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All Kids are Geniuses and
Genius Hour Proves It!

“…if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” In other words, all kids are geniuses at something, and it’s our job as educators to realize this enormous potential and encourage our students to live up to it. That’s where the Genius Hour comes in! Also called 20 Percent Time, Genius Hour is modeled after Google’s employment model that encourages employees to dedicate 20 percent of their work week to pursuing job-related inquiries they are passionate about that might also benefit Google. The goal of incorporating Genius Hour into the classroom is to allow students to conduct in-depth research about a topic that they are passionate about, as well as integrate their findings into a final project which they share with the rest of the class, or possibly the entire school.

The goal of incorporating Genius Hour into the classroom is to allow students to conduct in-depth research about a topic that they are passionate about, as well as integrate their findings into a final project which they share.Children cannot remember everything they learn in the classroom, but exploring things that really interest them will cement what they are learning in their brains. If we, as teachers, think back to our own years spent in school, chances are we can vividly recall only a handful of experiences, but the experiences that we do remember so well most likely involve topics in which we were highly invested and which enthused us. Setting aside regular time for your students to pursue their passions is a highly effective way to encourage them to investigate a specific topic while also learning self-discipline, autonomy, responsibility, creativity, perseverance, and problem-solving.

So how does Genius Hour work? The first thing students do is identify what they are excited or passionate about. Once they’ve settled on a topic, they will come up with a question they would like to answer as they conduct their research. With their question decided, students then set their goals and determine the timeline and scope of their inquiry. Along with their goal, students identify a method for results. For example, students might decide to conduct a series of interviews with people who are already experts in their chosen topic, or they might decide to engage in a community service activity geared toward helping those in need. The method for gathering information is entirely up to the students, with the teacher acting as a guide as they work.

Many educators love the idea of Genius Hour in their classrooms, but are unsure where to begin. The thought of preparing a classroom full of students to decide on their own what they want to learn about, as well as how they want to go about learning, can be so daunting that educators relegate Genius Hour to their wish list of things they would like to someday incorporate into their curriculum. However, it doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Because Genius Hour is student-driven, you, as the teacher, will provide time and space for your students to learn, as well as regularly check in to guide and coach them to further their thinking as they work, but you will not do the planning and execution. For example, if a student wants to build a robot, you, as the educator, are not required to gather materials, draw up a prototype, or provide any of the tools necessary to construct the robot. You might point out the appropriate section in the school library so your student can begin their quest, but you are not responsible for the actual design or construction of the robot.

Similarly, you might have a student who wants to create a book of photography highlighting local plants and animals. Your job might include taking your student to the school library to find research and suggesting possible areas in which to take photos, but you would not be responsible for taking the photos, printing the photos, or putting them into book form.

Authentic choice goes beyond finding the “right” answer by encouraging students to explore things that might not be otherwise explored using textbooks and scripted teacher manuals. Giving students the power of choice removes the limits that traditional curriculums impose. That’s not to say that traditional curriculums don’t have real value, but the power of choice can supplement the existing curriculum in astounding ways. Authentic choice goes beyond finding the “right” answer by encouraging students to explore things that might not be otherwise explored using textbooks and scripted teacher manuals. They also get to discover that sometimes there is no “right” answer and that the journey of discovery is often more powerful than the end result.

Still not convinced? Consider the enormous growth potential you’ll see in all content areas as Building a robotyour students engage in Genius Hour. As students conduct their research, they will also be honing their reading, vocabulary, spelling, and comprehension skills, which will boost their overall literacy capabilities. Many students will also be working on projects that require mathematical thinking, which will increase their overall math grades in their regular math content classes. Most importantly, children who have the chance to pursue their passions are more likely to become lifelong learners. Further, students are learning to think for themselves, and thinking for themselves is perhaps one of the most important skills necessary for lifelong success.

Get ready for failure, however. Failure is part of Genius Hour, but it is a key component. Children need to fail in order to learn how to persevere. Watching your students fail will not be enjoyable, but it will be very rewarding to watch your students learn from their failures, brush themselves off, and try again. Knowing that failure is part of Genius Hour will allow your students to become risk-takers, because they don’t need to worry about getting a poor grade. Instead, they can examine what caused their project to fail so they can make adjustments and keep trying until they are successful. Even better, students almost always come up with more questions and ideas that they can incorporate into their Genius Hour studies.

Genius Hour encourages all students to climb, swim, fly, crawl, walk, or run in ways that make sense to them.If Albert Einstein was correct about believing that all students are geniuses, then Genius Hour is an effective way to prove it. Traditional school might encourage most students to “climb the tree” Einstein talks about, but it misses the “fish” that cannot climb those trees in the same way that most other students can. Those “fish” are still geniuses, and Genius Hour encourages all students to climb, swim, fly, crawl, walk, or run in ways that make sense to them. Your job as an educator is to coach and guide, but ultimately you will sit back and watch your students grow in incredible ways!

Sara Ipatenco is first grade teacher at Bethlehem Lutheran School in Lakewood, Colo.

Photos © iStock/ZiggyMars, Kerkez