flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

There is nothing that bugs me more than the idea of ‘ICT’ as a subject. I understand the point of computer science. However, much of the time, ICT is created as the place for students to learn about technology. The problem is, we should not learn the technology, rather we should focus on what opportunities technology affords. Here I am reminded of George Couros’ remark that, “Technology should be at the point of instruction and be as accessible in learning as a pencil; it shouldn’t be an event.” I therefore decided to introduce Genius Hour in my ICT class to make the focus neither technology or content, but learning. My question was, how might we empower students to guide their own learning in order to explore the potentials of technology. In part, I was inspired by Dave Cormier’s discussion of learning’s first principle. After much reflection, Cormier came to the conclusion that learning comes down to a question of care. “When you ask the ‘care->don’t care’ question first all the time, it seems to have some interesting impacts on a discussion.” I wondered then whether giving students choice over what they learnt would result in a deeper focus on how and why we learn.

Only a few students had ever heard of Genius Hour or any of the other names it is known by, such as Passion Projects or 20% Time. No one though had ever completed such an assignment. I therefore started by showing Kevin Brookhouser’s video and got students to brainstorm what they thought.

Some of the suggestions were: an hour where geniuses think, making something that inspires you, a focus on what you want, about process not just product and an idea started with a question. Although I could have and maybe should have left it at this, I then showed Chris Kesler’s introduction to Genius Hour:

After reviewing their initial thoughts, we brainstormed questions they might be interested in and share with the rest of the class. Having planted the seed, I then outlined my expectations for the project. I adapted Anthony Speranza’s 10 principles of Genius Hour:

10 Principles of Genius Hour.

I however removed the last principle as this was the only thing that we were doing in ICT. One of the things that really confused them was asking questions that were ‘larger than Google‘, I think for some they felt Google could give them any answer. To somewhat clarify this and to explain the depth associated with the project, I used the planning templates I got from Eleni Kyritsis. To support this, we discussed impact using a graphic created by Speranza.


Often students will claim to be ‘done’ or ‘finished’ with a project or assignment. However, when they reflect on their work from the point of view of impact they have not ventured far from the centre. Although coming at this problem from the perspective of SAMR, Alan November points out that there are times when we redefine the classroom, only to discover that it was far from transformational. This is something that Speranza touched upon in his application video for GTASYD15:

In addition to the planning document, students were required to create a ‘How Might We’ question to guide them. This is something that I learnt while working with No Tosh at Google Teachers Academy last year. Why HMW is so important, Warren Berger explains, is that it “ensures that would-be innovators are asking the right questions and using the best wording.” To support this process of planning and questioning, I allowed students to browse through some of the past and present projects Speranza has shared from his school. All along I reiterated that I would be assessing how they work, whether it be the detail of their reflections or how collaborative they were, not their actual product.

I envisaged that once students were hooked into learning that they would be off. I could provide support and feedback where required, but they would manage things themselves. However, what became evident was that some student just weren’t hooked.

Although there were some who knew exactly what they wanted to do, whether it be exploring different techniques for drawing or creating a game, there were others who took a little more work. Some were caught on the whole googleable vs. non-googleable argument, while others just didn’t know what their passion was. In addition to this, I was chasing up permission forms, setting up Global2 blogs and organising Google Apps accounts. This meant that where I’d thought that I would meet with each group weekly, I was left to touch base more sporadically.

In regards to the presentations, students shared what they had done, while the rest of the class provided feedback about what they thought could be improved through a Google Form. After that, both of my classes reflected on my Genius Hour Project, which as I explained to them, was Genius Hour. Some of the suggestions that they had for next time was:

  • Clarify Confusion: Although I provided explanation at the start, I really needed to do more in regards to non-Googleable questions, because as one students explained, “every question is googleable”
  • More Structure: Although I provided an assessment rubric, as well as a planning sheet in which to maintain ongoing reflections, I really need to place more emphasis on this. Whether it be doing more gallery walks or sharing reflections through a Google Doc, I need to add more structure to the process.
  • Provide Authentic Examples: Although I provided students with a link to various examples, I did not actually show students any real products which showed what was possible. For example, Bill Ferriter recently reflected on his students blog focusing on the impact of sugar. It is a great example of an authentic product made by students.
  • Pairs Only: With the focus being on the idea, I gave students the option of working with whoever they wanted in groups of all sizes. I simply asked them to justify why they chose what they did. The feedback I got was that groups should be limited to two only, as some slacked off, and maybe the focus needs to be working with different people.
  • Allow Fall Back Options: Even though the purpose was to allow students to follow their passions, for some this was just too much. The suggestion was made that there be some fall back options for those who are unsure.

It is interesting looking back at my first iteration of Genius Hour. A part of me is wary of Audrey Watters’ warning that fiddling with just an hour misses the need to re-evaluate 100% of time in order to make school more student-centred. However, such ‘re-evaluation’ and revolution comes in time, one change at a time. To bring the learners up too quick risks a case of the bends. Will Richardson talks about making things different 10% at a time. Although not the answer, I think that Genius Hour is still a movement in the right direction.

For a great introduction into Genius Hour, I recommend Anthony Speranza’s 2015 Edu On Air presentation. So what are you doing to make learning more student-centred?

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Genius Hour, My Genius Hour by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

6 thoughts on “Genius Hour, My Genius Hour

  1. I think what resonated with me here, Pal, is the sadness that comes when you realize that kids don’t have any real sense of what their passions might be. I saw that in some of my early work with Genius Hours.

    That’s a function of our world, isn’t it? We never bother to ask students what they care about or empower them to pursue those passions in our schools.

    I think that’s probably the greatest crime of education today. When students fail to recognize that they can be interested in topics outside of those topics in the required curricula, we have failed as educators.

    Another point, though: My original #sugarkills kids weren’t passionate about sugar and raising awareness when they came to me. That was a passion they stumbled upon after we talked about the NYC soda ban. The lesson for me was sometimes we have to introduce our students to topics that we think they might be passionate about. That nudge in the right direction led to something beautiful with my #sugarkills gang.

    Anyway…Thanks for this reflection. Got it bookmarked because we are planning to tinker more systematically with a Genius Hour next year.

    Rock on,

    • Thanks Bill for the comment.
      I had a similar experience when I asked students what the purpose of school was. Some have been so indoctrinated. Maybe teachers too.
      That is a really good idea about leading students to an idea that they might be interested in. Much better than a few fall back options. I kind of did do this, but feel I could have structured it a bit better.

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