My Genius Hour with Spices

This week I’ve been on an adventure with spices. My grade 5 students are doing genius hour from their homes, so that meant that I would be able to have time for my own genius hour with them. When we are in school, I usually help them instead of doing my own project.

But this chapter of learning is different, I am modeling genius hour for them from home. Here is my plan. My question was, “How can I organize my spice cabinet so the spices are more accessible and then try at least three spices I haven’t tried before? So, my plan was to clean out my spice cabinet, organize it alphabetically and use at least three of the dormant spices that have been there too long without any love.

First, I made a simple soup using Celery Salt. (Starting out small.)

Next, I went over the top! I made Machboos. It’s like a Middle Eastern version of biryani. I used two sources for the recipe and added my own vegan changes. (My sources are in the link to my version of the recipe.)

Altogether there were 7 tablespoons of spices in the machboos! 7 T.! Seven Tablespoons! What!? That’s almost a half cup, and it doesn’t count the five cloves of garlic, two onions, two green chilis, or the whole bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and black lime.

I’ve never made anything like this in my life. I felt empowered, bold, prodigious and prodigal. If I keep this up, I may use up a good chunk of the many spices I have in my cupboard.

Third, I made a savory and yummy mushroom stew. It had five different kinds of mushrooms and parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

Since it’s April and National Poetry Month, I even wrote a spoken word poem about spices.

Four Things I’d Say to People Who Are Afraid of Their Spice Cabinet

1 – I used to be too, using cinnamon and basil and oregano and salt and pepper. 

When I felt exotic I’d add a pinch of cumin and a smidgen of chili powder. Nothing louder than what you’d find in a steaming bowl of chowder, though.

2 – Then I got older and bolder and experimented. I always loved to eat savory, flavory dishes, so why not recreate them in my kitchen? I can try. And try I do now because you see.

3 – My spices are becoming a touchstone for me. I look in my cupboard and see so many jars of hope, flavors brimming, ideas bubbling, whole leaves, pods, seeds, some crushed and powdered, as the hours are in my life. My time is limited in this place, in Bahrain where the flavors are exquisite and the spices are pennies. My time is limited on this earth. My time is limited in the kitchen, So,

4 – I want to use every hour, every recipe, every moment, every meal to the fullest. To the tastiest. To the joyful hope of a new beginning.

Here is a list of spices I used this week. Asterisks are by the spices that were used for the first time or in some new way.

  • celery salt*
  • black lime, whole and powder*
  • cinnamon, whole and powder
  • pepper, whole and ground
  • cumin, seeds* and powder
  • garam masala
  • bay leaf
  • cardamom, whole* and powder
  • salt
  • cloves, whole
  • coriander seeds*
  • saffron*
  • parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme* first time altogether

Here is my video of my genius hour for spring 2020:

Genius Hour with Grades 3-5

We did something fun and educational for the last week of school. We took the last two periods of each day to have #geniushour, #arsgeniushour, to be exact.

We were trying to improve attendance, as our department seems to be the only scholars left standing that last week of school. Their younger siblings had finished school the week before. Their older siblings were taking cumulative assessments, and finished their day by around 11:00 a.m. We typically have a lot of our students absent the last week! Genius hour, we hoped, would help improve attendance.

I knew my work was cut out for me when I volunteered to organize #arsgeniushour for the last week of school. Besides the attendance issue, there were several more issues: we have traditional teachers without experience of genius hour and a significant language barrier, plus, I didn’t start my planning early enough, and finally, it was going to be held the last week of Ramadan.

I had to work on the schedule for nearly 20 teachers. At first, it was vague. Teachers who were normally scheduled those periods became scheduled for genius hour. But where would they be? We didn’t yet know which spaces–classrooms, art room, kitchen, athletic hall, computer labs, etc.–were going to be needed by the children. Some teachers found it difficult to hear that the students were going to decide where to go, and we would go accordingly. Teachers were used to planning the where and what of class for them. We had a teacher planning meeting before the week started, but some details were lost in translation. Arabic and English are so different.

Several times that week before when we were planning, I kicked myself for not starting another  week earlier. We had to inspire students about what genius hour was, help them formulate a question and make a plan, and get them enthused so they would want to come back to school the last week.

Our genius hour fell during the last week of Ramadan. People were tired after a month of fasting,  and it gave families an added reason to keep their students home.

OK, with all those reasons it shouldn’t have worked, we also had hundreds of reasons why it was inevitable that it would work. My colleagues are amazing professionals who rose to this new kind of learning, despite their questions and doubts.

Students, of course, took off with this learning. Tell a student that they can learn whatever they want to, and they first might ask, “Really?” As soon as they believe you, they are all abuzz with learning,  planning, creating, producing, questioning, and reinventing. It was the students who made any reluctant teachers believe in genius hour, not anything I said.

We had students coming and going all week. The attendance wasn’t that great. Maybe next year we’ll have to come up with another attempt to improve school attendance.

However, the culmination of the week was the presentation session on the last day of school. The students who came all week to genius hour were there with bells on! You never would have known this was the last afternoon after a long year of school, the last day of Ramadan, too. This  #arsgeniushour group of 28 students, plus a lot of proud adults, was small, but mighty. They loved presenting the work they had done. I am so proud of them!

Here’s a minute of #arsgeniushour for you to enjoy.


Google Slides Introduction to Genius Hour in English and Arabic

One-minute video of our first department-wide #ARSgeniushour

Chess Set Genius Hour

#ARSgeniushour on Instagram