Saturday, April 23, 2016


I've been in love with the idea of Genius Hour/20% Time ever since I heard of it, but up until now didn't quite have the circumstances or comfort to give it a try. My original plan had been to use it at the start of next school year with my seventh and eighth graders, but then I saw this tweet and decided to try it in the last month of school instead!

I recently finished Don Wettrick's Pure Genius and have been researching the vast wealth of educational knowledge that is Twitter to come up with a game plan. Since my students and I have never done this before, I wanted to share the tentative plan and see what those who are more experienced with Genius Hour have to say.

  • Though our last performance isn't until May 20, I'm going to introduce Genius Hour through a video or two posted on Google Classroom in mid-May (I'll do some suspenseful build-up in class before posting the videos). Several awesome people have shared some great resources after I tweeted out a question last week and I've been sifting through videos for a couple of days but haven't made the final call yet. I'm thinking one that gives the basic idea of it and another one for inspiration such as Kid President's Pep Talk or Famous Failures
  • As this is band class, their project must somehow relate back to music. To get them brainstorming ideas, I'm going to have them try Dotstorming to start thinking out loud and commenting on each other's ideas. Again, the link will be posted on Google Classroom.  Padlet could work for this too, but I like that they can directly comment on each other's posts on Dotstorming. I'm hoping that most students will have an idea on the direction they'd like to go by the time performances are done so that they can focus on working through their project when we really start spending our time on this starting May 23. I'm planning to let students work in groups if they want, but no more than three in a group.
  • Students will begin blogging (possibly with Blogger, but waiting to hear on a request to have it opened for my students) about their projects. I'll take the classes to the library to show how to set one up as well as create a Screencast they can use to reference when working on their own. I'll create a Google Sheet with links to their blogs and descriptions of their projects and share on our class social media accounts as well as my personal ones. They'll have to blog weekly at the least, though many will likely decide to use it more than that to share and seek ideas.
  • Through their blogs and reaching out individually, students will seek out mentors. I love this aspect of Genius Hour because it gets them thinking outside our school community and there's SO much I don't know. I want them to get information from those who know their chosen topic best. I'm aiming for students to have mentors by June 1, but that could change depending on how things go.
  • I've got the library's computer lab checked out several days a week from the end of May through the end of the school year to get kids access to the information they need. They will also be encouraged (as they have been all year) to bring personal devices to class.
  • Presentations will be done during our final exam times on June 15 and June 16. I'm tempted though to ban the use of PowerPoint. Is that too constricting though for something like this? There are SO many other ways they can share information (even using Google Slides would be easier if multiple students are working together) and I'd like to get them thinking of more creative ways to share. 
I freely admit that I'm often better with big picture planning than with details (unless I'm rehearsing music) so I'd love to hear what do you think. My 7th grader class has 55 students and my 8th grade class has 48. Can I even pull this off with that many students?  Is there enough practicality in my plan to allow all students to be successful? What else should I be keeping in mind? What experiences have you had? Please share in the comments!

To see how this all turned out, check out the follow up posts:
All They Can Say is 'No'
I Wish EVERY Hour Was #GeniusHour
My #GeniusHour Self Evaluation


  1. I'm no genius-hour expert, but I see a lot of awesome structures and opportunities here, Amy. Bravo to you for giving this a go!

    One bit jumped out to me, about presentations and PowerPoint. I'm hesitant to ban any tool outright, but I can imagine your thinking in this case: dreadful habits or misapplication when it comes to slide design and use. Rather than axe that media, what about stacking the deck more in its favor by including precise menu offerings like pecha kucha- or Ignite-style slideshows? I've tried tossing out other random slide constraints to students, too (e.g., <10 words per slide)

    All the best as you and your students give this a go.

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback! I like your idea of allowing PP, but giving certain guidelines if they choose to use it. That's probably a better way to go than a wholesale ban.

  2. Hi, Amy!
    The fact that you're asking about such large size classes makes me know that you're willing to give this a shot. Just having the right mindset will be helpful! Kudos on only 3 in a group, as well.
    Here are some resources for you...
    Should you get access to Blogger (it comes with your GAFE tools, if you have it at your school), here are Blogger tips I share with my 7th graders:
    I like the spreadsheet idea for kids to look at other kids' projects. Be sure to put their idea on the sheet, too, so others from outside school can help comment on their blogs. I love Blogger, as I can put my students' blogs into Feedly - and I check Feedly once a day to see who posted recently. That way I don't have to click on each student's name every week. Such a time saver!!
    I am not a fan of slides, either, so I showed my students this picture: and then had them brainstorm with each other what might be best for their own project (yes, some seem silly, but it got them thinking). For those that are still doing slides, I have parameters. I would think many of your students will be playing original pieces??

    I'm so excited for you to start this project! I don't think you should worry about the size of the classes. You will have some students who aren't that interested - in ANYthing - at the end of the year. Consider your success rate with other activities you try at the end of the year. Set a goal for yourself for engagement. If you see it slipping below that rate, crank up the importance of learning how to learn for those that aren't progressing like they could. You'll always have a couple, just like you'll always have a couple of adults who aren't engaged in what they're doing, as well.

    Sorry this comment is so long! Enjoy the journey, write your own blog post reflections along with the kids, and learn a TON! ;D

  3. I'm very curious about a couple of things...

    I teach music twice a week... do you teach it every day in a week? I feel if I taught it to the same kids every day it would be a lot easier.

    How much time do you give for presentations? I ask because I generally have 5 classes of each grade with 30 kids each.

    Did you grade the end result in time for it to go on their report cards? Did you put it on their report cards at all?

    Thank you!

    1. Band meets every day for us. We did Genius Hour several days a week but usually it would be done an hour per week or once per day (if you had the same kids all day). Since it was during the end of the school year, there wasn't much else to do and the kids were pretty engaged.

      Students got five minutes for presentations. I figured out how many presentations there would be (groups or individuals) and set aside days so that everyone would get their time.

      If students completed all portions of the project (blog, reach out to mentor, share learning, self evaluate), they all earned an A and it was on their report cards.

      Thanks for reading and please let me know if I can help further!