“If you had $3000 to buy tech equipment for your genius hour program, what would you buy?” Thanks, Rhonda!
I just had to write a blog post to answer that question. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure this list is exhaustive or that I won’t think of something additional tomorrow, but for now a couple things immediately come to mind.
First, I hope you already have access to great Internet connectedness and laptops for your students. If not, I’d start there with extra bandwidth and a small set of laptops or Chromebooks or iPads.
If I had enough computers for at least part time access for students, then I would get:
A pro account on Edublogs and pro accounts for any other tools that you and/or your students love. They can each have their own snazzy blog and join a world-wide authentic community where they will grow in reading, writing, presenting, and 21st century skills.
Video recorders and editing software.
A huge collection of Legos Mindstorms robotics, software, and Legos for students to tinker and create.
How about you? What would you do with $3000 to buy tech equipment for your genius hour program?
Ouch…I just re-read Ewan McIntosh’s post, “20% Time and Schools: Not the Best of Bedfellows.” I must say, as much as I respect his work, I disagree with most of this post. Especially this bolded line, jumping out at us in his first paragraph: But in schools, [20% Time] often seems to fall short of our expectations of creative genius.
When I started genius hour with my students in 2011, I did not have expectations of their creative genius. I had expectations that they would learn to learn and become more creative. That’s all! To go in with set expectations of what creative genius looks like in our students is dangerous to the advancement of creativity and innovation. Every one of us who dares to become a teacher better acknowledge the fact that we will have students smarter and more creative than ourselves. (At any age!)
Giving students time for genius hour is tantamount to creating a climate of creativity. It’s not about EXPECTING students to create works of genius, that I would then set against my standard of what hits the mark of genius. My goal is always that they will grow in creativity. Big difference! Ewan said, “…there are moments of genius…but they are by a small proportion of students, with the vast majority of ideas failing to hit the mark.”
From The Passion-Driven Classroom by Amy Sandvold and Angela Maiers
Of course only a small percentage of students are going to produce amazing “genius” inventions in elementary or high school. Only a precious few 4-year-olds are going to spend hours begging the world, “Don’t kill animals,” like Hayley did as described in The Passion-Driven Classroom. Our students are not ALL going to be the next Albert Einsteins or Marie Curies or Steve Jobses or Grace Murray Hoppers. However, they can all grow more ingenious, inquisitive, original, flexible, adaptable, persistent, willing to take risks and live with ambiguity. If given enough time, they can become an expert in something they love, which leads to even more creativity, and possibly to genius inventions and problem-solving further down the road.
My goal in promoting genius hour is hopefully to help stop the insanity of coloring in the lines and getting candy for doing worksheets and lining up in straight rows and doing only what the teacher says. Remember, that’s dangerous, for many of our students will eventually out-think, out-learn, and out-perform their teachers. We have to encourage that to happen, not stifle it!
This fall I had the opportunity to talk to four new kindergarten students, all with different teachers. My standard question for them was, “Do you learn how to color in the lines in kindergarten?
“Oh, yes,” one said. “Some kids try to color too fast and just scribble to get done so they can do what the teacher said you could do after we finish coloring, like read a book, use the white boards, and stuff like that.” I heard something similar from all of these kindergarten friends.
Yes, kindergarten classrooms are full of amazing supplies and “stuff like that.” How about if we let them use these things, even before they color in the lines with colors that make sense? What would happen if we let them make some learning decisions about coloring or reading or writing on white boards or using Legos or making art or inventions or what have you? I know all the schools aren’t Montessori, but can’t we just let them have some time to have fun learning to learn what they want?
When I first started teaching, I thought second grade was about the age students began to lose some of the joy of school. It got too hard or too demanding or they fell behind in reading. Now it seems to be happening with more kindergarteners. All of a sudden, after two years of lining up to teacher expectations in preschool, they are already finished with the joy and now don’t like school in kindergarten! (Speaking of kindergarten, watch this great video about Lifelong Kindergarten.)
We need genius hour, not because Google or 3M does it. It’s not about taking products to market, as it is for these companies. Ewan suggests that 99% of the products that come from the business world’s 20% time are mediocre, but I disagree that you can transfer that statistic to schools. Student 20% time projects that “miss the mark” or fail to meet “OUR expectations of creative genius” are not chaff, but rather the good seeds of creation.
We are making citizens who can contribute and make a difference in the world. Genius hour gives students and teachers the gift of time to learn to be creative and remember their earlier love for learning.
Give students a class period, an hour, or 20% of their time to learn like this and watch the learning in the other 80%-95% of your week grow and blossom.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
May God bless us with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths,
And superficial relationships
So that we may live from deep
Within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation of people
So that we may work for justice,
Freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain,
Rejection, hunger, and war,
So that we may reach out our
Hands to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with
Just enough foolishness
To believe that we can make
A difference in the world,
So that we can do what others
Claim cannot be done:
To bring justice and kindness to
All our children and
All our neighbors who are poor.
It constantly remains a source of disappointment to me that my drawings are not yet what I want them to be. The difficulties are indeed numerous and great, and cannot be overcome at once. To make progress is a kind of miner’s work; it doesn’t advance as quickly as one would like, and as others also expect, but as one stands before such a task, the basic necessities are patience and faithfulness. In fact, I do not think much about the difficulties, because if one thought of them too much one would get stunned or disturbed.
Mr. Vincent Van Gogh, one of the world’s most famous artists, wrote these words in a letter to his brother.
He speaks of perseverance, grit and stick-to-it-iveness — qualities that I hope and believe my students and I learn during genius hour.
There was “much to think about from this presentation” by Brandon Busteed, education director of Gallup. In the speech, he addresses business leaders about the future of education.
Early in the speech he asked the listeners what they remember about their best teacher. According to people surveyed, teachers care about us. In addition, they know what makes each of their students tick, so they individualize for their students. They are also relational. These are the important things people think of when they think of the teachers that made a difference to them.
He says we neutralize the best teachers because we continually take away their ability and time to care, individualize, and relate. We ask teachers to meet different objectives — those measured by standardized tests, rather than care, individualization and relationships.
The future of education is not about knowledge. We can’t compete on knowledge. “The cost of knowledge is trending toward free,” Busteed said. For instance, MIT’s courses are all available online for FREE. Though you can’t get a degree by taking them, you certainly have access to all the knowledge.
If we want students to be successful, we don’t drive them toward success by working on standardized tests only. In fact, there is a negative correlation in the 30 or so countries that took both the GEM (Global Entrepreneurship Measure) and PISA (Program for International Standardized Assessment) tests.
Schools with an over-emphasis on standardized tests neutralize entrepreneurial spirit. Many entrepreneurs and innovators drop out of school or college because of that — Mark Zuckerberg, John D. Rockefeller, Oprah Winfrey, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Ellen DeGeneres, Ted Turner to name a few.
According to Busteed, standardized tests can only account for one-third of the success of our students. Hope, he says, is actually a strategy when it comes to school success. We can help students have hope.
As educators we need to get out of the knowledge business and into the learning business. Busteed goes on to say that hope, engagement and well-being account for as much as one-third of the variance in student success. (That’s one-third — the same as standardized tests!)
We can take at least some of our time to give students choice in what they are doing in school. Genius hour gives students (and educators) hope, engagement and well-being. Read what Melina, a high school senior, says about this kind of learning:
In this age where knowledge is ubiquitous, and no longer belongs to the teacher to dispense during lessons, school needs to change. We need to inspire students to become lifelong learners. Genius hour can begin to do that.
Busteed suggests students have these three rights. They should be able to come into school every single day and say YES to:
Brandon Busteed said every student should be able to say YES to these.
Would your students be able to say YES to those rights?
Don’t we owe it to them to let them say YES?
I had a ton of fun helping out with genius hour. The students seemed to be enthusiastic as well, which is crucial for making genius hour effective. One thing I was wondering was whether or not the students had specific learning goals for their projects because I think that is important. The students must be able to explain why their project is worth learning.
~First time Genius Hour observing teacher
I am a firm believer in starting with the why. However, I’m not sure I agree with the above sentiment, and I would like your opinion.
Yes, indeed. They can make a fine tractor out of balsa wood.
Before genius hour, I ask my students to ask an essential question, but I don’t judge its worthiness, whether it’s essential enough. For instance, “Can I build a tractor out of balsa wood?”
In their presentations, I don’t ask them to explain why their project is worth learning.
However, I do ask students to reflect on their learning after genius hour in blog posts. (Some students are still working on theirs.)
In my own learning, I’m not sure I can always articulate my purpose (or the worthiness of my projects) when I learn to use Google Mapmaker, Garage Band and Voicethread.
I just learn because I want to. And now I sincerely want to learn from you.
Maybe asking more of my students in setting their goals would help them be more creative and productive during genius hour. Or will I stifle their self-direction? What do you think?
Do students need specific learning goals in genius hour?
Must students be able to explain why their project is worth learning?
The learners in my class of 2017 are geniuses. For over a year now, these students have had a chance to shape the agenda of their learning, at least part of the time. Because of genius hour, my students are learning to care again about learning. They choose what they will learn based on what they wonder about, what they are good at, and what they are passionate about.
I had an epiphany after I read Angela’s tweet and later this blog post by Daniel Pink, “Genius Hour: How 60 minutes a week can electrify your job.” I knew that according to Pink, we are motivated with autonomy, purpose, and mastery. If we want motivated students, why not let students become motivated by giving them autonomy to master what they wish for their purpose? It makes sense! Why NOT, indeed?
So, our first genius “hour” was a three-hour block of time on the Wednesday morning before (American) Thanksgiving in 2011. It was such a thrill to watch the students fully engaged in purposeful learning, creating, producing, and mastering. They chose what they wanted to work on.
We have continued to find our way through genius hour learning over the past 15 months. People often ask me if the students have trouble staying on task. To those people I say a resounding, “No, they do not have trouble staying on task.” (However, as most teachers can attest, they sometimes do when we aren’t in genius hour, when I am dictating the agenda.)
Skeptics and future genius hour teachers alike also ask, “Do students take advantage of the freedom?” “Yes, fully!” I say with enthusiasm. They love the learning environment during genius hour. They use every moment wisely. In fact, one of my favorite things during our first genius hour morning was when the bell rang after the first period. (The bells continued to ring because our high school students were in regular classes that morning.) Initially when we heard the bell, I saw the look of disappointment on their faces. Then a look of sunshine and delighted cries of “Ooh, we don’t have to leave!” (Chances are good that most of us don’t normally hear that kind of reaction at the end of a first period class.) All morning students continued to learn, ignoring bells, only taking an occasional bathroom break.
Now, to be sure, I know what people REALLY mean when they ask, “Do they take ‘advantage’ of the freedom?” They mean, “Do students screw around, instead of learning on their own?” To that I answer absolutely NOT. They have purpose. They have chosen what they want to learn; no one dictated it. They are given freedom to take as long as is needed to be satisfied with their learning.
Now that we have genius hour each week for two periods (20% of our time together), I have students for whom that is not enough. They work on their genius hour projects during study halls, before school, at home, and during recesses. They are passionate because they have chosen purposeful learning.
However, there is one negative that has cropped up over this past year, which I am just starting to figure out. In about 10-20% of students, their actions seem to say, “Too much freedom; just tell me what to do.” They don’t screw around really, but they don’t seem able to take hold of the learning for themselves. Typically I see these few trying to partner up with other students who have an idea. Then the more reluctant one acts as a helper of sorts for the other student’s learning. They sometimes want to switch alliances as they lose interest in their first partner or group. They are not fully engaged. (As opposed to what also happens — two or three students with the same passion join forces for a group project.)
In an attempt to alleviate the problem of the 2 or 3 students in a class who struggle finding their genius, I’ve been asking them to reflect upon these three prompts.
I keep working with them until they are willing and able to list their 30 “genius” ideas. (It is especially hard for some of them to admit to ten things they are good at). The lists become great conversation starters about what a learner might do for genius hour.
Sir Ken Robinson explains in The Element that when someone doesn’t know how to read and write, we don’t assume they are incapable of literacy. Instead we know that they haven’t yet learned how to read and write. In a similar manner, he explains, when someone isn’t creative, we should not assume that they are incapable of creativity. We should assume they just need to be taught.
I am trying to teach my students how to be creative.
The next graphic shows the Universal Constructs from the Iowa Core. These building blocks for success in the 21st century align perfectly with genius hour learning. I have had one-on-one conferences with my less creative students, showing them these “building blocks for success” and holding them accountable for the work they do during genius hour. Sometimes it means having a learner write an analysis of why he chose to abandon an idea. Or helping another learner find a way to be flexible and adapt instead of abandoning her idea. I have listened to struggling small groups (limited to 2-3 people per group) as they figure out how to collaborate more effectively.
Next up in my what-I-learned series is to make a video to show genius hour from my students’ perspective. For now, though, I will share a video created by Gallit Zvi, another genius hour leader. It shows great work by her geniuses. I used it to introduce genius hour to my new class this year.
“It made all the difference when I stopped giving them stupid assignments that I chose.”
I didn’t like it that I had said “stupid assignments” in the interview. I thought I could have described assignments that I sometimes gave as boring or useless or tortuous or meaningless. But no, I said stupid. I told Tanya in a Twitter message that I wish I wouldn’t have said ‘stupid’ assignments. She didn’t suggest an edit, so I decided it was there for me to own.
And I do. I did give some stupid assignments. According to Dictionary.com, stupid can be synonymous with foolish, senseless, tediously dull, inane, pointless, annoying, irritating, troublesome.
Hmmm…yes, some of my assignments over the years have been annoying and irritating to students because they weren’t appropriate–they were too hard or I didn’t give students enough time to complete them adequately, so they raced through just to say they finished.
Some assignments were tediously dull. Sometimes even pointless. I have asked students to read a chapter and write the answers to questions at the end. I’ve passed out worksheets and word searches. And had students write a lot of spelling words.
And some assignments have been foolish and senseless. I came from the old school where we wrote sentences for punishment, and I am ashamed to say that I had stooped to that a few times in my early years of teaching.
So, now I’m embracing the ‘S’ word. I forever do not want to assign another STUPID assignment.