Setting Up Your Own Genius Hour Project

Brace yourselves for a long post, folks. Now that I’ve shared some of the highlights of Genius Hour 2017, I wanted to explain my setup in-depth so others can use it as a template when trying out Genius Hour for themselves. Really, there are an infinite number of ways to set up Genius Hour. In student teaching, we did it over a three-cycle period (6 days per cycle) in which we spent every day of class working on it. This year, I planned it out for about six weeks, with every Monday being dedicated to Genius Hour and other days added throughout the week as necessary. The project consists of research and journaling, working towards individualized project goals, and presentations. (The way these components are implemented is malleable, and can be adjusted for time and student needs.) These are the aspects of the project that need to be taken into account when planning. For Genius Hour 2017, I planned for students to complete most of the research, journaling, and presentations in class, while the progress towards the end goal needed to be completed at home. Below is a week-be-week breakdown of how we spent our time.*

Week 1: Intro to Genius Hour; Passion Bracket; Initial Research; Journal Entry #1; Intro to Project Pitch

We started Genius Hour by watching a couple videos, including a Genius Hour mini-doc created at Wissahickon High School. This helped students get into the proper mindset and start considering the different ways they could take this project. I then had them create a March Madness-style “Passion Bracket” (idea courtesy of A.J. Juliani**)  in which they had to write down sixteen interests/hobbies and then narrow that list down to their top choices.  This top choice certainly didn’t have to be one’s Genius Hour topic, but it helped a lot of students who were overwhelmed by choice. After choosing topics, I had students research them so they could make sure their topics would hold their interest over the course of six weeks. Students wrote their first journal entries, in which they stated their topics, their motivations for choosing those topics, the timeline and resources they would require, and the final products/end goals for this project. Finally, I introduced students to the Project Pitch they would complete the next week; the Project Pitch was an informal presentation in which students basically presented what they wrote in their first journal entries.  As you can probably tell already, we spent most of this first week focused on Genius Hour.

Week 2: Research; Journal Entry #2; Project Pitches

Week two, students started their focused research, developing and researching questions pertaining to their projects. These questions could be both pragmatic (i.e. “how to…”) and academic (i.e. “the history of…”) in nature. The goal was for students to develop the questions themselves, but some students did need more guidance coming up with questions, especially this first week of research. Students then wrote Journal Entry #2, explaining what they learned in their research, what they had completed for the project outside of school the prior week, and what they planned to accomplish this week. Finally, students presented their project pitches.  The goal of the project pitch wasn’t only to share each student’s idea with the class, but also to help each student solidify her project concept for herself.

Week 3: Research; Journal Entry #3

This week, students continued their research and did Journal Entry #3, which had the same prompt as Journal Entry #2.

Week 4: Research; Journal Entry #4

Like week three, week four was focused on student research and journaling as they dug deeper into their topics.  Journal Entry #4 had the same prompt as the two prior. For weeks three and four, it was expected that the majority of work for this project would be completed outside of class.

Week 5: Intro to TED Talks; Conceptualizing TED Talks; Journal Entry #5

Being the penultimate week, there was a lot going on.  I introduced the TED Talk, which was the final presentation for this project.  This presentation was more open-ended than the project pitch; all I required was that each student explain the progression he made week to week (and showed us evidence), explained his final products/end goals (also with evidence), and gave us some parting words, something important he learned during this project that he could share with the class and that he could apply to his life outside of this project.  There were no requirements for how they presented this information, whereas with the project pitch we used Google Slides. After explaining the TED Talk and giving students the rubric, we watched the short TED Talk I wrote about before, so they could get a feel for TED Talks in general. They then had class time to conceptualize their own TED Talks and bounce ideas off of me and classmates. Towards the end of this week, students completed Journal Entry #5, in which they explained what they were nervous/excited about with their TED Talks and any questions they needed answered before they presented.

Week 6: TED Talk finalization; TED Talks; Journal Entry #6

On Monday, students had the full class to finalize their TED Talks and make sure they were ready to present the next day. We did presentations Tuesday through Thursday and even had some run over to Friday. After everyone presented, students wrote Journal Entry #6, which was a reflection on the project as a whole.  They had to discuss their personal successes and failures, what they liked and disliked about the project, and what advice they would give to next year’s tenth graders in order to be successful with this project.

Being my first year implementing Genius Hour on my own, there was definitely some trial and error, but looking back on both the process and what students were able to do and learn with that time, I’m really happy with the way it turned out.  If you have any thoughts or questions about Genius Hour, always feel free to jump into the conversation!


*Note that during these weeks, there were other lessons unrelated to Genius Hour.

**My initial research when planning for Genius Hour and many of the ideas above started from A.J.’s book, Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom: Using 20% Time, Genius Hour, and PBL to Drive Student Success (Amazon link). I was able to work with A.J. a bit during student teaching and would recommend this book and his website for those looking to dig deeper into these concepts.


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