Kicking Off Genius Hour – A Guide

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Our initial discussion regarding things we wonder about, and things we want to learn more about was raucous and fun. Most kids were able to come up with many ideas, and I liked the way they bounced around thoughts.

I also noticed that kids really did check out the wonder wall upon entering and exiting the classroom. The day after the initial discussion, I had the students write down a couple more thoughts in their agendas. I observed that these ideas were a little more streamlined and more thoughtful. Even though the kids don’t yet know where we are going with this, I can tell that they are energized and enthusiastic. I can’t wait to see how this unfolds!

Week 2:  The official Genius Hour kickoff assembly!

The components of this piece:

  • Kickoff presentation outline
  • Teacher reflections
  • Student reflections

My Presentation

The Genius Hour presentation had to meet the following criteria.  It had to be:

  • Inspiring
  • Informative
  • Interactive

My beginning….

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 7.25.53 PMMe:  (A brief summary of my opening) When I join your classes, I typically teach the lesson.  I set the agenda. I run the activities.  It’s the same with Mrs. Becker, Mrs. Dondalski and Mrs. Martin.  Although you’re active in your learning, they pick the topic and the activities.  With Genius Hour, you get the opportunity to teach us.  You get the chance to teach your peers. You pick your research topic.  You choose your activities.

A series of “Yes”  “Yay” and “Yessssssss” exploded from the audience.  I had their attention.

I then transitioned to the first video: 2013 Genius Hour Reflections which highlighted Joy Kirr’s students (Her Twitter handle:  @joykirr).  I picked this video because middle school students did all the explaining.  The video was broken into parts and used to spur discussion.

Parts 1 & 2 – What is your favorite part of LA? and What is Genius Hour?: At the conclusion of part 2,  I paused the video and asked the students, “What do you think Genius Hour is about?” Students explained their understanding of the project while I clarified any misconceptions and highlighted the areas the teachers wanted stressed.

Part 3 –  Genius Hour in Action:  I paused the video again.   By simply stating, “Describe what Genius Hour looks like in action”,  the students outlined the academic and behavioral expectations.

Part 4 –  What is something you’ll always remember?:  This part was presented as a list of student quotes but they scrolled too fast to read. So…

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I paused the video again and asked for volunteers to read each bullet point. I’m grateful for the extroverts who jumped at the chance to read.  Their enthusiasm had a domino effect on the others and more and more students wanted to read with each slide.

Part 5 – What’s something you did that you’re proud of:  Repeated the process used in part 4.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 9.13.30 PMLaughter, positive comments & excitement filled the room as students read out loud potential project ideas.

Part 6 – Why is Genius Hour Valuable? Final part and video wrap up.

At this point students clearly understood that Genius Hour involved researching a topic and creating a product.  Now it was time to discuss their project proposal. To explain that, I used another video of Joy Kirr’s students:  Genius Hour Projects 2014.  The students in this video stated their project proposal and their reason for picking it.

For the last part of the assembly, I focused on the presentation piece because all students will have to present their research and projects.  I showed a few minutes of Kevin Brookhouser’s 20% Time Ted Talk.  Although I only played from 12:35 to 15:00, I suggest watching the entire Ted Talk for yourself.

The roughly 2 minutes of video showed clips of high school students presenting their projects.  Students openly mentioned that the project was challenging.  They hit roadblocks and that was okay because they still learned throughout the process. Perseverance is an integral aspect of Genius Hour and one, I discovered during the post video discussion, that my students clearly picked up on.

Teacher Reflections

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The kids were jazzed after the presentation!  Some are ready to go with their ideas, others need more time to brainstorm. We set up a blog on our school webpage and asked the question,     “What is your Genius Hour idea?”  Students will log on today (for the first time) and add their ideas and comments to the blog.  They are assigned a random code name so they are able to stay anonymous, which I hope allows them to feel safe in sharing their ideas and asking questions.  (Teachers of course know their true identities!) We’re working on a blogging plan for the kids so we can have ongoing discussions about their successes, pitfalls, advice, etc.

One student, John, had out a tape measure during passing period, measuring his desk and then his table.  Gwen asked him what he was doing, and he said, very proudly, “It’s for a project I’m doing.  I need to know how much work space I have.”  Then he said it was for GH!  He’s so official with his tape measure! 🙂

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I want to be a good teacher and Genius Hour is simply that, good teaching, The project has my wheels spinning and my excitement bubbling over. I need to teach from a place of inspiration.

We did a quick write the other day on our favorite things for an alternative purpose, yet it yielded some insight into the Genius Hour project. Daniel listed Genius Hour as one of his favorite things (he’s not a kid with a lot of super positive energy and this has lit a spark). Alanna is ready to wiggle out of her skin in anticipation of exploring how dreams work.  Carrie, our resident golf pro, wants to know why golf is a hard game. In a weekly wrap up, Carolina wrote that we teachers were part of her family. I need to teach from that place of love and inspiration…sounds like Genius Hour to me.

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Students were so excited to merely think about topics that interest them, but to find out where we are taking this project seemed to blow their minds! On Friday the students logged on to our website and began to comment on the GH blog which proved to be pretty fun. As Natalie mentioned, the fact that students are anonymous to each other but not to us, lays the groundwork for introducing concepts of blogging etiquette. The fact that we can approve and disapprove of their comments, and then like or comment on what they have to write is sort of “social-media training wheels”. Nevermind the fact that most of our students are already fully ensconced in social media in some way or the other, but I hope that this might make them think a little more carefully about some of their online decisions.

 Student Reflections 

Question:  We are just getting started on our amazing voyage! What do you think so far? 

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Question:  What is your Genius Hour topic?

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Other Posts in the Genius Hour Series

Other Posts



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 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Kicking Off Genius Hour – A Guide

  1. Pingback: 20%Time, Genius Hour and Virtual Communities. | Communicating Mathematically

  2. Pingback: Genius Hour – The Project Proposal. | Communicating Mathematically

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  4. Pingback: Genius Hour Brainstorming Session – A Wake Up Call | Communicating Mathematically

  5. Pingback: Genius Hour – The Secret to Managing the Research Phase | Communicating Mathematically

  6. Pingback: Genius Hour – Presentations and Reflections | Communicating Mathematically

  7. Tina C. says:

    Hello! This post was recommended for MTBoS 2015: a collection of people’s favorite blog posts of the year. We would like to publish an edited volume of the posts and use the money raised toward a scholarship for TMC. Please let us know by responding via email to whether or not you grant us permission to include your post. Thank you, Tina and Lani.


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