According to the U.S Department of Education, America’s public schools are responsible for making sure that each student is “ready to learn” upon arrival at school each day. While this is no small feat, their mission statement leaves out another important fact: all students come to school with diverse interests and abilities. Unfortunately, teachers are often assigned to teach in the middle, an approach that fails to tap into students’ creative potential.
What is Genius Hour?
Genius hour was conceived as a way to address this shortcoming. Simply put, it encourages each student to spend one class period per week pursuing their biggest intellectual passions—a concept that has proven transformative for both learners and teachers alike.
When students participate in genius hour, they enjoy the chance to explore topics and activities that spark their curiosity. During this class period students:
- work on projects of their own choosing;
- develop and refine creative ideas;
- collaborate with peers on group presentations; and/or
- pursue independent research on issues they find fascinating.
Why Teachers Should Implement Genius Hour
Genius hour in the classroom encourages students to take ownership of their own learning with the help of a teacher who encourages curiosity, creativity, and passion. As a result, students learn about big ideas and develop skills that will help them apply learning to their daily lives.
Most importantly, genius hour instills a lifelong passion for learning and has the power to transform education as we know it today. This approach:
- Challenges students
- Rewards curiosity
- Boosts engagement
- Levels the playing field for all students.
- Offers a chance to explore new interests.
- Helps students develop skills they will use long after graduation.
Lesson Plan Ideas for Genius Hour
There are many different types of genius hour lesson plans. Some schools require students to take part in genius hour as a way to improve learning and test scores. Others allow students to work alone or with a partner throughout these weekly sessions. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, the following ideas for lessons provide educators with basic guidance on how they might implement genius hour in their own classrooms.
Lesson 1: Materials and Goals
Before students get started with genius hour, teachers need to determine what specific materials they will use to teach the program. There are no hard-and-fast rules for this step; some schools prefer to invest in genius hour kits while others ask each student to bring their own supplies. Either way, teachers will need to establish their goals for students before they begin exploring big ideas in class each week.
Lesson 2: Teach Problem-Solving Skills
Teachers will be amazed by how quickly students start thinking critically when genius hour begins. After all, this approach encourages children to ask questions and reflect on the world around them. Problem-solving skills will naturally develop as students encounter obstacles and devise solutions that work for everyone involved.
Lesson 3: Provide Fundamental Instruction
Although the goal of genius hour is to empower students to strive for mastery, teachers need to provide some basic instruction at first; this includes learning new technology and how to use it properly during the self-directed class period. In the beginning stages of the program, teachers will need to demonstrate how to use Google docs and other technology tools before students begin working independently.
Lesson 4: Encourage Collaboration
Collaboration is a key component in genius hour because it encourages children to work together while developing valuable skills. When students brainstorm ideas with peers during their genius hour, they become better critical thinkers in a group setting. Collaboration also makes students more comfortable with helping each other in the future, thus fostering empathy and social skills that are key components to healthy personal development.
Lesson 5: Connect Learning to Real-World Issues
Genius hour is all about making learning relevant to students’ lives. Some schools have students study real-world issues that affect their daily routine, while others encourage children to explore topics they find fascinating. Regardless of the topic, teachers must plan lessons that link learning to experiences outside the classroom so kids can see how what they are studying applies to other areas of their lives.
Lesson 6: Apply Ideas to Personal Interests
One of the best things about genius hour is that students can turn their personal interests into lessons. This approach helps children identify and pursue passions while developing skills that will help them excel in all areas of their lives. For example, a child who loves sports might study the history of American football while another student wants to explore the evolution of mixed martial arts. Whatever the topic, students should apply their interests to learning during genius hour.
Lesson 7: Learn about Technology Processes
Some teachers have a hard time getting started with new technology tools because they struggle with the processes involved. In order to craft a useful genius hour lesson plan, educators need to learn how to use the tools so they can teach students how to use them. This is another reason why schools sometimes choose to invest in genius hour kits instead of letting each student bring their own materials; regardless, teachers need to have a basic understanding of each technology process before they launch the new program.
Lesson 8: Plan One-Time Genius Hour Events
One of the biggest mistakes teachers make when they start a genius hour program is doing it all at once. Although this may seem like a good idea at first, it’s actually better to implement the new approach gradually so students have time to adjust to their new learning environment. One-time events can help teachers transition from traditional instruction into self-directed learning while letting students see what genius hour is all about without making them overwhelmed.
Lesson 9: Accommodate Mobile Devices
In the computer lab, every child has access to a desktop or laptop with a reliable internet connection. At home, however, most children utilize mobile devices like tablets and smartphones for learning instead of a standard computer. Teachers may need to upgrade home internet connections for students who show interest in genius hour so they can use the new technology on their own devices. This is crucial for providing children with customized learning opportunities outside the classroom.
Lesson 10: Evaluate Genius Hour Ideas
Many teachers hesitate to launch a genius hour program because they are unsure of how to evaluate the lessons students create. Instead of giving grades, teachers should allow students to judge their own work based on the criteria they establish with each other at the beginning of the year. These rules may include everything from how often each student contributes to a lesson plan to how quickly students respond to an email from their teacher.
Lesson 11: Adjust Genius Hour To Fit Your School’s Needs
Teachers can use a genius hour program in almost any subject and at almost any grade level. Some schools even encourage their students to take part in outside-the-box genius hour projects that go beyond the traditional approach to education. For example, one school asked children between the ages of six and nine to study curriculum from an upcoming grade level so they were better prepared for the new lessons. Teachers should continually tweak their genius hour plans to enhance learning opportunities for students and improve how children approach topics outside of school.
Professional educators should constantly seek to improve their students’ educational experience by implementing new ideas and exploring various resources. The brain-stimulating approach known as genius hour can provide children with exciting learning opportunities when implemented the right way; it is only a matter of time before more schools abandon traditional approaches in favor of this effective and engaging strategy.
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