George Lucas Educational Foundation

6 Tips for Getting Started with Genius Hour

6 Tips for Getting Started with Genius Hour

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Genius hour is a great way to allow students to drive their own personalized instruction but where to begin such a big project?

How to Get Started

There are a lot of resources out there already, and most of the teachers that are embarking on this process are willing to share what they have or help you problem solve.

The following all have something to offer:

Practical Tips

  1. Face to Face time is invaluable: While the students are working independently you are still there helping them focus and problem solve. The relationships you build with them come into play here. You will be using that genius hour time to work with them, conference with them, and help them reflect on where they are at in the process.
  2. Let Go: You have to learn to let go of the process at a certain point and be fine with letting the kids work at their own pace. Some get stuck in parts and take awhile to get over the hump; while others are zooming ahead.
  3. Think about your benchmarks: How do you want your students to show their mastery of their essential question? For me I had certain items due along the way to keep them on task. A video pitch, an interview, a book to guide their research, and finally a TED style talk to their peers.
  4. To grade or not to grade? Some people don't agree with grading this project. They want this to be a project that emphasizes the love of learning. I do grade it. Where do you fall in the spectrum?
  5. Utilize your own social network: Use Facebook, Twitter, Google+ to find mentors and/or people to help with interviews.
  6. Reflect: Constantly reflect on the process. What is working with your students, what isn't? Not all genius hours will look the same, and I think that is ok. It is about the engagement and creativity for your kids.

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Nichole Carter's picture
Nichole Carter
Eighth grade ELA teacher from Portland, OR.

Just wrote a blog post on how I am using TED talks for their final presentation, and included ways to use Google docs, forms, and the script autocrat (vs. Goobric) to create rubrics. Again, I know some people don't believe in grading the project, but for those of us that do, here you go. And even if you don't grade genius hour, but use rubrics in other areas here is an idea on how to create great feedback for your students...

Lroyko's picture

I teach eighth grade Social Studies, American History; does anyone have experience with Genius Hour in this content?

Tracy's picture
4th grade teacher from Santa Rosa, California

Thanks for sharing! I'm going to dive in with my 4th graders this year, so we shall see what they come up with! :)

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Lroyko, I highly recommend checking out the resources Nicole included with her post. There's some fabulous stuff available online. For example, I took a quickly through the livebinder and found a history planning sheet. And Cybraryman's site includes a list of #GeniusHour mavens you can tap into if you get stuck.

Do a little digging, and you'll find a gold mine. :-)

Ashley Cronin's picture
Ashley Cronin
Digital Resource Curator

Here are some additional resources I've run across that may be of help to folks doing Genius Hour:

"Genius Hour Resources," from Engage Their Minds - Great Minds DON'T Think Alike!
-Resources collected by Terri Eichholz (from 5th grade).

"Genius Hour Project Roundup," from The Teaching Factor
-Includes a video playlist to motivate and inspire students to get started.

Maureen's picture

Hi Nichole. I am starting genius hour this Friday. I have read most of what you've written and copied your resources. I appreciate how your resources are easy, as wonderful as it is that there is a plethora of resources so much of it is presented in such a cluttered way--too many resources and it seems overwhelming. I have a couple of questions if you don't mind. How long did you have your students do research before they made their pitches? How much time do you give them to do their genius project? I have enjoyed looking at your students piches and final products. I will be showing a few of them to my students this coming Friday. Thanks for your sharing

Nichole Carter's picture
Nichole Carter
Eighth grade ELA teacher from Portland, OR.

The students had quite a bit of time (since we only do genius hour once a week) from initial brainstorming to finally starting to work on the pitches it takes a few weeks. I would say this year we probably had- including winter break- about five weeks between originally starting Genius Hour to starting on the pitches.

I have my students do the essay pitches first, last year I didn't care and they could do either one as long as both were finished by a certain date. This year I felt like the essay grounded their thinking and if they didn't know the answer they needed to do some actually research, I gave them two weeks at least to work on the essay pitch. Some research was done outside of "genius hour time" in class. I also said they had to finish the essay pitch before they could start on the video, so many of them want to do the video that it was a good way to lite the fire under them to get the essay done.

Once the video and essay pitches are done, we give each other feedback (sometimes peer to peer in class, or meeting up with another class in school, or hooking up with someone from another state) once we get feedback we start working on research. I have to admit my work with the students on the research portion and how they are collecting it and storing it and then turning it in could be better, that is my goal for this year. Otherwise it seemed to happen last year so organically because the kids were so driven by their own interest in the projects.

Good luck! My students and I LOVE Genius Hour day! I don't know if you are familiar with Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess but I love the idea of a "hook" to grab my students. I really work the kids up about genius hour. I had a bulletin board that said "Genius Hour Coming Soon" and then I started hyping it up a couple weeks prior to our start. And lately I have been using Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars "Uptown Funk" (I turn it up REALLY LOUD) on Genius Hour day to pump everyone up as they enter the classroom. I know not everyone is into using music in the classroom or really "sellling" a lesson but for me the buy in by doing these things is so high that my kids are just flying through the assingments for this project. Kids that normally do nothing for me are ahead of the curve.

I am always available for questions or bouncing off ideas, thanks for getting in touch with me.

Natalie Faircloth's picture

Thank you for your Practical Tips list. I have been using them to frame my planning and my mindset as I launch into my first genius hour lessons with my first graders. For me the "letting go" tip particularly resonated as I am learning to trust the process of letting the children's content interests be the vehicles to learn a number of skills. I was wondering how you consider your role during genius hour time. Do you see yourself as more of a guide or observer or a student along with your class?

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct Faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

I believe that being a true facilitator is the key to a successful genius hour. Not providing too much guidance but instead focus on being a support person when necessary. You know your young students best and which ones will need more support than others. You know which ones will become frustrated if things get too challenging. So I believe you are the best one to facilitate this type of learning situation providing just enough support where needed. That being said, even with first and second grade students, I often rely on students supporting students when additional support is needed. So in these sorts of situations, I often give my students the green light to ask for support from a peer. I do coach them before the activity (and often throughout the year) about what support looks like in a 1-2 classroom. It doesn't look like a student having difficulty just letting another student do it for them. Instead it looks like a student asking questions and giving hints on how to meet the challenge. I think you will find a genius hour is very exciting to do in a 1st grade classroom. Remember, as with all learning some will learn more than others and it will take several attempts to get the most out of this sort of learning situation. Enjoy trying it out!

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