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.
Other student movies included How to Make a Pull Apart Cake, Junior High Survival Guide, Dr. Cesar: Ridding the World of Wrong Videos, Making a Dihedral Angle on a Balsa Wood Glider.
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.
Don’t forget the more introverted student who may just love to silent read or to play a game of chess or Scrabble with a classmate, or a chance to write poetry or a story.
I am an introvert, and my teacher is going to do genius hour with us. I want to write a book or make an art portfolio. The quiet people have the loudest minds!
Yes! I agree. I love that, “the quiet people have the loudest minds.” You go! And have a great #geniushour experience!
Yes, thank you, Mary, for remembering the shy ones. I had one student one year who continued novel writing most of the year, long past our November novel writing month. She loved the freedom of writing.
How do you handle those who want to silent read? Joy Kirr tells her students to do read, be inspired and act.
I think genius hour is a time to be creative and productive, not a time to consume only, so I would ask the game players to take their game a step further, maybe create a new twist on their favorite game. They could teach the revised rules to others in a blog post, perhaps.
What do you think?
Thanks again for stopping by,
Yes, I like your idea of teaching the rules to others. Scrabble is a perfect way to teach vocabulary and since you teach in a bilingual school, allowing words in both languages. One school I know of taught chess at every grade level.
This is great! I’ve just started something like this with my grade 5&6 class. I have 3 areas for self directed learning at the moment – art studio, science tech lab and writers’ notebook. I may add others over the year but needed to start with something vaguely manageable. As for the process in writers’ notebook, we brainstorm some “seeds” which may come from different stimuli, organised or I cidntal which may be part of one of these self paced areas. My challenge at the moment is accountability and getting enough resources for the tech lab! In art I teach a few techniques and encourage these to be incorporated into their proposals when they plan their tasks. Early days yet but I’m hoping.
I am a doctoral student from Brisbane, Australia and I LOVE Genius Hour. I am planning to integrate Genius Hour into my Early Years research. Currently, I am having trouble finding research based around Genius Hour for my Literature Review…..do you know of any??? Thank you.
I am not aware of any peer-reviewed research on Genius Hour. The only literature I know of are books/blogs/articles about Genius Hour (books like our The Genius Hour Guidebook, etc). But I am assuming you are looking for things like journal articles, and I don’t know of any of those…but I will let you know if I ever see any.
Thanks for getting in touch,
Deb – It would be challenging to research “Genius Hour” in isolation since it’s a grassroots movement without a lot of rules about “how to do it.” What might make sense would be to research generally accepted GH practices (the Zvi/Krebs book would be a source, we think) and compare those practices to current research on student engagement, motivation, and related aspects of learning. One resource might be the 2015 Carnegie Foundation report “Motivation Matters: How New Research Can Help Teachers Boost Student Engagement.” Here’s a summary. And you can download the complete PDF of the report here.
By the way, prolific author and practicing classroom teacher Larry Ferlazzo keeps up with new research on effective teaching as well as anyone we know. Check out this page at his website as a starting point for all the resources he gathers.
I just did my masters capstone project on Genius Hour. I used articles on design thinking, engineering habits of mind, self organized learning environments from TED award winner Dr. Sugata Mitra. If you’re interested contact me.
Wow this is interesting
I’m going to be doing Genius Hour in the context of my 8th grade World Cultures class. Early on in the semester we learn about the seven elements of culture (language, religion, arts and literature, customs and traditions, etc.) Students will then choose one of those areas in which to focus their project. E.g. my fashion-conscious student might look into the fashions of one country/region, my future architect student might be curious about the structure and materials of homes in a certain country/region.
This sounds awesome! I hope you will encourage your eighth graders to share their products and learning with the world. Use the #geniushour hashtag to share.
Wow! I am so impressed and look forward to implementing this into my classroom.
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you will be able to implement Genius Hour soon. The second half of the year is a good time to try it out. Check out the #geniushour chat the first Thursday of each month (9 pm ET). There is a tribe of people to meet who are doing Genius Hour.
This was very helpful to helping me find my genius hour topic
This is such a great idea Denise. Genius Hour, what a fabulous name. Fun fun fun. I’m a home school mom, my kids, Bobby and Jefferson, would love this.
Cheers, Susan Footwinkle
Have fun with genius hour with your kids! Bobby and Jefferson will have a great time, and I’m sure they will teach you a few things too, Susan! All the best in your home schooling efforts! That must be a rewarding challenge.
I am so excited to begin this great adventure with my fifth graders. I would love to show them some of the cool ideas that other students have done, but I am afraid that it will inhibit my students’ creativity; that they will want to mimic the passions of others. Any suggestions?
Missy, sorry I missed this earlier. I think you’ll be surprised to see that most students will have their own ideas after looking at others’ projects. You will have a few who get an idea from something they see, but it may be a slightly new iteration based on their own passions. I think the first round, samples are good. After that, they will probably be full of ideas for the next round.
I’m supposed to do a genius hour project though, I can’t seem to have any ideas. Sure, there are lots of ideas out there, but none of them seem to interest me in ANY way. What I wanted to do was a project on cats or dogs. But there aren’t any project ideas similar to my standards. I was wondering if you could give me pointers, and maybe possible ideas for genius hour projects on cats.
P. S: I am in grade 7!
Cats and dogs sound like a good topic and one you must be passionate about. I wonder if you could share your standards with us. That might help us to help you focus an inquiry question. Anyway, just off hand I have some wonders about dogs and cats…What led to dogs and cats being the most popular domesticated pets? (A history geniushour) What are the physical / DNA differences between dogs and cats, and their wild counterparts? (a science inquiry) or something like How can I help other petless dog and cat lovers be able to have their own pet? This one is a Golden Rule kind of Geniushour, “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. ” (Buechner) It could lead you to some happy endings!
Anyway, all the best. Let us know if you want to share the specific standard you need to be working on and I could try to help you tweak your question.
Hello. My son is in grade 5 and will be beginning a genius hour project. He is stuck on what to focus on. He loves basketball, sports cars and video games. His assignment is he must have a question, do research to learn about his question, present his findings in some format ( power point, build something, ..) Do you have any suggestions on a initial question to focus his work. He is very keen on video games but I’m not sure how he could turn that into a final project.