When I heard about Genius Hour, I saw a difference from BWP/20% time. I may have this wrong, but it seems to me that Genius Hour is a single class period spent creating something within the context given by the teacher.
Andrew and I are generally anti-test, but we did want there to be some kind of summative assessment from this semester, so we thought that Genius Hour could help us make that more awesome. We asked students to create something that represented what they had learned: skills, content, concepts, or even something they had learned about themselves as a result of being in this course. They could use anything I provided: lots of art supplies, puppet-making equipment, green-screens, video camera, iPads, laptops, and even puppets. Or they could bring in their own materials.
They had a 45 minute period, less the time it took to get started and to share at the end. Not an ideal amount of time (since the actual time spent on creating was about 35 minutes) but it was a good introduction to Genius Hour. I asked them all to take about five minutes to plan and explain their plan to someone (or solicit collaborators) so that they didn't just throw themselves into a poorly-thought-out project.
What I saw was that they took the time seriously and for the most part, committed to a topic and project pretty quickly. Many of them got better ideas while they talked to one another, and some teamed up. Then they started working.
Here's what didn't happen:
- No one asked, "How will this be graded?"
- No one complained about the task
- No one said "I didn't learn anything"
- No one couldn't figure out something concrete to do
- No one refused to work
- No one was afraid to try something, even if it might fail
I did have one student turn in his work and say, "I know it's not good enough. Do you think it's good enough?"
I asked, "What were the instructions?"
"To make something to show what I've learned."
"Did you do that?"
"Then do you think it's good enough?"
This is a kid who wanders around the room when he's bored, and struggles to stay on task. But when he started his work time, he went into a corner of the room, turned up his music, and worked straight through for 35 minutes. I have never seen him that focused and attentive to anything.
That's what I noticed over and over - they have learned to trust me and our class community enough to dare greatly and take risks. I had a student use plastic knives for an hourglass. I had a student make beautiful little drawn figures and use more of those knives to make them into little puppets. I had lots of students make videos - one about stopping bullies, several about what real education means and how creativity plays a part, and even an auto-tuned song (made on my iPad with the Songify app) used as a background for a puppet music video. There are tons of art projects, and a few pop-up books. There is a clay sculpture of a student sitting in a cage, and next to it is written, "Welcome to Hell" with hell crossed out and "School" written above it.
As we near the end of the trimester (tomorrow, actually) and start planning for what comes next, I hope to add more of these days into the curriculum. Yes, it was a day we could have used for the other work and projects we have going on. Yes, it was messy (literally and figuratively) and chaotic.
But telling students that you value their creativity so much that you are giving them an entire class period to be creative does more than just demonstrate what they can produce. It builds community and gives students the message that their ideas and talents and selves are accepted, no matter what.
Genius Hour was definitely worth the time. And we - my students, Andrew and I - can't wait until the next one.