Siblings and parents can provide guidance and opinions throughout the process just like classmates would at school. And when the child is done, they can present their project to their family.
Who Benefits from Genius Hour?
One of the best things about genius hour is that it can benefit every student regardless of learning style. Students can learn by reading, listening, or watching videos online. They can collaborate with other students to work through problems or choose to tackle them on their own.
Students who are already intrinsically motivated will have no problem getting excited about a project they get to choose. And even those who struggle to get excited about learning will likely be more interested when they get to choose the topic.
Genius Hour Lesson Plans & Steps
Genius hour can take a number of forms depending on the time you have available, the grade level, and your specific class. Some teachers prefer mini-projects while others opt for in-depth explorations that last a quarter or even the whole school year. Most genius hour lesson plans follow these four steps:
- Brainstorming and Planning: Students are given a short period of time to brainstorm potential topics and projects. You can give students a window during which they can change their topic, but it’s best to keep this stage short to keep students focused and excited about their project. This is also your opportunity to explain all genius hour guidelines to your class to make sure they understand that this isn’t just free time to do whatever they want.
- Pitching and Proposing: Each student will present his/her idea to the class. Students should include the following in their write-up or presentation:
- Their topic
- Their project idea
- A rough plan for accomplishing their project
- Why they chose this topic/project
- What they hope to learn
- Learning & Creating: This stage is the bulk of the project where students sit down with books, computers, or primary sources to do research on the topic they’ve chosen. They will then use this research to create a unique and creative project.
- Presenting: Students will present their projects in front of the class. Depending on your class, you may want to opt for traditional presentations with slides, a walk-through style fair, or somewhere in between. You may even want to invite parents so that students can show off what they have learned to their families.
- Reflecting: Once students have presented their projects, give them ample time to reflect. What did they learn? Where did they struggle? What new questions do they have? What other projects inspired them? This step can’t be overlooked, as it is the springboard for the next genius hour project.
Genius Hour Guidelines
While genius hour is freeform by design, it’s important to establish ground rules and guidelines in your classroom to keep the time positive, passionate, and productive. Here are a few of our favorite genius hour guidelines to keep your students on track:
- Use genius hour to get one-on-one time with each student. Not only is genius hour a great time for students to explore their passions, it’s a great time for you to get individual time with each student. That way you can understand what motivates them and how they learn best.
- Students’ projects must be completed in a set period of time. This helps students learn time management skills and also prevents projects from getting too extravagant. The time period is up to you, but many teachers start with three to five hours a week for a three to four week project.
- Provide time for reflection. After each genius hour session, take five minutes to allow students to reflect on the session privately in a journal or publicly with the class. Encourage the sharing of failures just as much as successes. Talk about how to work through problems positively.
- Adjust accordingly for your class. You know your students best. Keep their best interests top of mind whenever you make big decisions about genius hour projects. Should you grade their projects? Should you allow a window during which they can switch topics? Consider your specific students and what will best drive their passion and creativity.
- No topic is off-limits. While you’ll need to screen topics to ensure they are grade-appropriate, try to keep an open mind. A student who struggles with math and science may be fascinated to learn how motorcycle engines work. A student who hates writing may want to compose her own rap musical. Passion and excitement are key.