In the Beginning
It was nearing the end of the school year for my non-continuing contract. By this time, my English 9 classes were finishing up Romeo and Juliet while I struggled to think about what I was going to do with my Academic Skills Development class. There was no final in that class, and we were going to be finished with our unit about three weeks before school was out. This was my first time teaching this class, so I wasn’t surprised that things weren’t going to end at the perfect time. The district’s instructional coach (TOSA) suggested that I try a Passion Project or Genius Hour. For kids who really disliked school and struggled to feel successful, I thought she might be onto something. I decided to take a chance.
Researching Genius Hour
I read as much as I could about Genius Hour, and I began introducing the idea to my students. Some of them were really excited about it. Some had no idea what they wanted to do. Others only wanted to work on what they were basically already done working on and call it a project. We watched videos of kids introducing their projects. We watched videos to build their motivation about working on something for themselves instead of for the school district. We wrote lists of good and bad ideas. We created a Wonder Wall of post-it notes with these ideas. Most of them were on board. Because of the way the class was set up, we could actually devote three class periods a week for two and a half weeks.
Then came the time to actually begin working on the projects. I’m not going to lie; it didn’t go well. Some kids did some really great things with their projects. One of my students created these amazing pictures that he hopes to someday publish in travel magazines. Another student created a website about sportsmanship. But they never took their projects any farther than the immediate item. The photography student didn’t do anything beyond taking the pictures. While the pictures were great, he could have created a portfolio or even submitted the images to contests. He didn’t do any research about what it takes to get published or what he should do after he finished taking the photos.
I also had a couple of students who said they were working on their projects, but it wasn’t actually true. Keep in mind it was only a couple, but it really surprised me because they were able to use class time to work on something for themselves.
The End Result
My first experience with Genius Hour was a total flop. I wasn’t surprised, but it was still disheartening. Most of the projects were unfinished. I know that other teachers take more time with their Genius Hour projects, but I didn’t have that much time. Truthfully, I would have intentionally kept it short due to the experimental nature of the project. I’m glad it was a short process because just about every day was torture, and I seriously questioned if the project was ever worth trying again.
The Beauty of Teaching
The beauty of teaching is that you get a fresh start every year with a new crop of kids. I have since completed Genius Hour projects with other students in my current district, but that’s for another post. As teachers, we learn to adapt and change things up. Sometimes year to year. Sometimes class period to class period. But it’s an ever-changing job that allows for trial and error. If you give Genius Hour a try and it doesn’t quite go your way, give it a try with a new crop of kids. You’ll be glad you did.
Please feel free to ask questions or add your own experiences with Genius Hour to the comments below.