Genius Hour Part II

We’re off and rolling with 20% time in the classroom! My favorite exchange with a student about a Genius Hour project has been this one:

Her: “So, am I just planning this community fundraiser or am I actually DOING it?”
Me: “You are DOING it. Planning, scheduling, promoting, booking, EVERYTHING. If this is Your 20% time, You are making it HAPPEN.”
Her: “YESSSS! I was afraid we were just planning it like a simulation…but if we really get to do it, I’m STOKED! Can I text my mom and tell her?!”

After my initial announcement to the class, (one that stemmed from a last-minute moment of excited inspiration) some questions from students helped me realize that I needed to take the weekend to do some more exploration. I came back Monday armed with resources to help further explain the concept for students, and to provide some semblance of structure for those who needed it. I found some good inspiration here, and borrowed/adapted a couple of Google Docs to share with students. (Thank you to all of the folks at !) This brainstorming guide definitely helped some students who weren’t initially inspired or who were having a difficult time coming up with ideas. After whole class and one/one discussion, brainstorming, and sharing, students came back the next day fired up with ideas, so much so that it was difficult to get them all to stop talking at once! Following is a list of some of the projects they selected. Because this is a theater class filled with kids who are interested in the arts, many of their projects involve writing and or performing.

  • Write a play set during the Holocaust, cast it, and produce it for the school
  • Write an original song for the violin that could accompany the play mentioned above
  • Write and publish a cookbook that includes my original recipes and my grandmother’s recipes
  • Learn to play my new guitar using a self-teaching iPad app. Perform at an open mic.
  • Organize a community talent show to raise money for a local charity
  • Start a literary magazine at school
  • Learn to knit and make a scarf for my mother’s birthday
  • Organize an open mic as a fundraiser during Activity Period. Also write an original song to play and sing.
  • Write and record a TED talk as a recruiting tool to start a TED Club at school
  • Create an a cappella group, research songs and techniques, practice and perform for the school
  • Write, film and publish a “Life with Lyrics” video similar to this one.
  • Research and build a working rocket
A student drew this picture to explain aspects of his rocket design

A student drew this picture to explain aspects of his rocket design

I hope that we can keep the momentum going through the grading period. I look forward to reflecting on their progress!
See my first post, here.


Unleashing Genius Hour

Over the past few months I have been intrigued by tweets and posts from educators who have integrated Google’s concept of Genius Hour into their classrooms. Google used to allow (apparently, it has put the kibosh on this) its engineers to spend 20% of their work week working on pet projects. The thinking was that allowing people time to pursue their passions would increase productivity.  When the policy was in its heyday, Google claimed that 50% of its innovative projects were created from this time, including Gmail, Google Talk, Google News, and AdSense.


One of my focuses for the new year is to do more to help students “unpack” their individuality and creativity from what has come to be seen as the “confines” of Common Core standards. (Unpopular Opinion Alert:  standards are only as “confining” as the methods teachers select to incorporate them into learning experiences for students.) So when we returned from Christmas break, the first thing I did was survey my theater students about what activities, units of study, etc. they would like to explore during 2nd semester.

Responses to the survey were varied and included: “Study and create performance poetry; Write and produce a play; Read Shakespeare; Anything but Shakespeare, Read a modern play; Write a musical; Watch a musical; Learn stage makeup techniques; Perform another monologue; Write an original monologue; Direct a play; Film a Living with Lyrics video; Perform Reader’s Theater for the elementary students; More improvisation; Less improvisation…”  

When considering their responses, I realized that my students are amazing, talented, and creative, and I owe it to them to allow them to explore their passions, regardless of whether there is time to “fit it in” this semester. Thus, at 2:42 a.m. (or, what often manifests itself as MY genius hour) I decided I would pitch 20% time to my students. After sharing the video below, we were off and running! Students immediately began buzzing about their interests.

“This is SO weird. I told my mom I wanted to create my own YouTube channel for my original songs, but I have like NO time…does this mean I can work on this on Fridays?”

“I’ve written plays before, but didn’t get to do anything with them. If I write a play, and it’s good, can our class put it on for the school?!”

“I just bought a guitar and plan on self-teaching with an App I found, but with my new job, I don’t have time… can I use Genius Time to learn?”
ME: “Yes, and then how are you going to share with or impact others?”
HIM: “___said she wanted her project to be organizing a talent show for charity…My goal could be to master two songs that I could play at that!”

“I would like to organize a talent show or open mic for charity”

The only parameters I set up are as follows:

1. Each Friday would be devoted to Genius Hour projects
2. Students are responsible for arranging for what ever items they need in order to work on their projects
3. Students must complete this initial Google Form explaining the nature of their project
4. I did not require that their Genius Hour project be related to theater; however, nearly everyone selected something that can be related to the curriculum, which is great!

After the presentation in each period, students erupted in a flurry of cross-conversation. A few stayed after class to talk about their ideas, many emailed questions, one sent a link in a Google Doc and asked for my feedback. Literally HOURS after introducing the concept. My answer to all of their questions was, “Of course! You just have to find a way to make it happen.”

I can’t wait to see what they accomplish!

Additional resources for Genius Hour in the classroom