Genius Year

Posted on January 4, 2015. Filed under: educational, Genius Hour, Grade 1 & 2, reflection, teaching and learning |

When I tried Genius Hour late last year, it literally changed my teaching life. Read about that story here. I was so amazed at the engagement, in depth learning, expertise and presentations from the 6 and 7 year olds in my classroom. I knew that I had to re-think how I was teaching so that I could incorporate Genius Hour all year, so I vowed to find a way to incorporate Genius Hour into the rest of my teaching. In the past, I have done inquiry projects where you start with the curriculum, show the kids what they need to learn, and then let them get there how they would like. It was ok, but it was never life changing. What makes Genius Hour GREAT, not GOOD, was that it was the students own passions, interests and choice. I didn’t direct it, I facilitated it. What was life changing for myself and the kids was the FREEDOM. Some kids were excited about those inquiry projects, but to be honest, those were the kids that would have been excited no matter what I did/how I taught.
I needed to somehow bring Genius Hour into the classroom without the curriculum. Sounds bad, I know… But hear me out.

I decided that I would cover the Health, Science, and Social curriculums quickly, and then give opportunity for a Health Genius Hour project, a Science Genius Hour project, a Social Genius Hour project and a “free” Genius Hour project. I didn’t know what this would look like exactly, but I knew I needed to try it. As I was talking this over with my mentor teacher, Jann Porritt, she suggested that instead of trying to fit all the different subject outcomes in throughout the year, why not cover one each term! I decided to go for it. This term, I worked on getting through the Grade 1/2 Health outcomes fast. I have scheduled my year in a way that there are 3 Genius Hour times throughout the week.

Weekly schedule

For the first month and a bit, I used all three of those hours to teach the year’s Health outcomes. We did booklets, activities, and worksheets. I graded things, and used those as the student’s Health mark. I wanted a hard copy of what we went through so if parents did ask when we covered this, I could show them the backup.
In early October, I officially started our Health Genius Hour. I have looped with some of my students from last year, so as soon as they heard me say Genius Hour, they were very excited! I can’t help but wonder if that student excitement naturally passed on to the other kids as well. I told them that it had to be a Health Genius Hour; whatever they wanted to learn about had to have something to do with health. We used the app Baiboard to brainstorm the kid’s ideas. We had an iPad for every three kids, and they each wrote 3 ideas that they were interested in. This worked ok. Some were better than others depending on the student’s tech skills, their writing skills, and their concepts. I did scribe for a couple kids as well. Ps: this is a shared document, so if the students pressed that little arrow on the right or left side, they could see in live time what their friends were writing, and get ideas if they needed.

Photo 2015-01-04, 8 29 59 PM Photo 2015-01-04, 8 31 01 PM Photo 2015-01-04, 8 31 15 PM

From there, I looked for themes in what the students wanted to know, and wrote those themes on big pieces of chart paper. I hung the paper around the room, and in true “EdCamp sign up style,” each child got 2 sticky notes. They wrote their names on them and wandered the room choosing the top two topics they were most interested in. I found that this was a good strategy, as there were lots of kids mulling about, and they actually did choose the topic they were interested in rather than just going to a group where their friends were. Once they had it narrowed down to 2, I let them sit on it for a day, and then the next day I made them narrow it down to one. (Side note: I have used the pyramid example in the past to choose their GH topic. I got that idea from Joy Kerr’s livebinder). Some topics had multiple kids in them, and others, just the one child.


This is a picture of days and minutes spinning by…

… Let’s fast forward to today, January 4th, 2015. (I started this original post earlier on in the term.)  Listen carefully…


I thought it was going to be so great! Well, it sucked. The Health Genius Hour sucked! I am going to try and give you 5 reasons why, so you don’t make the same mistakes I did!

1) LESS FREEDOM. Remember up there, when I was talking about how great GH is because of the freedom? Well, having a Health Genius Hour kind of took that away. Sure they still got to choose anything they wanted related to Health, but the same drive was JUST NOT THERE. The engagement was lacking, and the outcomes were not as brilliant. True Genius Hour needs to be 100% guided and chosen by the kids.

2) THE CONTENT. So you want to know what kids are interested in when it comes to Health? Well… they are interested in really hard medical stuff! Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that two of my student groups pretty much wanted to cure cancer, but it made it awfully hard for the little buggers to figure out what they were studying and eventually presenting on. Even though it was pretty fabulous that a pediatric oncologist decided to come and be that group’s expert, they still ended up telling all the other kids that white blood cells kill you, and cancer is contagious. #fail

3) THE CONTENT PART 2- Did I also mention that more than just the cancer group was giving inaccurate information? I’ve learned that Health Genius Hour is too difficult a task for grade 1’s and 2’s. Their interests were about things that their brains couldn’t really comprehend. I mean they were as cute as anything, but yeah.. they were a little fuzzy on the medical details. Watch this hilarious clip from the hospital workers group trying to explain a c-section, as opposed to… you know… the other way women have babies. Watch from 7:15-8:10. (They did try to connect it to the other group’s cancer presentation- which also becomes a problem.)

See what I mean? It was a little bit of a gong show.

4) THE EXPERTS- When all the students choose a topic within the same “genre,” it makes it difficult to find experts for them.  When we had an open Genius Hour last year, I had to find a Michael Jackson expert, a movie director, a NASA scientist, a NHL hockey player, a hip hop expert, a paper plane expert etc., but it was STILL easier than trying to round up a whole bunch of medical professionals this term.  I called on every nurse friend I knew, but it was difficult trying to find people for the specialized Health topics my kids wanted to know about. For example, I am so glad Dr. Brown (the pediatric oncologist) was able to come in and talk to the kids, but it was a run around to go through the right avenues to contact her.  It took weeks and weeks before I could get a hold of her to set a date. She did an excellent job explaining cancer to the kids, but unfortunately 6 and 7 year old’s minds didn’t quite internalize all the information effectively.

5) THE RETENTION- I bet you $10 that in 7 years, if you ask my students from last year what they learned about in their Genius Hour, they will be able to tell you the topic and at least 2 or 3 things they learned and remember vividly. This is because the information was valuable to them. When students have an “open” Genius Hour, they are choosing something that is valuable, applicable, interesting, and exciting to them.  Wait, what’s that you say? Learning needs to be relateable? Oh is that why we have such poor retention from students year to year! Imagine that! Students remember content they are interested in, and forget the stuff that’s not applicable to them!


One of the things I initially fell in love with about Genius Hour, is the one thing that lacked this last time we tried it.  The student MUST be engaged and interested in their topic. As much as I thought doing a Health Genius Hour was a great way to bring in curriculum AND bring a passion project into the classroom, it just flat out didn’t work. The students didn’t fail the project, the project failed the students.

You might be asking, “What’s my plan now?” Well, I’m not exactly sure. I think I might follow the same timeline as before, where I quickly cover the Social curriculum, and then give time for a free Genius Hour during those periods. I know I don’t want to even try a Social Genius Hour.  My saving grace is that if I allow for at least 3 more GH projects this year, some students are bound to cover some social and science outcomes anyway, and when the kids are more excited and into their project, the other students will no doubt learn and develop new wonders about those topics/content.

Any thoughts or suggestions? I’m open to hearing them! Please comment below!


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One Response to “Genius Year”

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Great reflective post. I have learned and accepted that not all GeniusHour times will have a big success sign posted on it. But I rarely think of them in terms of “fail”. In kindergarten so many levels of learning that is encompassed in geniushour from generating ideas, to collaboration to reflections. Some times we do set the stage as we did in a post I wrote about the Underground Railroad and making connections in a geniushour block of time. I tweet @dubioseducator and my posts are in @joykirr Livebinder in kindergarten grade level.

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