Fostering Student Agency and Motivation with Genius Hour
By Melisa Hayes, Second Grade Teacher
Have you ever wanted to give your learners more voice, choice, and power over their learning and don’t know where to start? I highly recommend giving Genius Hour a try! My kids absolutely LOVE Genius Hour and it has changed the face of education in our family.
What is Genius Hour?
Genius Hour has many facets and there is no right or wrong way to teach or showcase it. Genius Hour is an approach to learning where students educate each other, guided by their own interests, background knowledge, and curiosity to learn. It is becoming very popular, and many educators already showcase it in various ways. Genius Hour is for all grades and all learners. It’s not just an extension for gifted students but can be differentiated for any ability. It’s all about our kids and their passions, which makes this project so engaging and motivating. No matter the environment, face-to-face, virtual or hybrid, Genius Hour is a must for all kids!
For me, it started about ten years ago when I saw a variation of Genius Hour described on Twitter. It was a high school class. I was immediately intrigued. I started gathering more info about this subject. To preface, I love learning new, innovative ways to teach my family. (Yes, my family — my 2nd graders and I are a family!)
Genius Hour for Elementary Learners
After learning different ways educators implement this, I realized I was only seeing examples of either secondary/upper elementary or gifted learners. Immediately, my thoughts were, “My learners can do this!” All abilities can do this. I wanted my family of students to be able to not only educate each other but also teach an activity, so it’s not just a “sit and get.” Here are the main components of the project:
Presentation and Activity. My family creates either a Google slide or a Keynote presentation. The slides are based on the learner. There should be an activity that incorporates the learning which was just presented. For example, a group who did their presentation on baking brought items to make no-bake apple pie. Another who did theirs on football brought supplies to showcase football skills, and so on.
Personalized Rubric and Diary. My kids also create their own rubric which highlights the presentation, the activity, the supplies, the presentation skills (loud, clear, upbeat, and able to answer questions), and everyone is involved. There is also a QR code on their rubric which showcases their personal Flipgrid, which they use as a personal reflective diary during this whole process.
Essential Question. I tweak the project every year, and a few years ago, I started having my kids create an essential question based on their project. For example, one group did their project on Mexico and their question was: What if you lived in Mexico and only spoke English? This question drove their research and was a success. I continue to use this today!
Our Genius Hour begins around the third or fourth week of school. I introduce it by reading the book, What Do You Do with an Idea? I also have butcher paper scattered around the room with questions like, What are you passionate about? and What do you want to learn more about? This is a great segway into our project and kids are immediately drawn to the process and excited to start! After our intro, I designate Fridays as Genius Hour days and kids have one hour of uninterrupted time to work on research. This is a LONG process and around month three or four I have calendars where kids sign up to present. I don’t look over their projects. The responsibility lies with each group. The lesson which is learned during the presentation is priceless. Many kids present, and based on questions and reading slides and finding typos, kids look at me after and say: “Can I fix and present again?” I say, Absolutely! This is a learning experience, which for me is probably the best part.
Genius Hour in Remote Learning
I have taught Genius Hour every year for about twelve years. Last year, I was a little anxious as it was my first year teaching virtually. The kids were super excited to get started and pumped to work on it daily. The only obstacles were not being able to troubleshoot face-to-face when technology glitches and the activity lacks the personal excitement when doing face-to-face. But while on Zoom, I saw the kid's eyes light up and their voices squeal with excitement when seeing their family members present and participating in the activities. For example, one child’s presentation was on dogs and his activity was sharing his dog and all the tricks he knew. He couldn’t have done this if we were face-to-face so we had many advantages of being virtual.
Engage, Motivate, and Empower
In any setting, any ability, Genius Hour is a great way to engage, motivate, and empower our kids to use their voice and teach their family on a subject they are passionate about! Differentiation is baked into every concept of Genius Hour. Genius Hour is not just kids teaching kids, but our kids also learn about social skills, leadership, cooperation skills, and navigating on the web. Learners will gain the confidence, spark of learning, and love of school again!
I am Melisa Hayes and currently a 2nd grade teacher. I have a Bachelors's & Masters's degree in Education. This will be my 25th year in education. I am a Wakelet, Flipgrid, & Night Zookeeper ambassador & an Apple Distinguished Educator. I am a part of Our Global Classroom which is a family of educators around the globe who always puts our kids first & strives to teach the SDG’s & bring a universal call to action to better our world! I am passionate about many things: inclusion, teaching the whole child, establishing relationships with my kids, creating a FUN, safe, environment where my kids have voice, choice and are empowered daily! In my free time I love to spend time with my family: We love walking our dog, board games, traveling, and making memories. I also love being active: walking, biking, or running. My first year I was a substitute for grades K-8. Then I worked as a 2nd grade teacher at Sunrise Academy which is an Islamic & Arabic school. Finally, I have worked in Hilliard City Schools teaching 2nd for 23 years.
Follow the conversation #WhyITeach
To be reminded why your work is so very important and for more stories and advice, visit our collection of teacher perspectives at The Art of Teaching.