Idea Starters for the Genius Hour Classroom
By Denise Krebs and Gallit Zvi
What makes a Genius Hour project meaningful?
We’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately. Quite honestly, we’ve come to the conclusion that if students are being creative and productive, then we believe the project is a meaningful learning experience for them.
We see Genius Hour as a time set aside every week (or as often as teachers can manage) for kids to follow their own interests, passions, and “wonders.” It’s a space in school where they have the opportunity to be autonomous in their learning.
If that’s happening during Genius Hour (even if it makes well-organized teachers a bit restless), then the time investment is worthwhile. If a Genius Hour project is meaningful for the student, then we are all for it!
That said, we know there are students who may need some “start-up” help. We’re often asked for ideas and examples of memorable projects from our own Genius Hour classrooms. So we’ll share some of ours, and if you’re a Genius Hour teacher, please share some of yours in the comments area of this post.
Ideas for Genius Hour projects that students really like
Some projects over the years have stood out to us. They seem to have certain qualities that result in a meaningful learning experience for our students, as well as for the people around the world who get to enjoy the products they share. Here are five types of projects we like:
1. Community Engagement
It is so great to see our students getting involved at the community level. These projects are amazing because not only are the students learning by conducting their inquiry project but they are also serving the community and making a difference!
For example, one group planned a Honk If You Love Someone campaign. Inspired by a Daniel Pink blog post about the Honk if You Love Someone documentary, these students created their own version and had community members honking for happiness, love, life, etc. early on a Monday morning.
Other Genius Hour examples of community engagement projects include fundraisers for local causes, random acts of kindness in and outside of school, and other missions to spread community happiness. The most important thing to remember: Let the students do the thinking, planning and organizing.
2. Passion for a Cause
When students care enough about a project, they will continue it long after Genius Hour is over. They become passionate and productive. They solve real problems and strive to make the world a better place. Students raise money, have bake sales, cook dinner for families in need, educate others about how to care for animals – the sky is the limit really! We are so impressed with how passionate these kids are; they really give of themselves for their cause.
3. Maker Projects
These projects are limitless – fine arts, sewing, baking, building all kinds of things, like a hydraulic system and birdhouse, and all manner of digital creations. Stop motion videos became incredibly popular with some of our students; they were so much fun!
There are lots of resources out there to find out more about maker projects. Here’s one found at MiddleWeb.
4. Filmmaking, including Tutorials
One group made a movie to test out new effects included in the latest version of iMovie. They worked for several weeks on The Microchip Theft and had lots of fun. At the same time they taught several new special effects to themselves, their teachers and classmates.
Another genre of film that students have been working on is documentary. It is so exciting to watch students document their learning through the making of a documentary. The group we talked about in point 1 that did the Honk if You Love Someone community campaign also created a documentary as a part of their project.
5. Research Areas of Interest
It used to surprise us when students wanted to do research on a wide range of topics. Now it doesn’t. Students love to learn, and when they are given freedom to learn what they want, they thrive. It’s no longer an assignment, but they do it because they genuinely want to learn. A few examples, presented in writing and/or multimedia: artists, Christmas, countries of interest, and historical moments like World War I and WWII.
Other ideas for Genius Hour projects
Those are five of our favorite kinds of Genius Hour projects. Of course, we don’t think this list is complete or restrictive in any way. There are many Genius Hour projects that can’t (and don’t need to) fit into a certain category. We are thrilled that thousands of students are having meaningful learning experiences in Genius Hour.
In a recent Twitter chat, some other suggestions for Genius Hour projects came up. Valerie Lees, who teaches a Genius Hour class to high school students in British Columbia, gave these possible categories to her students.
- human ingenuity
- health and social education
- community service
Paul Solarz, who teaches fifth grade in Illinois, asks his students to consider these categories as they decide what their Genius Hour project will be:
- The Arts
- design/make/build something
- learn new info
- investigate passion
You can also check out this post at our Genius Hour Guidebook website for more possibilities: Keeping Up with Genius Hour: The Student Ideas List.
What types of Genius Hour projects do you like?
Do you help students think of a Genius Hour project idea by giving them possible categories?
We would love to hear what types of projects stand out for you and your class! Please comment and join in the conversation.
Denise Krebs (@mrsdkrebs) and Gallit Zvi (@gallit_z) are co-moderators of the Twitter chat group #geniushour and co-authors of The Genius Hour Guidebook: Fostering Passion, Wonder, and Inquiry in the Classroom. After teaching in American K-8 schools for many years, Denise currently works in Bahrain, teaching English to elementary-aged students in a bilingual Arabic–English school. Gallit is a Faculty Associate in Professional Development Programs at Simon Fraser University as well as a middle grades public school teacher in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. Visit their book website for lots of free resources.