Must the Students?

From original definition in Online Etymology Dictionary

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?

11 thoughts on “Must the Students?

  1. Wow, Denise! What a great question!

    It is true that sometimes we are just learning about something because it looks fun or because there is something about it that we don’t quite understand & we want to figure it out….and sometimes we just want some time to be creative…

    Other times there is a specific purpose. I think it is okay to just explore without knowing what the learning outcome is ahead of time. Maybe it is more fair to ask them what they learning goal was after it is done…then they could state what it is they accomplished? That is, if a teacher really wanted/needed to have a learning outcome to go with every single project a student does (and I don’t know if that is really necessary, IMHO).

    I am going to keep thinking about this! Thanks for asking the tough questions and getting us thinking, Denise!

    🙂 Gallit

  2. Denise (and Gallit!),
    When you tweeted out the question, I held back. I did NOT open your post. Instead, I thought about that question for a bit, first. “Do students need specific learning goals in Genius Hour?” …

    I went to dinner, made my decision (which was “no”), and then even asked my husband. He said, “That would defeat the purpose of exploring your passion, wouldn’t it?” I thought on it some more. Yes, I think if you required specific learning goals, then you are doing something other than what I think to be a “true” Genius Hour. My goal is for students to pursue their passions… to follow their inklings… to learn what they want to learn, and become life-long learners as a result.

    I then wondered at what grade was this question… What if… What if children started Genius Hour in Kindergarten, and it continued throughout the grades? Then I would think, at some point, a teacher would want students to be more “productive.” Maybe, in high school, teachers could ask students to pursue something that grabs their attention AND benefits others. Maybe their project could be beneficial (or “worth learning”) to them AND to others. I think of Erin Olson’s class for this idea, though. Maybe not for a Genius Hour…

    So… I’m with Gallit. In my opinion, I would like students to pursue something that is important to THEM. Something in which they are interested. Something to spark their imaginations and help them to love learning (as we do) and become life-long learners.

    Ditto Gallit – Thank you for getting us thinking once again!

  3. Thanks, Gallit and Joy. I appreciate your wrestling with this question with me! I knew you would, friends.


  4. Denise,
    As you know I am just beginning with Genius Hour and am limited to time, 45 minutes one period a week, and also means, no way to let kids construct, yet. I began with a discussion as far as student interest and how they could find answers to their questions.
    Never once did I think “learning goals” because to me all learning is important. My students are engaged and each step they take opens a door but also brings more questions. So a modification I have decided to make is let them continue with their topic until they decide that their curiosity has been satisfied.
    To watch a student that is a nonreader pouring over videos of the Vietnam War and listening to podcasts telling me what he’s learning and new questions he has is more than enough for me.

    1. JoAnn,
      Thank you! And thanks for sharing the example of the student learning about the Vietnam War.

      I love what you said about all learning being important. So true! I think one of my major goals for genius hour is to engage students in learning, to have them become self-directed, and for them to learn what they are passionate about.

      Regarding constructing, most weeks we do genius hour 43 minutes at a time. We do it two periods a week, but those two periods aren’t consecutive. Students work on projects, and then put them aside. It’s not ideal, but it works. (So far, only once a year have I had the opportunity to do a three-hour genius hour.)

      Thanks for sharing learning with me, JoAnn,

  5. Denise-

    I can tell you that focus on specific learning goals is one of the personal blocks I have with genius hour. Not with the concept in general, but with the ability to use the concept in my school district. I am absolutely certain that if I ran a “pure” genius hour I would be questioned as to how Genius Hour was addressing curriculum-based learning goals and if Genius Hour was a worthwhile way to spend the limited time I have with them. In the hands of a master teacher, specific learning goals can be discovered throughout the process, but I can also see that a newer teacher might need to guide a genius hour with goals from the start. As with so many questions in education, the answer depends on the teacher, students, school, and so many other factors.

    As to whether the students should be able to explain why their project is worth learning… like you said, sometimes you don’t know if it was worth it until you’re done. As long as they know why the process is worth going through, that may be enough.

    Great questions.


  6. Laura,
    Thanks so much for your input. I definitely understand your concerns. I have them myself. I don’t consider myself a master teacher, so I can’t always pinpoint the exact learning goals, but when students design a solution, solve a problem, figure real-world math, write for publication, and share their learning orally to their peers and other adults, I know we’re covering a multitude of standards. (Funny, in Iowa I’m considered a “master” teacher. You are very close to it too — five years experience and a Masters — but I don’t think lifelong learners ever feel like they have mastered teaching, plus our standards seem to change as often as we get to know them well.)

    I want school to be more like genius hour, but I also want them to learn the standards. I did an experiment last spring that I wrote about here:
    I’ve tried it in science class once, but I haven’t come back to it much.

    So many questions…

  7. Denise,

    Such good questions in this post. After some reflection, I’m joining the chorus of, “NOs.” Requiring that students articulate their learning and demanding they have some goals upfront implies some things about learning. Such demands certainly suggest that there is one (or at least a superior) way to learn AND that we can control it. We can plan for learning and create environments where learning is likely to take place, but learning still involves mystery and discovery. In my understanding, genius hour is the planned environment for learning. Articulating learning is important, but students practice that type of learning frequently in other parts of their day. Genius hour is intentional time for a different type of equally valuable learning.

    Genius hour can also be a valuable compliment to goal-directed learning. Students fully immersed in the learning of genius hour will have had a vivid and memorable experience. What an opportunity for reflection and understanding learning. Teachers will be free to observe individual learning styles, and students may be able to more clearly see how they learn. Any project (“worthwhile” or not) that helps a person better understand how they learn has tremendous value. Any teacher who better understands the learners in class will be more effective during the specific learning outcome education that happens during the other hours in the day. The discovery and freedom of genius hour isn’t detrimental, but rather, complimentary to the learning that happens during the rest of the day.

    My two cents,


  8. Denise,

    I love the questions that you have left at the conclusion to this post. I am still extremely in awe of the “genius hour”, and how wonderful of an advance in education this technique seems to be. I also find myself wondering why I do things differently for multiple subjects and other interests. It seems that if you are given the opportunity to explore something that you enjoy, then you will put more drive into it. Is this not the reason they say that if you find a career you enjoy, then you will never work a day in your life?

    You have given your students the chance to search deeper into the very things that they are passionate about. Nowadays, the sky is the limit in professions. If it hasn’t been invented or discovered, they may be the very minds to seek it out. As you recently read in my Blog Assignment #2, and commented on, I discovered that we share an interest in Sir Ken Robinson’s ideals. In fact, in your comment you told me that he was inspiration for your genius hour. We cannot suppress these children’s creativity and herd them into mainstream professions. I fear that if this is done to an extreme, these kids will turn into future “robots” who follow a set routine for the majority of their lives that they may dread. I firmly believe that we must give them an outlet for their creativity, let it soar, and see where they land. They will learn great things, and we might learn further from them. Again, it has been a pleasure to read your posts. Cannot wait to see what inspiration you present to us next.

    of Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class.

  9. Denise,
    Great questions! My instinct is to agree with many others and scream NO! I think it defeats the purpose of pursuing our passions. I also think that we don’t always know what we got out of something until we’ve gone through the process and reflected. That’s why I love that you have your students reflect once they’ve completed a Genius Hour project (and why mine are doing that right now). Sometimes our original purpose takes a swerve in a different direction and that’s ok. Maybe a student learned that they didn’t have the materials to build a helicopter motor but they learned how to brainstorm about their passions and choose a topic! True story…

    However, I also understand the pressures that Laura is talking about. My response to that would ideally be “who cares?” but I know that sometimes it’s reality. I think one possible way around it would be to have a few generic outcomes/standards that students could choose to pursue in their own time. That would offer them at least some choice. Not something I’ve thought through, but a thought nonetheless!

    I will stick to my no… I think it’s become my passion to persuade others to question the more traditional methods 🙂 If we give in or give up, when will education ever change?

    Thanks for the questions!

  10. Ms. Krebs,
    I absolutely love the idea of genius hour! It gives your students time to ponder and come up with something creative. I believe what makes it even more fun is not being judged! When students are being creative with something they enjoy, creativity is at its best. I also like how they explain and review the material on their blog. Blogs are great! I have just started using a blog this semester and I love it! I am enrolled in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 course this spring. When I have a classroom of my own, I will surely use blogs, and come up with something like genius hour. Thank you for allowing me to read your blog. It is very inspiring!

    Hannah Dickerson

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