Wrapping Up Genius Hour

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Duck tape shoes

This first attempt at Genius Hour is comparable to a roller coaster ride.  The initial anticipation caused a charge of excitement, the middle was filled with up and downs and twists and turns, but when it ended, both teachers and students wanted to do it again.

I learned GH should consist of 4 distinct parts: Determining a question/purpose, researching, creating and presenting.  As a Newbie, I underestimated the power of the creating phase. Due to time and inexperience, this phase was not fully defined. To reap the benefits of the creative process, GH should last a semester and my colleagues started the project with a quarter left in school.

The purpose of tScreen Shot 2015-06-28 at 10.56.45 AMhe creating phase is to attempt, reflect and adapt.  Although we discussed failure and that mistakes lead to learning, our message wasn’t strong enough to break years of conventional thinking. Students actually needed to create, fail, adjust and try again to truly understand the point. Our Newbie status resulted in missed opportunities to strengthen this concept.  Some students attempted, failed, got overwhelmed and moved onto another topic.  It wasn’t until the following conversation that I realized the message about persevering through mistakes was underdeveloped.

  • Student:  (showing me his powerpoint)  I changed my topic from roller coasters to underwater sea creatures.
  • Me:  How come?
  • Student:  Well, I built a roller coaster but it broke. So my dad, told me I needed to come up with another idea to have something to present.
  • Me:  Do you still have the roller coaster?  You can discuss what went wrong?
  • Student:  No.  I threw it away.

Genius Hour is not about the presentation phase.  It’s about researching and creating.   When students take their research and use it to create a product, they experience, first hand, that mistakes lead to learning.  The creation phase builds their growth mindset.  The presentation phase is the forum where students share their GH experience – including all their mistakes.

A conversation that occurred on presentation day:

  • Jay:  I didn’t bring in my bow and arrow because it kept braking.
  • Me:  Why do you think it broke?
  • Jay:  The popsicle sticks broke.  They weren’t big or wide enough.
  • Me:  What could have done next?
  • Jay:  Well, that was the second time I built it.  I used smaller popsicle sticks the first time and it snapped immediately.  The second time, I used a wider stick.  It still snapped, but not as quickly.
  • Me:  What did you learn from this?
  • Jay:  If I build it again, I’d use an even wider stick.

This quick conversation is a good example of the reflection and analysis process I’ll need to emphasize in the future. I’ve already started contemplating how to kick off Genius Hour for next year.  It would be ideal to have Jay share his experience with the new group because the message of rebounding from failure resonates more coming from a peer.



As the end of the school year crept closer, teachers organized their Genius Hour presentation schedule. Three different formats emerged:  One presenter at a time, small group presentations and a presentation fair. Students shared their learning through demonstrations, products and powerpoints.

Middle Level

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The pilot group: Peytra, Natalie and Sharidy

The pilot teachers organized students into groups of 3 or 4.  Kids monitored themselves as they shared their information.  Not only were kids truly excited to share their learning but they also had questions for their peers.  During this format, many impromptu conversations occurred.

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For example:  Leslie researched types and causes of cancer. Pictured is her last slide showing a list of cancers and assigned color.  This spurred a group conversation about their family members and friends who were diagnosed with various forms of cancer. We quickly learned that each student in the group has been affected by this terrible disease.

The small group format:

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Discussing electricity as well as how a brain works.  Since, Stephanie enjoys reading and writing, she researched how to get a book published.

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In a different classroom…

Kim (from the Viking Team): It’s a diffeScreen Shot 2015-06-28 at 8.48.00 AMrent experience to listen to their presentations from a teachers perspective.  Usually I am well versed in a subject and scrutinizing students presentations to make sure they understand the key concepts.  Now I am learning from them and can definitely tell they are excited to share with the class what they learned.  All presentations are different and on a variety of subjects so there is not the competition or judgement amongst students.

Screen Shot 2015-06-28 at 8.51.51 AMAlthough Brice stated he was building a replica of a specific vehicle at home, I never saw evidence until presentation day. When I checked in with him, he showed me this picture on his phone and easily explained his process. (He had presented on an earlier day)

Jasmine organized two skits.  First she and her friends put on a scene from the traditional Alice in Wonderland and then they performed a parody of the same story. Laurel created bows out of different types of materials.  Annalise researched how dogs breathe.  She also created a scale drawing of a dog’s nasal passage.

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Experiments attempted, life hacks tested and rockets created.

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Many students in Kim’s class identified with the creative process and they worked on projects at home.  We encourage them to photograph and video their time at home to share with the class.  A few students tested their research at home and then demonstrated the process during class.




I loved seeing the creativity and how my group of kids were so supportive of each other.  That made me proud!


Singing an Ed Sheeran song marker used as a microphone :),  creating a lava lamp and playing a song from Five Seconds of Summer.

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Setting up to video herself drawing, making and donating doggie treats and toys and making a duck tape dress (duck tape shoes above)

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Noreena’s Group 

Creating a shoe with a cooling feature by injecting a paraffin wax into the sole (on the left), creating elephant toothpaste and learning what causes eyes to change color.

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Learning a new language (Urdo), zen doodling, and revamping Grandma’s recipes with healthy alternatives.

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 At the Elementary Level – Presentation Fair

Genius Hour – The Final Countdown

What an experience! To say it was a success would be wrong, but to call it a failure isn’t correct either.

Marcia and Nicole

Marcia and Nicole

Marcia Murphy and I went into this with the idea that this would be a learning experience for us as well as the students. We were constantly adjusting plans to make it work and were very open with the students that we weren’t sure ourselves how this would all play out. Failure was a very real possibility for us too!

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Marica explaining GH to her audience

We decided to have the class develop posters and an example of their project to share out with the other 4th and 5th grade classes. They had time to rehearse a 2-3 minute TED talk style presentation in class 1st. We had tables set up on the playground in a science fair or career fair type style and gathered our “audience” in a large group to give them some background as to where the idea of Genius Hour came from.

Then the real fun began, the audience members couldn’t wait to get to the presentations! They were actually running to see what their friends had waiting for them.

One group of presenters later shared how nervous they were at first, but how “after the 1st time it was so much easier.” Most of the others agreed, they were surprised at how  interested others were in their work and the amount of questions they were asked. Some parents came out as well, and shared how much they appreciated the freedom of choice as well as the opportunity to work as group that their student experienced.

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Setting up

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During the Presentation Fair

I think for myself, the real pleasure was in seeing the students get so excited about something that required so much independence on their part. Of course, there were those we expected to take off with ideas and need little assistance from us and those we knew we need more guidance.

In the beginning there were quite a few students that didn’t know what they wanted to do. We would sit with them and ask questions, trying to guide them and still nothing. As a matter of fact, one group was actually goofing off making shadow puppets while the projector was on, and they were really good! I’m not just talking about your average dog or bird. Marcia saw that and ran with it “why don’t you do a play with shadow puppets?” and presto an idea was born. When it got down to only 1 student left that couldn’t decide what to work on, Marcia again was sitting 1 on 1 with him. In a moment of frustration he started doing all kinds of shortcuts on the laptop keyboard, things we adults didn’t even know how to do. Again we ran with this and the idea of him showing us all that he knows. His face lit up “Really? I can do that as a project?” As a previous student of mine, never had I seen him so excited! From there on out every time I came to the class he would be the 1st that wanted to share his progress with me. He even dragged another ToA into the room to show her what he had done, it was one of those goose bumps moments, truly genius!

To reflect back on it now I guess it really was a success, students having fun while they are researching, collaborating, and public speaking, what more could we ask for. But I also know that I can’t wait to “be more awesome” again next time!



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There were two moments that embodied defined the Genius Hour project for me. The first happened at the elementary presentation fair.  I had the opportunity to either listen to and/or chat with all the presenters. Two 4th graders created marshmallow pillows – small and large. As I tested out the larger pillow, the girls excitedly described their creative process. By melting some marshmallows, they created a glue like substance to attach the marshmallows together.  Then they wrapped the marshmallow form in plastic wrap.

  • Me:  “Why did you make a marshmallow pillow?”
  •  The girls: “We wanted to create something that didn’t exist.”

The second occurred in Kim’s room (Middle Level).  I spoke with Avery, who did a project on baking.  Her project involved researching various bakers and then baking a creation of her own.  She specifically wanted to create a tall cake which required special materials for stability.  I had to leave before her mom delivered the cake.  Here’s an excerpt of our conversation.

done is better than perfect

Taken from Kevin Brookhouser’s Ted Talk

  • Me:  Avery, tell me about your cake?
  • Avery:  It came out okay.  My mom’s a really good baker and her stuff is really good. (pause) But she couldn’t help me. I had to do it myself, right? – because that’s what Genius Hour is about.  It doesn’t look as good as hers but I did it.

Avery clearly understood the parameters of Genius Hour.  It wasn’t about creating a perfect product.  It’s about creating a product on your own and then learning the steps needed to move towards perfection.

Other Posts in the Genius Hour Series

A Fun Math Activity:

Dance Dance Transversal – A Guide


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
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6 Responses to Wrapping Up Genius Hour

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