20%Time, Genius Hour and Virtual Communities.

In 2013, I came across an interesting link on my Twitter feed.  The link led to a list of must read books related to education – one of which was Daniel Pink’s, Drive.  I ended up reading the book during my winter break.


Pink describes Google’s 20% policy, where employees are encouraged to spend one day a week pursuing projects not listed as part of their job description.  As a result, innovations such as Gmail and Google Teacher Academy were created.

Eight months after reading, Drive, I began my new position as a Math TOA/Instructional Coach. I’m at school sites Mondays through Thursdays and at the District Office on Fridays.  As the year progressed, Fridays slowly turned into my 20% time.  The Friday trainings and conferences I attended combined with conversations with colleagues sparked  and   fueled ideas.   I found  myself   researching and  tinkering  with those ideas.  I became a 20% time believer.

Recently in my Twitter feed, I came across #20time.  The hashtag unveiled a community of educators who implement 20 time or Genius Hour projects in their classrooms.  Schools often call the concept, Genius Hour, because students are given one hour a week to pursue passion projects.  I wanted to see this happen at my school.

Once I felt I had enough information to start and sustain a Genius Hour project, I pitched the idea to a team of teachers. Three days later our Genius Hour adventure began.

The Team:  Peytra, Natalie and Sharidy –  Along with Special Ed Teacher, Mrs. Dill and aide, Miss K.

The Students:  Three 6th grade elective classes.  About 1/3 of the students have IEPs

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 6.18.18 PM   Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 6.17.10 PM   Sharidy

Week 1:  I Wonder …

During the information gathering phase, I read many genius hour posts from education bloggers.  The concept of a “wonder wall” was discussed on a few blogs.  The team decided to use this idea and begin by asking their kids to write down topics they wonder about.  Their “wonderings” would be posted.

Natalie:  Sharidy suggested we start the  “I Wonder …” lesson, with the video, A Pep Talk from Kid President to You.  It was the perfect lead in.

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 6.46.43 PM

Natalie’s Wonder Board – Before, During & After

I started with a poster with “Hmmmm…. I Wonder” and “I want to learn about….” and I put blank post-its all over.  We watched the video and discussed. Mrs. Dill and I went back and forth about some things we wonder about- How does iCloud work?  How does a plane fly (how does air displacement really work)?

Then we had them grab post-its and jot some ideas down.  Some were DOK 1, like “Who invented Superman.”  We talked about how to spruce that up – WHY was Superman invented?

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 6.47.09 PM

Peytra’s Wonder Board

To help students understand how to write a question with depth, Mrs. Dill and I posed questions to each other in front of the class (the glory of co-teaching!), such as:  If a black box can withstand a plane crash, why can’t they make entire planes of that same material?  This sparked a conversation that led to other “why nots?”

I was pleased to see that nobody wanted to learn more about what’s going to happen to 1D now that Zane is leaving.


Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 6.47.31 PM

Sharidy’s Wonder Board

As Natalie mentioned above, We started this project at the same time Zane announced his departure from 1D. Not one student, in any of the classes, mentioned this pop culture separation.

Here’s a list of some of the questions the 6th grade students really wonder about…

  • How do bones and muscles move?
  • Do ghosts really exist?
  • What makes someone become a terrorist?
  • Why don’t people upgrade their storm drains?
  • How does a surgeon do kidney transplants?
  • How does a whistle work?
  • Why do I talk a lot?
  • How can people be nicer?
  • How does someone go from college to the NFL?
  • Why do people who speak the same language have different accents?
  • Why are my toes stinky?
  • How do mom’s get everything done?
  • How do you become a photographer?
  • When will the iphone 1,000,000 come out?
  • When will I go to Brazil?
  • Were the islands around Greece ever one big island?

There were a few students who were generally stuck and openly admitted they didn’t wonder about anything.  I worked with one girl for at least 10 minutes, asking her a slew of questions, before landing on a topic she was remotely interested in – travel.  Alexis wants to travel to Brazil.  Miss K worked with another student for even longer before he revealed his question: Were the islands around Greece ever one big island?

As you can see by the list of questions, these 11 and 12 year olds wonder about interesting and varied topics – none of which is discussed in the 6th grade curriculum or found on a standardized test. But these students have a general curiosity that needs to be nurtured. By strategically tending to these curiosities, skills that life long learners possess, such as

  • questioning,
  • analyzing
  • redefining
  • researching
  • writing
  • discussing
  • presenting

can be developed and practiced.

Other Posts in the Genius Hour Series


Thanks to the following Twitter Educators that both inspired me to start the Genius Hour journey and answered my questions.  I’ve only physically met one person on this list – that’s the beauty and power of Twitter.  Their Twitter handles are:

  • @Joykirr
  • @MathPrincessC
  • @JSteven009
  • @PrincipalUMS
  • @MartinUMS
  • @MrALongstaff

About jgvadnais

Instructional Technology Coach. Desmos Fellow. Google Level 1 Certified. SoCal transplant. New Englander at heart. Lover of yoga, dogs, green smoothies and coffee creamer
This entry was posted in 20%time, 20time, genius hour, livebinders, Math Education, Perserverance and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to 20%Time, Genius Hour and Virtual Communities.

  1. Pingback: Kicking Off Genius Hour – A Guide | Communicating Mathematically

  2. Lisa Davis says:

    I am super excited to jump on board the Genius Hour!!
    I am going to start today!
    Thank you!!!
    Lisa Davis 🙂


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