What is truly genius? Overcoming Genius Hour Hurdles


For the past two and a half years genius hour has been 20% of class time each week. Every Friday is genius hour. Monday through Thursday I might be teaching and focusing on supporting my students as reader, writers, and critical thinkers; Friday is for students to pursue their own passions and interests. Genius hour allows for students to take ownership of the classroom and their own learning.

After the first year of introducing genius hour into my classroom and being inundated with baking and cooking projects, the following year I required students’ projects to be about something they cared about and at the same time take on some aspect of social responsibility. Students created blogs, researched, and initiated projects that addressed issues they cared about from health, environmental concerns, animal and human rights. All of the projects that my students created were inspiring and supported a culture of caring on a community level.

This year, I introduced genius hour with the same requirements and told my students their projects should fit under one of the following categories.

MasterPractice some skill. It takes 10,000 hours to get to mastery.

CreateUse your imagination to create something.

LearnGain knowledge about something that interests you or learn something new.

InnovateSolve a problem. Create a solution.

Produce – Make something.

Serve – Do any of the above for someone else.

But this year, these community-involved citizens have turned up short and my students ideas are so focused on the “positive benefit to the community” that they lack passion and genius. More than two dozen of my students have wanted to create a school wide drive for collecting pet supplies, used sports equipment, food, school supplies, blankets and coats. It is not clear to me whether these collections are driven by passion or are just to fulfill the requirements of another school project. In fact, when two students went to ask my school principal to hold a coat drive, her response was “Does a coat drive warrant true genius?” She later pulled me into her office for a conversation on whether I was spending too much time on genius hour and do I tell my students their “passion project” lacks “genius.” My response was, “No” and “No.”

I have been reflecting on these musings for two weeks now. After two students presented their semester genius hour reflection on how they collected clothes for the salvation army, I thought “Where had I gone wrong with genius hour this year?” My intentions was inquiry based learning that nurture students social awareness and social responsibility. The result was boxes of supplies to those in need. But it is clear to me that many of these projects showed their ability to help the community but did lack true genius.

I am in a state of reflection and revision. I am rethinking the requirements and going to have my students design a rubric in which to evaluate the genius process and product to help us engage in a critical conversation on passion and genius.





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6 thoughts on “What is truly genius? Overcoming Genius Hour Hurdles

  1. Joy Kirr says:

    Ah. I haven’t quite been in this situation yet, because I just can’t ask my students to “take on some aspect of social responsibility.” Seventh grade is a tricky age – some would be mature enough to know how to do this and include their genius in the process. Others… not so much. I try to bring it up when a student is in the middle or close to the end of his/her project, but I leave it pretty wide open at the beginning. Others may think our GH is a waste for some kids. One is taking apart a computer to learn about it. One is building a robot from a kit. Three girls are learning how to take stop-motion videos. The projects run the gamut, and yet are not related to social responsibility. Is that okay? I feel that, for 7th graders, yes. It is the ONLY time during the school week that they have choice in what they learn. I’m okay with starting there and encouraging it elsewhere in their school day. Thank you for sharing this struggle. It is real. Keep on trucking! I love your six categories, and will probably steal them. 😉

    • I value your feedback, Joy and thank you for your input. As the new semester has started I am taking the community service aspect of Genius Hour off the table and I will continue to write and reflect on the experience along the way.

  2. Gallit Zvi says:

    Hi Michele,

    Thank you for sharing your Genius Hour experiences…I love reading about how GH is going in other people’s classrooms. After reading this, I am a bit stumped though…what is wrong with setting up a clothing drive as a Genius Hour project? If using our ‘genius’ is creating new things that weren’t there before, then shouldn’t creating a drive and providing clothing for folks in need count?

    Is it because that is all they did all term long? Couldn’t this be a project that lasts for a few weeks and then the kids could start their next one? Or…how does it go at your school?


    • Gallit,I have been pondering these thoughts all semester long and it wasn’t until my principal told the students that a coat drive lacked genius that I decided to publicize my frustrations with her response and their project. I think the other part of the issue that I did not communicate in my blog post is that if this was a 15 week project and 90% was to be done in class, when they presented the project and shared that they donated 55 items of clothing to the Salvation Army, I wonder what were they doing in class all those week? What did I miss when I checked in with them on the status of their projects?
      I feel as if I confined my students genius hour projects by telling them it had to help the community in some way and I have taken this requirement off the table moving into the spring semester.
      The idea of doing a shorter project is something that I will do next year and have a mini month long genius project for students to get their feet wet before they conquer something larger or for a longer period of time. I do not want to ever tell a student that they cannot do something because it is “not genius” (Although I did tell a student he could not go door to door in his neighborhood asking for food items to be donated for safety purposes.) As the teacher, I am here to encourage, inspire, facilitate, and support their passions and genius. Thank you for your feedback.

  3. evanworth says:

    Thanks for writing this post! I have a number of students who have gone this route. I think you made the right decision by restricting the topics, because some students that I have need some guidance in that department. We had a similar issue with students wanting to do clothing drives, and anti bullying campaigns and were constantly petitioning the principal. These are not bad things, but we had a dozen or so projects that wanted to do something like this.
    I gently prodded students to pick other topics or outcomes related to their topics, weeks went by and I think I’ve come to a point where some of these projects need to be rebooted. I wish I could post and say that I figured this out, but I havent. Just wanted to post and say that this happens and I think like Joy said, your categories are terrific!

  4. […] I have shared my ever evolving experience with Passion Projects and Genius Hour in my own classroom. To read more about my own experiences with Genius Hour these past four years click here and here and here.  […]

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