10 Reasons to Pilot Genius Hour This Year

As I arrive home from work, I notice a trend. Every room has a project. My oldest son is creating his own sport, designing his own experiments, and trying to create a video game. My middle son is building a world in Minecraft, writing his own graphic novel, and making things with Legos. My daughter is drawing, painting, and building with scraps of cardboard and duct tape. Meanwhile, my wife and I are working on various home improvement projects. We’re also are working together on a new fiction book. She is doing a solo painting project. I’m working on a tech project.

My kids move back and forth between doing individual projects and working together. They shift between consuming and creating. They move between curiosity and creativity. It’s a constant ebb and flow.

We’re makers, builders, tinkerers, designers. But, more importantly, we’re learners. We are always exploring — whether it’s a walk outside or a book or an online search. We’re naturally curious and this curiosity fuels our creative projects.

I’m under no illusion that we are somehow special as a family. I believe every person is naturally curious and naturally creative. And yet, far too often, this self-directed learning doesn’t happen in the classroom. Kids end up filling out packets or learning for the sake of pleasing a teacher. They don’t own the learning process.

This is why I created this series on student choice. I want to see students own the learning process so that they become the kind of self-directed, lifelong learners we know that they can be.


10 Reasons to Pilot Genius Hour This Year – By AJ Juliani

I’ve had several people email me asking what teachers should do to get started with student choice. I’ll be tackling that in my next post, but I wanted to share some thoughts by someone else who knows more about this topic than I do.

My good friend AJ Juliani (who authored LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student with me) was one of the pioneers of the Genius Hour project. This is where students spend 20% of their time doing self-directed creative projects. So, the following are his ideas:

1. You will join a great community of learners

When I first did the Genius Hour project with my students I didn’t have a community of teachers or learners. Within months that changed as a number of great teachers before and after me started to share their stories online. The largest active group is the Genius Hour teachers (inspired by Daniel Pink) who have #geniushour chats, a big resource at GeniusHour.com, and a great Genius Hour wiki. Get involved and see what others have done!

2. You will allow students to go into depth with a topic that inspires them

One of the major issues we face in schools today is covering a wide breadth of information, instead of allowing students to get a real depth of knowledge. Students using Genius Hour and 20% time are able to delve into subject matter that means something to them, often times taking their free time at home to learn more. Isn’t this something we should be promoting at all levels?

3. There is so much positive peer pressure

When students in my school have their Shark Tank pitch day, they get to share with the entire class what they are working on. Publicly announcing what they are trying to accomplish makes the goal real. Students get to see what their peers are working on and want to make sure their project stands up to the rest of the class. Regardless of a grade being attached to the project, this makes for students going the extra mile.

4. It relieves students of the “game of school”

Too often our students complete assignments for the grade. They go through the motions to receive an external pat on the back (or bump on their transcript).  Genius Hour and 20% time take away the “game of school” and brings back the love of learning for learning’s sake.

5. It’s fun!

Randy Pausch famously said, “If you think you can’t learn and have fun at the same time. Then I don’t think you have a good understanding of either.”Without a doubt it is the best time of the week. Student feedback is not only positive, but also transparent. This work often carries back to their homes where parents/guardians share their passion for learning beyond the school walls.

6. Your class will be covering all types of common core standards

It doesn’t matter if you teach elementary, middle, or high school. The Genius hour and 20% time projects cover multiple common cores standards. We’ve had teachers propose this type of learning to their administration backed by awesome research. Remember, the community will help if you are fighting a battle to get Genius Hour or 20% time started at your school.

7. It’s differentiation at its best

Students are working at their level, and as teachers we should be helping to challenge each one of our learners at their best pace and ability. Because each project differs, students are not bogged down by following the same steps as their classmates. The entire class is learning, but it is truly differentiated.

8. You learn by what you do, not by what you hear

Experiential and challenge based learning puts the mastery back into the student’s hands. We provide guidance and pushes along the way, but they are the ones “doing” and “making”. Confucius put it perfectly: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Let your students make and they will understand and thank you for the opportunity.

9. It is a perfect way to model life-long learning

I did Genius Hour with my students and took it upon myself to learn how to code and make an app from scratch. I failed to make that app. But my experience learning how to program left me with a whole new perspective, and was a teachable moment about what we call failure. There is no real way to fail a project in which “learning” is the end-goal.

10. Your students will never forget what it felt like to create

Have you seen Caine’s arcade? It started out as a little idea and now Caine has inspired hundreds of other kids his age to create something unique. When you create a product, it becomes part of who you are, and there is a “care” involved that we just never see with multiple-choice tests. What would you want for your child?

This is the most important time to be in education. It is the most important time to care about education. It is the most important time to impact a different type of education.

Now, more than any other time in the past 100 years, education seems on the verge of a paradigm shift. You see, for the past century, most of the educational change has been doing old things in new ways. Today, we are beginning to see educators, educational institutions and educational companies do new things in new ways.

My challenge to you as a teacher is to allow your students the choice to learn what they want. That’s what Genius Hour and 20% time is all about, and that is why it is so successful.


The Genius Hour Course

AJ has created an amazing Genius Hour course on this topic. He has given me full access to the course and it’s impressive. I have seen the lessons, and I feel confident that anyone who takes this course will have what they need to successfully implement a Genius Hour program. Here’s what the course contains:

  • 70 video lessons that walk you step-by-step through the Genius Hour process.
    Each lesson is kept short, so you can quickly get to the information you need without spending too much time. AJ teaches it in a style that is authentic, relatable, and informative.
  • A private discussion group for course members.This group will not only give you a ton of support from other teachers who are also on their own Genius Hour journey, it will also give you access to AJ, so you can ask questions when you get stuck. You will be a part of an authentic community. 
  • A four-week unit and seven lesson plans.These plans are mapped to standards, 21st century skills, Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s DOK levels. Lessons are differentiated by grade level; there’s a K-5 version and a 6-12 version.
  • Printable PDFs and PowerPoint files for every stage of the process. These include rubrics, charts, and other texts that can help you assess student work, learn about the research behind Genius Hour, stay organized, and read reflections and tips from other practitioners.

If you’re interested in starting a Genius Hour at your school or in your classroom, you should check out this self-paced course he is about to launch. The course includes a ton of practical resources, including lesson plans. It’s perfect both for the beginner who is just getting started with Genius Hour or for the teacher who has used Genius Hour but wants to take it to the next level. If you use the coupon code SPENCER, the price drops from $125 to $99.


student choice 2

If you’re interested in student choice, empowerment, and ownership, here are some next steps you might want to consider:

Get the Free eBook Getting Started with Student Choice. 

Simply sign up below and you’ll receive and email with the eBook in PDF format. You’ll also be subscribed to the Creative Classroom Newsletter, where you will get the best articles and resources sent straight to your inbox. I promise I don’t spam!

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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  2. […] 10 Reasons to Pilot Genius Hour This Year […]

  3. […] to the ultimate final product. My friend A.J. Juliani (one of the founders of Genius Hour) wrote a guest post on the benefits of piloting Genius Hour. Genius Hour is all about student ownership, where they get […]

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