What are the benefits of taking Genius Hour school-wide?

It’s a movement, not a moment

taking Genius Hour school-wideEvery teacher should consider making time for Genius Hour (sometimes called 20% time or Passion Projects). We know that when students are given the opportunity to explore their own topics, they gain skills in self-direction.

But I’ve come to believe that the ideal Genius Hour involves as much of the school as possible. Here’s what it could look like.

taking Genius Hour school-wide

The Brainado student leadership team planned and facilitated launch day.

1. A wider audience for student excitement

When launching a schoolwide Genius Hour last year, teachers at Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, Vermont, asked students to help them name it. Student leaders came up with the Brainado moniker and launched themselves into marketing the concept to the rest of the school.

They created posters and flyers to hang around the building as well as a green-screened mock newscast, warning students of Brainado’s arrival.

After two years, Brainado is a strong “brand” among the school community that evokes student-centered environments, open-ended projects, and personalized learning.

Student art about Brainado.

A Brainado advertisement for year two developed by 7th grader Merry Smith, a member of the Brainado student leadership team.

Sky View Middle School in Leominster, Massachusetts launched their own school-wide Genius Hour after hearing about Brainado at a conference. They used many of the materials created for Brainado but came up with their own brand to personalize it for Sky View students.

Snapshot of a web page announcing the VIEWPoint project.

Sky View Middle School in Leominster, Massachusetts launched a schoolwide Genius Hour this year.

Branding gives a complex entity or process an accessible identity. Genius Hour can feel like an amorphous undertaking, but this branding approach supports the establishment of a coherent vision.

2. Increased momentum

There’s something special about a school-wide undertaking.

Start a conversation about the project in a school-wide assembly or better yet, a special project-specific event. This way students can share their stories, lead chants or craft commemorative videos to get everyone amped up. As the momentum grows, a buzz builds that would be impossible to replicate in a single classroom.

Crossett Brook scheduled Brainado’s launch day for a full month before work sessions would begin. The entire school gathered for student presentations that emphasized key features of Brainado such as risk-taking, finding your passion, and working with mentors.

The assembly ended with a highlight reel, showcasing the previous year’s projects. As the music swelled to a crescendo, students began chanting along. When was the last time your project launch earned school-wide cheering?

 

3. Expanded resource bank

When a school brings all of its staff and resources to bear on supporting student-directed projects, the possibilities are endless.

During Brainado, a paraprofessional taught two students how to whittle and provided a dehydrator for another student to create backpacking meals. The Director of Food services helped a student build a scale model of an earth ship house. A mechanic opened his shop to several students.

benefits of taking Genius Hour school-wide

The Director of Food Services, who has lives in an earth ship house that she built, helped a student create a model of an earth ship for her Brainado.

Students can connect in ways that aren’t possible in a single classroom, either.

For example, another Brainado at Crossett Brook involved students from different teams working together to plan a free soccer clinic. And they consulted with students from a third team who’d hosted a basketball clinic the year before.

Picture of kids playing soccer.

This Brainado soccer clinic was made possible by students working across grade levels and teams.

 

4. Logistics

The helpful efficiencies of scale

Carving out sacred time and getting all hands on deck to support projects is great for students. Although the logistics can be a bit complicated for the adults, there are helpful efficiencies of scale as well.

  • Looking for a particular type of expertise? Check the master list of staff and mentor interests.
  • Missing some type of material? Put out the call to staff and students during morning announcements.
  • Need specialized equipment or space? Contact the P.E., art, or tech ed teacher.

During Brainado sessions, students worked with their advisors to sign up for workshops, consults, and spaces. This ensured no teachers or areas were overwhelmed, and helped everyone keep track of student whereabouts.

 

benefits of taking Genius Hour school-wide

Organizers split each Brainado work session into two halves and students signed up for workshops, consults, and space.

5. Greater opportunities for outreach

A school-wide approach builds community: inside the building and out.

Communications with parents and the external community can be streamlined and amped up when the entire school is working on one big initiative.

The Sky View Middle School principal sent a letter to parents about VIEWPoint before the start of the school year. The school maintains a web page to provide updates and keep the public looped in.

benefits of taking Genius Hour school-wide

 

A school-wide approach also builds community within the school. It sends a clear message that personalized learning is part of the fabric of the school. It enables students to follow their ideas to fruition with full support wherever they are in the building or in their day.

If your school and family community believes in student-directed learning, a school-wide Genius Hour is a great way to reinforce your values and co-create a touchstone experience.

What will your school’s Genius Hour look like?

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Life LeGeros

Life has worked in various roles in K-12 education, including classroom teacher, assistant principal, math department head, state agency administrator, and school board teacher representative. His dissertation focused on the impact of math teachers' knowledge on the growth of their students. He believes in teacher leadership, student empowerment, and challenging the status quo. He loves being immersed in tech-rich and outdoor environments, though not simultaneously. Find him on Twitter @lifelegeros.

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