Dos and Don'ts of Genius Hour

Over the past few months, my class and I have been wading into the waters of what is called "Genius Hour". No doubt you have heard rumblings of this before, as it is not a new concept.  I had first heard about it when my friend Jen at Runde's Room had it set up in her classroom.  She has a great post on how to set it up here.  I highly recommend reading it.
 
But I am not here to talk about the very first day of getting started because, really, Jen explains it all in the link above...including some awesome videos to share with the kids (which of course I did.)  Rather, I am going to share with you some "in the trenches" advice I have now that Genius Hour has been running in my class for about 2 months.   What I am going to focus on are some of the Do's and Don'ts that I have discovered through my trial and error of implementing this program into my room.

After I introduced the concept to the students (pretty much following what Jen does to a T), I set them off to research their question.  Here comes my first don't.

Don't let them research until you have approved their topic.

In the beginning, I wasn't vetting their projects.  I was just letting them go with their gut and research anything that suited their fancy.  Over time, that proved to be a mistake.  I found that through this whole process, the kids will go the path of least resistance.  One of the first students to present her project showed us how to make Playdoh.  It was a fabulous presentation.  But after that, the kids saw that they could go online, find a recipe, copy it, and then make a slide presentation about that.  I started to get all sorts of "crafts", and it became too repetitive.  The kids weren't truly passionate about learning how to make galaxy goo, they just thought it was easy.  So I had to have them all take a step back and get their projects approved by me.  I am using this form here to make sure that the projects are truly something the student is passionate about and not just some easy step by step craft they found online.

Do let them work on their own time table (within reason)

After the projects are approved, I let the kids decide how long they need to work.  We only have a class set of computers once a week, so they don't have unlimited access to devices.  However, since they are using the Google Suite (docs and slides mostly) to present their work, they do have access at home.  Many of my students were so excited that they went home immediately and began working.  They finished their projects and were ready to present the next week!  So I let them.  Some kids, however, would NEVER finish if I didn't impose some sort of deadline.  So after about 6 weeks, I just had to give them a final date to be done by...and they were.  It is amazing how just giving the kids a date will light a fire under them.

Do keep it organized.

Once the projects are approved, I have the students write the question they are researching on an index card that is then slipped into their own library pocket.   When they are researching, the pockets are under the "researching" section on a pocket chart I have set up in my room.  When the students begin to create their project, they walk over on their own and move the library pocket.  As they are ready to present, they move the pocket again.  This lets me know they are ready to stand up and work on those speaking skills!

Want the signs I use?  Click here.

Don't let them present until you are absolutely certain they are ready.

Once the kids feel that they are ready to present the project to the class, I have them fill out this little tiny form.  (I also attached all the signs I use too.) It makes it so that they HAVE to have all the elements I am needing.  Did they send me the file on the computer if they need to?  Did they bring in their trifold if they made one?  Do they have a model here?  Have they practiced their speech?  Did they include a bibliography?  What about the speaking notes?  All of this must be ready and present in class before I will let them stand up to present.

Do have some way to grade the presentations.

As the students are presenting, I have a rubric that I got from the Wise Guys packet on TpT (which is a fabulous pack to get you started too...I recommend it)  The kids like to know right away how their presentation was, so using this easy rubric has made it great to give them almost instant feedback.  I write some notes and circle the score.  Then they are on their way to getting a new presentation proposal approved.

Do display the final products (if you can)

Nothing is more motivating to the kids than getting their work up on the board.  I find that posting their finished products is incentive to keep working on the next one.  While they love the research and the autonomy as it is, this is just another little way to get them motivated and revved up to keep going!  Now, not all of them can be displayed (for example, big trifolds have to go home and we tend to eat anything food related immediately) BUT I do take pictures of them all and try to put those up as well.

I know there are SO many more questions and things that I could have addressed in this post.  Seriously, this Genius Hour has been a fabulous experience, but one that has taken quite a bit of learning through trial and error.   I would recommend to anyone starting out to just go for it.  Read the links I posted above and get your feet wet.  The projects do not need to be so big that they aim to change the world.  The kids in my class made glitter slime (a live demonstration no less!), they learned how to build a better batting helmet, did biographies on interesting people, wrote books, created presentations about their favorite countries, and baked lots and lots of things.  The kids are just learning how to learn ON THEIR OWN.  How to take charge of their own passions and become experts on that topic simply because they like it.  That is a worthwhile skill for us to teach and encourage in the classroom. Here is a Periscope video I made talking a bit more about Genius Hour.

10 comments

  1. This is great! So much information I feel ready to start it in my own classroom now! Thank you!

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  2. Love this! Tried once so far with fourth and fifth graders in art. I definitely had some students taking path of least resistance. Great suggestions!
    Thank you! :) PS There's a typo on your title. Thought you would want to know.;)

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    1. Oh goodness! Thanks for pointing that out. I type these things so fast that typos sometimes slip through! It is fixed now :)

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  3. Hi Again,
    Also, I'm using a PC, and the links aren't working. Also, where it says, "I am using this form here," there is no link. Looking forward to checking them out soon! Thanks again! :)

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    1. Should work now. Click on it again :)

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  4. Thank you so much for these tips. My teachers are just getting Genius Hour started, and I know we'll benefit from your experience!

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  5. I really enjoyed reading. Thank You.

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  6. Thank you so much for all of this info! Since students choose when they are ready to present, what do those students do when they are done since other students are still working on their project?

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