What Is Genius Hour And How Can I Try It in My Classroom?

Self-directed learning builds skills and confidence. And it’s just plain fun!

what is genius hour

Whether you’re new to teaching or a seasoned veteran looking to keep up with the trends, you’ve probably heard the buzz about Genius Hour. Maybe you’re thinking about giving it a try but aren’t sure where to begin. WeAreTeachers has your back! Here are the basics to get you started. 

What is Genius Hour?

Simply put, Genius Hour is inquiry-based, student-directed learning. Sometimes called Passion Pursuit, it gives students an opportunity to look at the big wide world around them and explore their own unique interests in a loosely structured, but supported, way. Terry Heick, founder and director of TeachThought, sings the praises of Genius Hour and describes it as a time when “students are in control; choosing what they study, how they study it, and what they produce or create as a result. As a learning model, it promotes inquiry, research, creativity, and self-directed learning.”  

How do I fit Genius Hour into my curriculum?

With all the demands on the precious little time we have with our students, you may be thinking, “Well, who’s got time for that?” We’re not talking about a huge investment of time or energy. Genius Hour simply allows teachers to provide students a choice in what they learn and how they learn it during a set period of time within a school day or week. Some teachers allot one class period or one hour per week. Others aim for the 80/20 rule, in which 80 percent of the time is traditional standards-based teaching and learning and 20 percent is student directed.

What are the benefits of Genius Hour?

Not only does Genius Hour create a pathway for intrinsic motivation, it encourages creativity. Generating questions and diving deeply into topics they are passionate about sets students up to be curious lifelong learners. In addition, the workshop style of Genius Hour builds students’ social skills and confidence. It encourages collaboration as students draw on their personal strengths and swap expertise, acting as “consultants” for one another.

What is my role during Genius Hour?

I love seeing how other teachers are digging in and letting students take the lead. Here’s a great idea from @readingandwritinghaven Here’s what she said… “I am taking my first stab at a passion project this nine weeks. I wasn’t sure where to start, but what I’ve seen so far is amazing. I can’t wait to share how I approached this unit, and I hope it will help other teachers who want to try it but are a little overwhelmed with how to approach it. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post with the details! “ I can’t wait to read her blog post all about her experiences. Check her out right now on Instagram . . #passionproject #choicelearning #researchprojects #englishteachers #secondaryela #instagoodteachers #teacherplanner #engagingela #teacherblogger #teacherplanner #lessonplans #geniushour #tptehteam #madlylearning #iteachenglish

A post shared by Patti @ Madly Learning (@madlylearning) on

In addition to creating the framework and setting the ground rules for Genius Hour in your classroom, your role is to help your students focus and problem solve. You learn alongside them as you coach them, conference with them, and help them reflect as they go through the process.

How do I keep Genius Hour from turning into a free-for-all?

There are a few basic guidelines for implementing a productive Genius Hour. Veteran teacher Jennifer Gonzalez, in her blog Cult of Pedagogy, suggests breaking the process down into steps. From planning and topic selection to research, presentation, and reflection, giving your students a basic framework for their work makes Genius Hour a manageable project.

Here is a sample pathway:

1. Pick a topic.

Brainstorming ideas and narrowing down options can sometimes be the trickiest part of the process for students. Guide them to choose a topic that they are truly passionate about and is just the right size. 

2. Develop a driving question.   

Once your students pick a topic, they will need a driving question to guide their research. This is the what, why, and how that allows them to go deeper into their subject. If the question they are asking can be answered with a simple Google search, it is not specific enough. A great place to start for guiding students through the inquiry process is this infographic from TeachThought.

3. Do the research.

There are many ways for students to dig up information on their chosen topic. In addition to reading books and articles, students can access websites, watch videos, and connect with experts in the community. Have your students use note catchers, write in their journals, or blog to stay organized and be accountable for their research. However, don’t get bogged down on this step. Teacher AJ Juliani cautions, “You don’t want to spend too much time in the research phase, because you really want to get into the making, creating, [and] designing phase and start building your project into a reality.”

4. Bring it all together.

Creating something original is the core purpose of Genius Hour. Whether students publish, design, act, make, or do, there should always be a tangible takeaway from the process. How your students choose to present what they have learned is limited only by their imagination. Some ideas? Create a blog, shoot a video, write and perform a play, or paint a mural. Put on a puppet show, set up a gallery walk or wax museum. Make it a big deal by inviting families and community members to presentation day.

5. Reflect.

After the presentation, bring the process full circle and “cement the learning” by asking your students to reflect. What went well? What did you learn? What would you do differently? Where do you want to go from here?

Learn More about Genius Hour.

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Have you tried Genius Hour in your classroom? We’d love to hear about it in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

What Is Genius Hour And How Can I Try It in My Classroom?

Posted by Elizabeth Mulvahill

Elizabeth Mulvahill is a passionate teacher, writer and mom who loves learning new things, traveling the globe and everything Zen.

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