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What Is Genius Hour and How Can You Use It? (350+ Genius Hour Ideas)

Genius Hour is a powerful tool that every educator should be implemented in their class.

How it works is very simple. Students decide on a project that they can work on independently or with other students during a specific time period in the classroom.

When we ask kids to think outside of the box, we must also allow them to be encouraged to do it in a way that suits their personality. This is where the genius hour comes into place.

The basic idea of genius hour is for students to choose a topic about which they want to learn, explore, and create something new.

Genius Hour allows kids to be creative and innovative. It allows them to learn more about things that interest them than what they were required to learn in class.

They can also use their creativity and skills in language arts, math and science during this time to research, develop questions, create projects and solve problems around the subject of their choice.

What is Genius Hour - How to conduct Genius Hour in Classroom (Ideas & Tips)

Purpose of Genius Hour

The main purpose of Genius Hour is to allow students to learn deeply through inquiry on topics they find interesting. This type of learning allows students to become invested in what they are wanting to learn about because it comes from within them.

In addition, the Genius hour also helps in,

Motivation and engagement – students will be engaged in their learning because they will be doing research on a topic that interests them.

Student choice and voice – students get to choose what they learn. They can go as broad or as narrow as they wish with the topic and decide how deep they want to research.

Creativity – this is time for kids to express themselves through writing, art, or video on a topic that is important to them.

Collaboration – during Genius Hour, students can come together and share their passions. This may lead to group projects, sharing of ideas, and brainstorming sessions.

Teacher collaboration – teachers can collaborate with each other within the same school or from different schools around the world. They can learn from each other’s Genius Hour projects and share resources.

Steps to Include Genius Hour in Your Classroom

There are many ways to include genius hour into your classroom schedule. It can be a weekly hour-long activity, a daily 30-minute session, or even an entire class period once a month. Find what works best for your classroom.

Here are some steps that you can take to conduct a Genius Hour in your classroom:

Step 1: Introduce the Idea to the Class

Explain to your students what Genius Hour will be like and what you expect of them. I also made sure to talk about how Genius Hour is a time for them to learn about things they love, not just Google things they already know!

Make sure that students understand the purpose and value of Genius Hour.

Step 2: Brainstorm & Finalize the Topics with Students

Allow time for students to brainstorm ideas. Consider using a tool such as Peardeck or Socrative to help them narrow down their ideas to just one.

Have students do some sort of interest survey. I chose to have them fill out a short questionnaire on Google Forms.

This allowed me to sort their responses by interest, so I could easily tell which the most popular topics and which students were interested in the same things.

Break into groups with similar interests and research together.

I decided that each group would need a minimum of three students since they would be working together on their projects at the end of this phase as well.

You can also allow students to work independently without a group setting.

Have students decide on a final topic and start working on their project.

I think it’s important for kids to pick their own topics because it makes them more invested in their own learning. (It’s also important for teachers to make sure that the projects are feasible!)

Step 3: Create the Product / Complete the Project

Let your students Continue working on projects for the next several weeks during Genius Hour time (which can be once or twice a week – 30 mins or 1 Hour).

Give students time, space and materials to work on their projects.

Students can work individually or in small teams depending on the type of project they are doing.

Provide support and guidance as needed throughout the process.

Check-in with students regularly to help them stay on track and answer any questions they may have along the way.

Step 4: Assessment / Share the Project Outcome or Product Created

Allow students to choose how they want to share their learning.

Students should share their learnings with the class in some way — whether that be a formal presentation or an informal chat with classmates about what they learned during the process.

The outcome should be measured in terms of the learning that the student has achieved not by any other means.

Ideally, the whole exercise should help them develop interests that are personal and meaningful to them. Nothing else matters.

Why is it important to let kids come up with their own ideas?

Allowing kids to choose their topic allows a new dimension of learning. For example, it would be difficult for me as an adult to learn about the solar system because I know so much about it already.

But if I had been interested in that topic as a child, and if my parents or teachers had helped me expand on that interest and create learning opportunities, I might still find that topic interesting now and have learned even more than I did in school.

In addition, they are more likely to complete the project. If kids choose the project, they are going to work on during Genius Hour, they will be far more excited about it than if an adult chooses it for them.

This is important; without completion, students miss out on the chance to publish their work and share it with others who might be interested as well!

Role of a Teacher

The role of a teacher in Genius Hour includes the following:

Be a Facilitator

The role of a teacher in Genius Hour is to create an environment that allows students to discover their interests and ability, and also to provide great feedback on work that has been produced.

Transfer ownership to students while helping them maintain the course and stay on task. Because it is so important for our students to feel empowered in their learning.

It means taking risks in their learning and exploring topics that are of interest to them.

It also means that they need to be able to self-assess and revise their work based on where they think they should be going with it rather than where I think they should be going with it.

Be a Guide / Coach

Teach Students How to Research.

When students are working on their projects, as a teacher you can be there to guide them through each step and make sure they are staying on track with their work.

Teachers should be extremely approachable, and willing to listen and respond to students’ ideas and questions.

Teachers should also share what they know about their subjects in order to help students develop those interests.

You can also have many discussions with each student and assess learning by looking at student work samples or discussing student thinking and learning along the way.

Provide students with the tools, books, websites, apps, people and spaces that they need to be successful.

Manage Time / Be Accountable

It is the teachers’ responsibility to be a gatekeeper of time and be accountable for the outcome.

Work with each student so that they complete the whole process in time and be able to present it back to the class.

Create and maintain an environment of trust and respect.

It is ok to watch what they are doing and provide feedback occasionally. However, ensure that the students stay on track with the chosen topic.

Make sure the students reflect on their learning process.

Role of a Student in Genius Hour

It is important for students to understand the role they play in Genius Hour. They will be asked to take on different roles as the learning process moves along. There are three main roles that students can play during Genius Hour:

The Leader/Manager/Producer

The student(s) who will be responsible for organizing and managing the project from beginning to end. This role may change as the project progresses.

The leader might also have a hand at making, but this person must have a vision or goal for the group.

The Designer

The person who designs the finished product of the project. This could be someone who makes something that is tangible, like building a model or designing an app. Or it could be someone who organizes an event and works out all of the details to get it set up and implemented.

This person needs to have good ideas, creative thinking skills and problem-solving skills.

The Researcher

The student on the team researches information and data related to the topic or issue being explored by the team.

This person needs to be a critical thinker and good with technology so that he or she can research topics thoroughly and evaluate sources for accuracy and bias.

Genius Hour Ideas

350+ Genius Hour Ideas - segregated by class and topics for students and teachers

Genius Hour Ideas (Gradewise)

If you are a student/teacher from Grade 1-10, and you are looking for some interesting ways to spend your Genius Hour, here is a list of ideas that you can use.

Genius Hour Ideas for Elementary

Genius Hour Ideas for Elementary


Genius Hour Ideas for Middle School

Genius Hour Ideas for Middle School Kids

Genius Hour Ideas for High School

Genius Hour Ideas for High School

Genius Hour Ideas Based on Subject

Math genius hour ideas.

Math is a difficult subject for many people, so it can be difficult to find genius hour idea for math. These are some of the best math-based projects that people have worked on during their Genius Hour.

Animal Genius Hour Ideas

Below are some possible animal genius hour ideas that students have actually completed or have been requested by students in our classroom.

Baking genius hour ideas

This list of baking genius hour ideas is meant to inspire and ignite your passion for baking. I hope that these ideas help you get started on your personal project.

Genius Hour Ideas about Food

I really like food. I know other people who like food as well. So, I thought it might be fun to have a Genius Hour about food.

Maybe we could try baking something new or making a recipe that we’ve never done before. Or maybe, we could look at different types of foods and talk about what people like about them and why they do or don’t like them.

Here are some things you can research:

Baseball genius hour ideas

Chemistry Genius Hour Ideas

A lot of chemistry teachers are doing genius hour projects in their classes. This is a great way to get students thinking about chemistry and applying what they know and what they want to learn about chemistry.

The following are ideas for Genius Hour Projects in Chemistry:

DIY genius hour ideas

Check out this list of DIY Genius Hour ideas that could serve as a springboard for your next project:

Massive Collection of Genius Hour Ideas for Elementary, middle school and high school students

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Genius Hour

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Want to start Genius Hour in your classroom but not sure where and how to begin? Already started Genius Hour and need a bit more guidance?

Join us for a FREE Webinar about Genius Hour. You can sign up here:

Getting Started with Genius Hour Webinar

And even if you can’t make the live webinar, we’ll be able to send you the replay.

research topics for genius hour

It’s been almost a full three years since I told my students they would have 20% of their class time to work on whatever project they were inspired to create. Since then I’ve learned so much from my students and our amazing community of 20% time and Genius Hour teachers. I have tried to share this journey, the ups and downs, through blog posts, video interviews, a 20% time MOOC, and most recently my book, Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom .

Now, as I begin moving forward into other projects and seasons of new work, I want to make sure that any teacher looking to start 20% time or Genius Hour with their students have a completely FREE resource they can dig into and get the nuts and bolts of how to make it happen.

The Course: The Complete Guide to 20% Time (and Genius Hour) in the Classroom

When you sign up for this free email course you’ll receive the following:

Sign-Up For the Free Course Here

Module 1: Why 20% Time?

Module 2: How to Get Started

Module 3: Navigating the Project’s Ups and Downs

Module 4: Final Presentations, Grading, and Reflections

A few summers ago we had an awesome group of educators come together for the 20% Time MOOC. It was a summer filled with learning all about “why” we need this type of learning in our schools, “how” to get started with your class, and “what” to do during the project and after the project. The MOOC taught me a lot and brought our community together in some amazing ways. Afterwards a number of teachers asked if we could have something that was specific about 20% Time and Genius Hour. That’s when I began writing my book on the subject. I believe this course will be an awesome resource for any teacher interested in getting started or learning more. I also hope it is a resource we can point to time and time again as a step-by-step way to implement 20% Time and Genius Hour in the classroom. Check out the course for free when you sign-up for my newsletter to get even more innovative resources for the classroom.

Sign-Up For the Free Course Here 

Time Window designed by iconsmind.com from the Noun Project

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One of the most common questions I get with a Genius Hour/ 20% Time project is: “Where do you start? While I could go into brainstorming ideas, collecting and connecting methods, or even proposal guidelines, I want to start off with a story to illustrate what a “feasibility study” is and why it may save you time and your sanity.

Two years ago I had a student in my innovation class that loved sports. She was a gifted athlete that was offered several different scholarship opportunities for volleyball. However her brother had Down Syndrome, and she felt that his opportunities to play sports were limited. So after some brainstorming (and watching a “Real Sports” episode on HBO about the Miracle League) she proposed to start a baseball/softball league for special needs athletes.

She did all the things each student was required to do- find collaborators/ mentors to help her, draft up a proposal, create a calendar of accomplishable goals, etc. The proposal looked great because the mentors were top-notch, and her goals seemed in line with her task. Nothing seemed out of place… until she got started.

Three months of somber meetings and survey’s led to more reasons why starting this “league” was nearly impossible for one student to accomplish. She had no idea about the “red tape” that is associated in starting non-profits. She knew nothing of liability insurance, finding board members, or seeking out volunteers.

So, after months of dead ends, and feeling totally defeated, she figured that maybe she should just host one game, then talk with the parents, and see if it was worth pursuing.

In the end, she learned that the parents really didn’t want to volunteer, mostly because they wanted to be a spectator for once. They were, in general, tired and wanted the joy of watching their child play rather than work an event. She also learned that getting past the “legal stuff” was an enormous task.

In her reflection that she turned into me she mentioned that it would have been better if she had asked more questions in the beginning. This led me toward “The Feasibility Study,” which according to Wikipedia is: “an evaluation and analysis of the potential of a proposed project which is based on extensive investigation and research to support the process of decision making.” 

So, had she done this at the beginning of the project, she would have saved weeks, if not months. This would have been a one week study of talking to the parents, mentors, and school administrators to discuss the odds of this project ever getting off the ground.  When she started off she never asked her mentors about the obstacles that were going to creep up. Had they been asked “what am I really up against?” the mentors probably would’ve been honest. Instead they probably didn’t want to crush the her spirit, so they just brought up the obstacles in smaller bits.

I read “Think Like a Freak,” by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, and they wrote about something similar- the Premortem.  Most people know about a “postmortem examination,” (also know as the autopsy) which is a look at why something died, or failed to survive. But here is how Stephen Dubner explains the premortem:

“The idea is simple… it tries to find out what might go wrong before it’s too late . You gather up everyone connected with a project and have them imagine that it launched and failed miserably. Now each write own the exact reasons for its failure.”

So learning from the past (and from the good guy at Freakonomics), I now start every large project with a “Premortem,” usually in a group setting. We place post-it notes to the wall for every conceivable idea on why any large project will fail. Then the smaller groups take the proposal to the mentors, but instead of asking them to help, they ask them for candor. “Can this work?” or “Can you come up with three reasons why I shouldn’t start this project” are now common questions for the mentors.

So I admit a feasibility study might “scare the creativity out of them” or cause “analysis paralysis,” I believe it is worth the time and effort to do a feasibility study. Believe is or not, knowing when to quit is a valuable skill. We just took a field trip to the Silicon Valley area this fall and heard this from several developers at Google, Facebook, and Voxer when we visited their headquarters. In fact the smaller start-up Invoice2Go CEO told us that trial and error learning happens fast. Trying to stick with an idea that is bound to fail is pointless. Basically what my students heard was: “Fail fast and fail often. Get the data, then get it right.”

“Fail early and often” at Invoice2Go

Learning from the development team at Facebook

Learning about workspaces at Google

Earlier this year I had a group that wanted to start an ASL (American Sign Language) class. They felt that our school should offer ASL class in the foreign language department, and there was a need/ demand for the class. They wrote up a proposal, found two good mentors, and had reasonable goals. What they didn’t realize is that they have NO say over the school budget. They never thought about who was going to hire a teacher for a class that didn’t exist yet. After one day of the feasibility study (they met with the Principal), the team learned that they had to demonstrate demand. They hadn’t thought about the potential of “replacing” a teacher that taught a less popular class, let alone the money it would take to hire a new teacher. Then they learned about the curriculum costs, scheduling tasks, etc.

So after the study they took all the data and re-focused their project: start an ASL  CLUB . A club could be student-led, would be virtually free to offer, and most importantly, would show a demand in student interest if they would want to still pursue it as a class offering.

I wrote a book titled “Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Collaboration and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level” because these types of learning experiences has changed the way I feel about education. I am more inspired by my students everyday by providing them some freedom and creating a culture that encourages collaboration and a willingness to take risks. I also wanted to ease the fears of students embracing social media as a means of showcasing work and finding great mentors.

If you have any questions about our unique class, or want to learn more about Genius Hour, I encourage you to connect with me, or other great educational leaders like Joy Kirr, A.J. Juliani, and Chris Kesler (among many others). The movement is taking shape, and these connected educators are always willing to help! If you do a Twitter search for #GeniusHour or #20Time you will come across some great resources. Or is you would like, feel free to email me at: [email protected]

“Opportunities Are Everywhere”

-Don Wettrick

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Genius Hour Research Week #1

This week for genius hour the students are starting to research their ideas. It couldn’t have come at a better time because this week our department received a cart of 30 Chromebooks. The students were thrilled to be able to research their projects from their own desks instead of having to go to the computer lab.

Each week I’m going to throw out some tips that the students can use that will help them with their projects along the way. I’m calling them ‘pro tips’.

Genius Hour Pro Tip #1

This week I showed students how to use a Google Doc as a dumping ground for their research. I showed them how to copy and paste information from the web as well as how to copy URL’s and pictures for later use. I also explained to them that it was OK to copy information for our own research processes, but that when they create their own projects the verbiage needs to be either cited or in their own words.

Most of students did a good job getting started. I did have a few that messed around a little more than they should have and one of them I had to even shut down and given an alternative assignment to. The class was really focused after that. I hated to have to remove someone from the project this early.  I felt like I needed to set the expectations now that just because we are doing something fun that it isn’t a time to play around.  That student will be back with the group next week.

At the end of the class period I took a very unstructured poll about how much time the students felt like they needed for research. The majority said that a total of 3-4 weeks would be sufficient time to get the data that they need to begin the creation phase of their projects.

I’ve posted a few pictures of students working on their projects. I’m still not 100% sure about posting students pictures from our school online, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. I’ve made a note to myself  to figure out our districts digital policy as it relates to students.  There’s a lot of gray area and I want to be sure that I’m not crossing into any zone that I shouldn’t be.

Researching how technology effects the human body

Researching how to make hair bows

Two 6th graders developing a website on web coding.

Propose Your Genius Hour Idea

Once you have decided to move forward with a genius hour project, you’re going to need to get approval from your administration. Don’t assume that your proposal for genius hour without asking that your administration would never approve a project like this. You will need to be prepared with a list of benefits and how genius hour will positively impact students.

1. No loss of class instruction – You will need to explain right out of the gate that there will be no loss of class time by implementing a genius hour at your campus. This will undoubtedly be a principal’s first reservation about the project. I wrote a post about how to make time for genius hour. The argument can be made that by having a laser-like focus on each minute of in class instruction, that your teaching will actually improve during curriculum time.

2. Creating LIfe-long learners – The goal of genius hour is to create a love for learning. By allowing the students to learn about whatever they want, it helps them to understand that school is not just a place where they have to come and memorize facts about curriculum that they will never use in their real lives. Encouraging students to further develop their passions may even unlock a future career path. Most schools today funnel students down a standardized path of suckiness. I stole that general idea from Dave Burgess of Teach Like a Pirate fame, but it’s totally true.  Genius hour is like giving students a magical key that opens up a door to a world that has never been seen before.

3. Develop relationships with students – One of the most important factors in becoming an effective teacher is to be able to develop a personal relationship with our students. When my students feel safe and fully trust me as a teacher they will follow me to the ends of the Earth. Students love genius hour projects. I am able take time to develop relationships during genius hour time that I simply don’t have the time to cultivate during the regular work week. I have seen students raise their standards of performance during my normal curriculum time because of the relationships that I have built with them during our genius hour time.

4. Teaching 21st century skills – Common core and state standards include technology integration as a skill that students should learn and possess. Although technology is not required for genius hour, I have found that many students choose to create their final projects with technology that is not taught in the classroom. They are almost all using technology to research their project as well. Genius hour is a huge opportunity to introduce new technology skills to the students. The students also teach me technology that I may not know about during this time also. It’s a win-win for both of us.

The key to a successful genius hour proposal is to be prepared with all of the positive outcomes from a genius hour project.

Making Time for Genius Hour in the Classroom

Planning a genius hour.

One thing that you probably thought about when you first heard of genius hour is that you don’t have time to do something like that in your classroom. I’m here to tell you that simply isn’t true. It’s human nature to challenge a new idea when it first enters your ears. We can’t help ourselves but try to poke holes in why something can’t be done.  The path of least resistance is often the easiest route to take, because we don’t have to take any action.

For example, I told my wife once that I wanted to build some lounge chairs for our back patio. She laughed at me and exclaimed, “You’ve never built anything in your life, why do you think that you can do this!?” Her point was solid. I hadn’t ever built anything before, and my track record for starting and stopping projects before they are completed is abysmal. However, she underestimated my drive to take on a new challenge, and I certainly wasn’t going to pay retail price for a new patio furniture set. It wasn’t easy but I did complete the project. The benefit to my family is that we are now able to utilize our backyard in a new way.  It outweighed the pain of building the set of furniture myself.

In order to create a successful genius hour in your classroom you are going to have to modify the way that you are currently spending your time. This isn’t as difficult a process as you may think that it is.

My genius hour classroom is setup to where if the students have mastered the content on Monday through Thursday then I will allow them to spend all period on Friday working on their genius hour projects. This means that I have to be much more efficient in how I run my class Monday through Thursday.

I’m going to lay 3 strategies that I use to make time for genius hour in the classroom.

Turn your lessons into blended lessons – In many classroom the teacher talks at the front of the class for the entire period while the students take notes about that particular lesson. Although there may be some good interaction between the teacher and students, I can almost guarantee that there is at least 5-15 minutes of wasted time due to disruptions in the class, and waiting for students to catch up with their notes.

What I have had a lot of success with in my class is to video the heart of my lesson and show it at the beginning of class. I have been able to compact a 40 minute lesson into a video that is under 10 minutes. During the video, the students take notes on a graphic organizer that I have prepared for them. I used to believe that it was important that a student write down everything that I said, but I have come to realize that understanding the content is king.  It is more valuable that a student have notes that they can reflect on that are actually legible.  During the remainder of my class I’m able to allow students to work on projects that let them to practice and dig deeper into the content that they just learned.

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I have lectured far less this year than previous years, yet student scores and understanding has greatly improved. Another benefit to the videos is that the student can go back and watch them whenever they want. You know that kid that is always absent from class? Yeah, he’s covered now.

I call this model the blended classroom and it has allowed me to free up enough time to have a genius hour every Friday, yet still keep up with my scope and sequence.

Modify your behavior plan – No one wants to admit that behavior may be a problem in their class, but it is likely that you are losing at least some time during the week because students are off task. I have started using a free behavior manage software called Class Dojo this year. This allows me to redirect students with a click of a button, rather than have to waste to time by stopping the class and speaking directly with the problem student(s). Students earn points each week that can be used for small rewards like candy or choosing their own seat the following week. Is my class free from discipline issues? No. Have the discipline issues subsided drastically? Yes. I’ve gotten to the point where I allow student to police each other. One of my rewards for earning the highest points is that you get to work the laptop that gives/take points away in Class Dojo. The students absolutely love that and it frees me from a menial task.  I once heard someone tell me to never do something that a student can do for you.  It’s so true.

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 Teach with a sense of urgency – I heard this technique from another teacher friend that visited the Ron Clark Academy. He says that the teachers teach to the highest students in the class rather than the lower students. At first, this idea may sound crazy, but in my experience it absolutely works. Create a sense of urgency and let the students know that you are moving and shaking. Tell them, “I see that Michael is done, we’re moving on.” It only takes a few times before you notice the entire class has picked up the pace to keep up with you…and Michael. You can easily save a few minutes each class period this way.

I’m sure that there are others that might suggest giving an additional homework assignment for material that you were going to give in class, but I’m just not that big into giving a lot of homework. Students should enjoy learning other things outside of the classroom.

Genius Hour Presentation from #edcampwaller

I presented a session on genius hour at #edcampwaller on 4/27/13.  The presentation is a step by step process of how to implement genius hour into your classes.  The presentation hits the highlights of all my genius hour blog posts and answers just about every question that you may have about genius hour.  If any other questions come up I’d love to continue the conversation in the comments section.

My only regret is that I was a little more prepared with some resources like the Livebinders link and that never got back around to dropping some names of other fantastic Genius Hour teachers.  I don’t want to leave anyone out with a list here, but you can find all of them at the hashtag #geniushour on Twitter.  You can also look through the genius hour blogs list

Genius Hour Blog – Controlled Chaos Has Arrived

We took our last state test yesterday.   Today my classes moved beyond standardization and back into the the autonomous realm of genius hour. It’s good to be back.

Each student in my classroom is at a different stage of the project life-cycle.  If someone where to walk in my room they would probably think that I had lost my mind.  It all looks very unorganized, but based on my observations learning is happening.

This week we talked about the end game and what that looks like, how long it’s going to take to get there, and what we need to do to make our deadline.  There are only about 6 more weeks of school and I would classify the project as a failure if most students aren’t completed and presented by the time summer rolls around.  I do have a couple of students that are ready to present next week.  Their projects aren’t what I would call top-notch, but they are presentable.  The actual presentation may be better than what I’ve seen in passing.  I made the decision to allow them to present because I think that they will be able to reflect and complete a better project by the end of school.

I had a few students ask if they could change topics today and I had to shut that down.  Most of them were just stuck and needed a little nudge in the right direction.  Disaster averted.

I was working on my own genius hour project in the front of the class today by creating a presentation that I’m going to give at #edcampwaller this weekend about genius hour.  I think the students found it neat that I was working along side of them.  Hopefully it was a lesson that we are always learning, sharing and teaching.

Genius Hour Video Interview #1 – Paul Solarz

This evening I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Solarz about Genius Hour (aka Passion Projects) in his classroom.  This is the first interview in a series of interviews that I have planned for Genius Hour teachers.  Mr. Solarz clearly has a passion for being an educator and his students are fortunate to have him as a classroom leader.

Interview Notes

– Works with @joykirr

– Gives credit to Google’s 20% time

– YouTube for Schools

– Read more about the KWHLAQ chart that Paul uses for his classroom

– Twitter hashtags #geniushour and #20time

– Paul’s website http://psolarz.weebly.com/

– Paul’s email can be found at the very end of the video (not publishing here)

– Paul on Twitter @paulsolarz

Genius Hour Blog – Let’s Not Lose Momentum

This week was our 4th week of genius hour.  Most of the students are still excited about their projects, but some of them are running into some roadblocks.

The major roadblock that we had this week was that the wi-fi in school was crawling today.  We’re still in the research phase of our projects, and it was frustrating for everyone.  I had mentioned previously that our science department had received a set of Chromebooks, so there may be some wi-fi growing pains associated with that.  Our regular computer labs were busy yesterday, so that wasn’t an option for us.  As a class we discussed that the project life-cycle is not a straight path to the finish line.  There will be bumps along the way.

There were a few students in each class that realized that they weren’t going to be able to do the project that they had originally come up with. Some of the reasons were because they simply couldn’t find good information, and other reasons were because they saw what others were doing and realized that their ideas simply wasn’t as good as they could have been.  I allowed these students to change topics, but as of yesterday everyone is locked into their original idea.  Many students will begin the actual creation process starting next week.

The majority of genius hour teachers/bloggers seem to have a student reflection component to their projects.  I was certainly planning on doing this at the end of the project, but to date I have only been having oral reflections with each student.  I ask them 3 questions at the end of each genius hour period.

The answers to these questions have allowed me to gauge where each student is and makes them accountable for their progress.  I could certainly have them blog the answers to these questions, but my class periods are less than 45 minutes and I want to give them every opportunity to work on their projects during that time.  Most of them do not have access at home.

I received another blow this week when I found out that this website is actually blocked by our district.  I sent a request to have it unblocked but it was denied for reasons that make no sense to me.  It’s not the end of the world, but I really wanted students and other district teachers to access my reflections.  At this point, I’m over it and have moved forward.  If I worried about our district tech policies all the time I would never sleep.  Onward, Ho!  Nothing worth doing is easy.

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Building Student Agency With Genius Hour

The popular model of self-guided learning can be used to engage upper elementary students in conducting and presenting research—and learning to use new technology.

Middle grade aged girl at home distance learning on laptop

Like many teachers this year, I’ve experimented with different approaches to boost engagement in my classroom. I’ve found that Genius Hour, an approach I had used previously in the classroom that allows students to research topics of interest to them and is infused with some aspects of project-based learning, has opened new doors for my students. They are filled with enthusiasm about their learning and are always thinking of new topics to explore. Their learning is more meaningful to them now, which motivates them to think critically and creatively about their work.

One thing I’ve come to appreciate about Genius Hour is how it puts students in the driver’s seat: They choose what they want to learn while engaging in meaningful, relevant learning experiences.

Preparing for Genius Hour

Genius Hour falls into the transformative stage of the Replace, Amplify, Transform framework —a three-stage technology-integration model used to assess tech usage in the classroom. At the transformative stage, students use technology in ways that are new to them and construct their own learning experiences. Additionally, they engage a variety of 21st century skills such as thinking critically, working collaboratively, developing an academic mindset, and finally, learning how to learn. Repeated exposure and practice with these skills at an early age ensures that students are well prepared for continued learning throughout their lives.

To learn more about what Genius Hour would look like in my third-grade classroom, I researched the idea of brainstorming with my students things they were wondering about—having a list of possible questions for them to reference is a great resource for students who are stuck in the planning stages of their self-guided learning.

As I began to read more about the Genius Hour approach, I learned about how I could fit it into the curriculum and think of my role as a facilitator and coach. The more I read about Genius Hour, the more I could see how it important is to have clear expectations for students during their independent learning. Doing so allows students to focus on their research rather than struggling to figure out what to do.

Connecting With the Curriculum

As I got further down the road with my plans for Genius Hour, I identified the curricular connections I needed to take into consideration. Because the goal of Genius Hour is to provide students with the autonomy to choose their content, I needed to identify applicable standards that are related to the skills used rather than the content learned; standards relating to research and informational text writing usually fit the bill.

In addition to my county’s writing standards, I looked at the ISTE standards , specifically the setting of personal learning goals and action plans by students (1a), curating information from digital sources (3c), and creating a digital product (6d).

In the Classroom

When the time came to introduce Genius Hour, I created a chart filled with all the questions and ideas that were circling around in my students’ brains, such as “Why does it rain?” and “How is paint made?” This activity sparked students’ interest, and the chart worked as a resource for them to refer to if they ever found themselves a little short of inspiration, though the goal was for students to explore interest-based topics of their own choosing.

Before students could go out on their own, I modeled the research process by coming up with my own “I wonder...” statement and researching it on Wonderopolis in front of them, making sure to think aloud to guide them through my process. We also worked collaboratively to curate a list of behavioral expectations during Genius Hour, including staying on task, using technology responsibly, and having a growth mindset when working with technology.

After I modeled for students what I was looking for them to do during Genius Hour, we worked together to come up with a list of criteria that their final presentations should have, which included: 1) their researchable question, 2) their results or answer to their question, 3) images and/or videos that supported their learning, and 4) links to digital resources where they found answers.

I’ve found that Genius Hour runs best at the upper elementary level in a three-week cycle. The first week, students identify their “I wonder...” statement, begin research, and take notes on a capture sheet of their making. The second week, they work on creating their final product. Students have free choice when it comes to final products, as long as it meets all the criteria they created at the beginning of the process. The final week, students present their finished products to an audience of their peers, parents, teachers, and/or other students in the school.

My favorite part of Genius Hour is how creative students get with the final presentations. One of my students made a news broadcast on an athlete they researched, while another student created a Google Slides presentation about the ocean and the different animals that call it home. The kids have a blast and I am always amazed with the work they produce.

Genius Hour is an engaging, student-centered way to boost a whole host of 21st-century learning skills. Students have the opportunity to explore their own interests, deepening their learning on a broad range of topics, while simultaneously honing their ability to research, collaborate, communicate effectively, and creatively present their new learning through the use of different tech tools.


What Is Genius Hour? An Overview For The Classroom

characteristics of genius hour

An Overview Of Genius Hour

by TeachThought Staff

Genius Hour is an approach to learning where students are guided by their own interests, background knowledge, and curiosity to learn.

From the outside looking in, it is less organized, less formal, and less standardized than traditional learning. Genius Hour is truly ‘open-ended’ learning characterized by student self-direction, passion-based learning, inquiry, and autonomy.

In public education, Genius Hour can be thought of as a response to rigid, test-driven, and ‘achievement-focused’ climate that the testing-based model of school improvement has encouraged in schools over the two or three decades. It allows (actually, it requires) students to explore their own ideas and follow their own instincts in learning for the sake of learning, creating for the sake of creating, and doing for the sake of doing. An underlying assumption of genius hour is that if students are given space and tools and audiences and time, they will create something personal and compelling, and of course be ‘learning’ in the process.

It has several unique characteristics that separate it from other approaches to education.

As we said in Principles Of Genius Hour , Genius Hour is most notably associated with Google, where “employees are able to spend up to 20% of their time working on projects they’re interested in and passionate about. The study and work are motivated intrinsically, not extrinsically. The big idea for Google is that employees motivated by curiosity and passion will be happier, more creative, and more productive, which will benefit the company in terms of both morale, ‘off genius productivity, and ‘on genius’ performance.”

See also 20 Tips For A More Organized Classroom

The idea here is that teachers engage and empower students by connecting them with the ideas and content and opportunities themselves by allowing them to pick something they want to learn more about, do, or accomplished, and then do exactly that following their curiosity through inquiry and research.

Characteristics of Genius Hour

It is…

Non-Characteristics of Genius Hour

It is not…

One Approach: Three Basic Rules for Genius Hour

One of the key elements of Genius Hour is its lack of specific rules and dependence on intrinsic motivation. This approach is about the student, their curiosity, and their autonomy–factors that (ideally) will support the students in doing their best work, and creating something wonderful and personalized that the teacher would not have been able to imagine and plan on their own.

This means that the role of the teacher, the presence of rules, and the function of any structure or framing of the learning experience can make or break its effectiveness. The more rules you have, the less likely it’s actually Genius Hour.

These are rules based on one teacher’s approach in one class in one district with a specific set of technology access, student engagement, etc. Which means your rules might be different than these–or you might start out with these, then change one or two based on how it goes, specific related goals in your school or district, and so on.

You can find a video that explains more about genius hour here .

What Is Genius Hour?

About The Author

Teachthought staff.


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    Genius Hour Research Week #1 This week for genius hour the students are starting to research their ideas. It couldn’t have come at a better time because this week our department received a cart of 30 Chromebooks. The students were thrilled to be able to research their projects from their own desks instead of having to go to the computer lab.

  4. Building Student Agency With Genius Hour

    Genius Hour falls into the transformative stage of the Replace, Amplify, Transform framework—a three-stage technology-integration model used to assess tech usage in the classroom. At the transformative stage, students use technology in ways that are new to them and construct their own learning experiences.

  5. What Is Genius Hour? An Overview For The Classroom

    Genius Hour is truly ‘open-ended’ learning characterized by student self-direction, passion-based learning, inquiry, and autonomy. In public education, Genius Hour can be thought of as a response to rigid, test-driven, and ‘achievement-focused’ climate that the testing-based model of school improvement has encouraged in schools over the ...