How a Flex Block Goes Hand In Hand With Genius Hour

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Passion is a crucial part of successful learning. Why? Because when students care about what they’re doing, their learning will improve.  For one, it helps students to be more creative thinkers. They can find a purpose and gain confidence in their school experience -- something that may especially benefit otherwise apathetic students. But how can students get passionate about learning? Some schools have boosted students' engagement and passion for learning by means of a 'Genius Hour'.

Genius Hour is catching on in schools across the country. It’s an idea that originated from Google’s 20% time, where they give their employees 20% of their time to pursue their own passion project, with the aim that their project could potentially benefit the company. As a result, employees are more motivated.

This idea easily translates into the school structure. With Genius Hour, students are given time during their week to pursue a project that means something to them. Different schools have implemented this idea in different ways.

Genius Hour programs could simply be an hour of time blocked out every week, occur a few times a week, or daily, before or after school. Some schools have been able to make time for this within the school day by using their activity period, or flex block. These are smaller blocks of time, usually around 30-45 minutes, that occur as part of a daily schedule, used for intervention, extra help, or enrichment activities. If your school uses a time period like this, or is considering creating one, it’s a perfect opportunity to create a Genius Hour program for your students!

How have some schools been able to do this successfully? What projects have they done, and with what benefit? Sanborn Regional High School in NH, known for their competency-based school model, implemented a Genius Hour for the first time last year. What was their process? It involved a lot of planning, and flexibility to make adjustments throughout the year. Sanborn's successful school culture is built strongly on PLCs (professional learning communities). Last summer, their Sophomore Team began to plan their Genius Hour, basing the framework of their program on the Launch Cycle by John Spencer and AJ Juliani

Michelle Wheeler, leader of the team, explains how implementation went during their first year:

“ Throughout the year the Sophomore Team used our common planning time to evaluate how Genius Hour was going and made adjustments when needed. We were clear that this was our pilot year and that there would be bumps that we'd have to work through. For example, originally we wanted the students to set their own deadlines and work at their own pace. We soon realized that they needed a stricter timeline, so we implemented due dates. Our Genius Hour runs for one hour every 6 days with a demonstration at the end of each cycle. We'll have two cycles this year.”

Sanborn used both Google Docs and Enriching Students to organize students into groups and schedule them. What projects did students choose? How did staff help students to understand what they needed to do with this time?

How Can I Get My Students Motivated?

Some students may struggle to decide on, or even work on a project when they have less structure or specific instructions to so. How can you help get them motivated? Make this something students can present to each other. Open it up to the community, showcase what students have done. If possible, allow them to share their research and/or final product to a worldwide audience by blogging, social media, YouTube, etc. If they can share something they care about with the world it will give them a sense of real accomplishment.

Again, Michelle Wheeler shares, “We encouraged students to pick something that interested them but they could not do already, that had a service component, or that could help them in their career. Students created a variety of products such as a speaker, wake board, interior design website, knitted scarf,” or pursuing a skill such as learning a song on the guitar. See the box 'Genius Hour Ideas' below for more suggestions.

Genius Hour can give students a reason to go to school. It’s a project that they choose, that they’re passionate about. What power can Genius Hour have? Why is it a valuable addition to curriculum? Brian Stack, principal

of Sanborn says "At Sanborn, Genius Hour is one way that we provide our students with personalized opportunities for choice and voice in their learning." It may just be one small piece of a students’ week – but gives them choice in what they will learn, allowing them to express themselves and share what matters to them. Why not give it a try?

Genius Hour Ideas

  • Pursue a project with real-world impact in your own community
  • Create a presentation on environmental issues/current events, come up with a solution
  • A Making project – this could be an invention solving a day to day problem, a robotics project, etc.
  • Design a line of clothing
  • Write a song
  • Create an original painting
  • Create a documentary
  • Write a play
  • Write an in-depth research paper
  • Create a visual model or presentation, like an exhibit
  • Turn your idea into an inspirational TED style lecture
  • Write poetry
  • Write and illustrate graphic novel/short story
  • Create a website