This is a guest post from James Sapia, who teaches fifth grade ELA/Social Studies in Stamford, CT. His teaching philosophy: “I teach kids, not content. I believe in taking risks and working collaboratively to augment student achievement.” Follow James on Twitter @mrsapia_teach

“Sorry about the laughter, volume, chaos, and mess, but we’re learning here.”

This is our classroom mantra and one that drives my educational philosophy. We are teaching in an unprecedented time. Never before have we had the power to connect, share, and learn with amazing educators using social media to harness personalized professional development and growth. In this spirit of collaboration, this is where my first introduction to genius hour happened.

Imagine a time for students to follow their passions, become content creators in autonomous ways, create inquiry based questions, and enjoy an engaging learning experience simultaneously. This neatly wrapped package has transformed my classroom into an environment buzzing with excitement, energy, “chaos,” and choice. Genius hour has ignited a spark in my students and breaks all rules of what’s possible in the classroom. When students have a say in their learning and their voices are heard, it not only builds their confidence, but also provides an intrinsic motivation to learn and grow.

This type of autonomy was popular at Google, where the company would allow their employees 20% time to work on a project of their choosing, leading to many creations such as gmail and other Google tools. Through my PLN connections on Twitter and reading Drive by Daniel Pink, I heard about this form of passion based learning. I decide to take a leap of faith and implement in my classroom.

The premise of genius hour is simple. Students create an overarching question that requires them to research and synthesize new learning from multiple sources.

I use this Genius Hour google form with students to curate the information they submit.

  • Questions that have an easy yes or no answer must be modified.
  • Once the essential question is established and researched, students think about how they can demonstrate understanding.
  • I give the students about 7-10 days to conduct research in school and at home.
  • If students chose to work in groups, the maximum size is 2 per group.
  • I check in with them via Google Docs using Edmodo as my LMS, and encourage students to document their new learning, thus creating a digital portfolio for reflection purposes.
  • I also confer with students face-to-face during the process to answer any clarifying questions.

Finally the day comes for the hour of creation. Based on all the research and work students completed, they must create something to demonstrate their understanding during the hour of creation. This can take on multiple forms. Among the ways students have demonstrated their learning:

  • Using Haiku Deck, Prezi, Educations/Explain Everything Green Screen apps, and clay models
  • 3-D replications of the solar system
  • The history of cannolis
  • Making a “how-to” video in class
  • Building remote controlled robots
  • Choreographing a dance about the history of hip-hop
  • Making elephant toothpaste
  • Creating a game using “Scratch”
  • Using Kahoot to quiz classmates based on new learning

The ultimate goal is for students to become learners who ask deep, well thought-out questions. The technology is secondary, only being used in purposeful and engaging ways. In fact, many students chose not to use technology.

Click the link below view photos and videos of students in action:

Genius Hour Photos – Mr. Sapia’s Scholars

Genius Hour Photos – Mr. Sapia’s Scholars – Part 2

Example green screen video about Global Warming

Additionally, students should have an opportunity to be reflective about the process, so I created this Genius Hour Reflection Google Form they complete at the conclusion of the day.

The energy in the room is electric during the hour of creation. By giving up control to your students and trusting them, you too can create a positive environment for students to ask questions, thrive, take risks, F.A.I.L (First attempt in learning), and grow. This is what passion based learning is all about.

It’s aligned perfectly with building blocks of 21st century learning; critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. We must view ourselves not just as teachers, but as engineers of learning and designers of opportunity. Genius hour gives students that possibility.

Click here to get Angela Maiers’ free e-book on Liberating Genius in the classroom with 20 lessons for launching Genius Hour.