Genius Hour Report

Well, today was the day! It has been three weeks since I decided to hold #geniushour with the junior highers. (I’m spelling it like the Twitter hashtag–join us by sharing on Twitter your #geniushour comments, resources, and activities.)

Over the past three weeks, I gradually introduced the students to the idea of #geniushour, and they began to let their ideas percolate. Finally, this week, I suggested students get a pretty sound idea ready. I wanted them to get right to work when it was time. I’m not sure if that was the right thing to do or not. I was surprised that about three students told me this morning that they didn’t know what they were going to do yet. That didn’t last long, though. With a little discussion, each one soon had an idea or a partner to join.

I took Nancy’s advice and allowed them to choose partners based on interests. It certainly made more sense like that. The way I initially envisioned it was to put them into random groups of three on the morning of #geniushour. The day would have been totally different that way. As it turned out, on Monday some of them had already recruited a partner and decided what supplies to bring. I hadn’t thought of supplies–time wouldn’t have allowed us to wait until #geniushour started to gather supplies.

Students and I had created this Rubric of Creativity a couple days ago, so they would be able to prepare for and later evaluate their #geniushour work. I promised them that no grades were going to be recorded for their work today, but in future #geniushours we might need to record grades. If so, I will definitely let them grade themselves using the rubric, for honest self-reflection is a characteristic of creative genius.

We had about 1.25 hours scheduled for #geniushour and we could have used more! We even dipped into our sharing time to finish up some of the videos and other presentations, so we actually went about 1.5 hours. One thing is true, #geniushour was exhausting. We were energized with learning, but we were tired afterwards.

I warned students before they started reporting that they were not to say any version of “Huh?” or “That’s not genius” or anything that remotely resembled disrespect! As soon as they started sharing, though, I could tell that it hadn’t been necessary. The students were nothing but respectful and engaged during the sharing process. They loved seeing what their classmates chose to do. We ran out of time, though, so they will finish sharing on Monday because we are now on a long holiday weekend. (Another post later on the products of their labor.)

Comments from teachers who were involved:

  • One group of kids changed their idea after re-reading the rubric.
  • They continued to talk about their project with other students after their presentation was done. They were still talking when they went into the lunchroom.
  • They were able to decide what they were going to be “learners” of instead of us.
  • I saw engagement and student-centered learning. I saw excited students holding themselves accountable! (from our principal)

Lifelong Kindergarten

My new educational hero, Mitchel Resnick (@mres), is my latest inspiration for my #geniushour activities. Tomorrow will be our first ever #geniushour.

As I explain my hope for what school should and can be, I see sparks of wonder in the eyes of my students. They, who for now are a captive audience, are honestly beginning to dream of the day when they will want to come to school. They’ve asked for us to have #geniushour on Mondays, so they can have something to look forward to on the “longest, hardest day of the week” in their opinion.

Last weekend I watched this video about Lifelong Kindergarten from Resnick, Professor of Learning Research at the MIT Media Lab. It’s an hour long, but well worth it. He makes the case for why all of school, actually all of life, should be like kindergarten (or what kindergarten used to be like!)

This week, we are commencing on a new day in my classroom. We have a long way to go, but we are definitely in a hopeful space.

One of my takeaway learnings from the video is shown in the graphic at the top of this post. I am readying my students to become a 1:1 junior high next year. It’s still on the school board agenda under Old Business, and no decisions have been made. Even if it doesn’t work out, none of this will be wasted because we still have great access to laptops and can use them almost every day.

One thing we are doing is learning to use the computers for not just clicking, browsing, chatting, and gaming. With genius hour, we make sure to move into DESIGNING, CREATING, INVENTING, BUILDING, and SHARING, which Mitch Resnick and his crew at Scratch would think is a good start in raising up the next generation of STEM leaders.

Geniuses Learning Outside the School Walls

It’s coming! More and more learning outside the school walls. Tonight I was checking my email and sending announcements to my school secretary, when I received a chat message from a student.

“When do I need to take that science test?”

“I think you better do it by Wednesday.” (With a long holiday weekend coming up, who wants to study all weekend, I thought.)

“OK, but I forgot to bring home the study guide.”

“I’ll email it to you.”

“OK, thanks!”

About the same time I got this email from another student: “this is my scratch that I made i will show it to you when i get there” (It was just this afternoon that I showed him the program. He went home downloaded Scratch, figured out how to make and animate his giraffe, and ended up with a better animation than I’ve been able to create.)

I love it! He sent it so I could watch it, but he’ll also show it to me tomorrow. What enthusiasm!

We’re preparing for our first genius hour on Wednesday, so today we talked about the qualities of creativity, and the origins of the word genius. We said it really means creating and producing, not just the narrow definition of a person with such-and-such IQ number.

We tried to define nine characteristics of creativity, using some really big words. Seventh graders helped me make a rubric, which they will eventually use to grade themselves on how they are growing in creativity. Here are some of the qualities we thought of for each characteristic.

  1. Ambiguity – I’m OK with a little confusion. And I know there is always more than one way to do a job.
  2. Inquisitiveness – I ask questions and want answers. I look up things that interest me. I’m a lifelong learner.
  3. Generating Ideas (brainstorming) – I am able to quickly create a list of possibilities. I use my imagination.
  4. Originality of Ideas – I can think outside the box and I have a great imagination. I think of ideas that others never even thought of.
  5. Flexibility/ Adaptability – Like I gymnast, I can bend easily any which way and not break, only with my mind!
  6. Self-Reflection – I can look honestly at myself and evaluate my work.
  7. Intrinsic Motivation – I want to do it. I know the purpose for my work, and it pleases me.
  8. Risk Taking – I’m not afraid to try something difficult for fear of failure.
  9. Expertise – I am proud to know a lot about one or more subjects. I am an expert.

OK, back to those emails and school announcements I need to send! I got side tracked with my genius students and their 24/7 learning (and this blog post!)

I Want to Do That


When I showed my students the list of  “ten things to do with a laptop” that Gary Stager showed us, they were immediately engaged. More so than I thought they would be. (Watch Gary’s ten things keynote here.)

The next day, I overheard them talking. One boy said, “I want to build a killer robot.” Another, “I want to make a video game.”

Ten Things You Can Do on a Laptop by Gary Stager

OK, I owe it to them. I’m the one who showed them the list after I returned from ITEC11. We have laptops. What’s missing? Nothing. They need to be let loose to create.

So, we are having our first genius hour. Next week. Our first, but not our last.

Images by Denise Krebs edited on Polyvore, Big Huge Labs, and Photovisi, shared with CC 3.0 license.

Genius Hour

I’ve been given a genius hour this morning. State testing is happening right now at my school, and only half of the staff is charged with testing different groups of students at any one time. The other half of the staff has an extra long “prep” period, or what today I am calling my “genius hour.”

Yesterday, I followed the excellent tweeters from the first day of authorspeak2011, a conference featuring 99 Solution Tree authors, currently underway for three days in Indianapolis.

One of my favorite tweeters, Angela Maiers (follow her at @angelamaiers), sent out a tweet about genius hour. I retweeted it, saying I wanted to hear more. Angela’s first tweet was inspired by Dan Pink as he talked about motivation. (I sit up and listen when I see tweets inspired by Dan Pink; I just wrote a blog post about his work last week.)

Well, I did want to hear more, so I did a search for genius hour on Google. The first hit was a link to Dan Pink’s post called “The Genius Hour: How 60 minutes a week can electrify your job.” I read the article this morning (the first step of my own genius hour–before I even realized I was calling it that!)

Of course, as I read it, my thoughts turned immediately to my genius students! How exciting!

I have a day already picked out for genius hour–the morning before Thanksgiving in America because I know I will have some extra time with them. It’s on the books–our first genius hour!

Here are my initial thoughts. (These are open to revisions, via your suggestions!)

  1. One full hour for 11 randomly-chosen teams of 3 to work together. They will be charged with communicating, collaborating, and creating. They will have freedom within their group, though, to work on more than one idea. They will have access to three computers, if needed.
  2. By the end of the hour, they will connect and contribute, reporting their genius work to the world on at least one blog post.
  3. We’ll have 35 minutes at the end to report back–three minutes for each group.
  4. Here are some guiding questions in case they need them:
      • What new idea do you have that you want time to develop?
      • What skill can you master?
      • What tool can you learn to help you work more efficiently?
      • What tool can you learn to do work more beautifully?
      • What tool can you learn to help us communicate better?

A great resource to start with: Cool Tools for Schools Wiki

That’s all I have so far.

Now, I have just finished my first genius hour! Actually, it’s been about 1.5 hours. I have never before been able to research, conceive, draft AND post on this blog during a school day. This morning, I have done all those things, as well as planned a potentially revolutionary lesson plan for 33 junior highers. Pretty productive morning, I’d say, thanks to the fact that I was given a “genius hour”!

I find it sad that my students are busy taking state-mandated tests while I get to have a genius hour.

What else should I add to our first student genius hour?
Have you done or will you do genius hour with your students?
Please report about it on Twitter with the hashtag #geniushour.

December Update: Genius Hour Blog Post Index