Student Empowerment and the Genius Hour

It is no secret that Google is the harbinger of workplace culture expectations.  The tech titan is known for implementing policies that empower its employees — and companies across the country (and the world) are eager to follow suit.

But what if I told you that Google’s policies are now being implemented in the classroom to empower students too?

As this helpful and brief informational video explains, one of Google’s most famous workplace policies includes allowing its developers to spend 20% of their time to work on any project they’re passionate about — regardless of its applicability to their everyday work tasks.

This principle is now being applied to the classroom in what educators call the Genius Hour:

“The same genius hour principles apply in the classroom as they do in the corporate environment.  The teacher provides a set amount of time for the students to work on their passion projects.  Students are then challenged to explore something to do a project over that they want to learn about.  They spend several weeks researching the topic before they start creating a product that will be shared with the class/school/world.  Deadlines are limited and creativity is encouraged.  Throughout the process the teacher facilitates the student projects to ensure that they are on task.”

-Chris Kesler, “What is Genius Hour?

Chris Kesler, former middle school science teacher and current educational blogger, outlines his top ten reasons that Genius Hour should be a part of every teacher’s classroom plans:

  1. [Teachers/students] will join a great community of learners.
  2. [Teachers] will allow students to go into depth with a topic that inspires them.
  3. There is so much positive peer pressure.
  4. It relieves students of the “game of school.”
  5. It’s fun!
  6. Your class will be covering all types of common core standards.
  7. It’s differentiation at its best.
  8. You learn by what you do, not by what you hear.
  9. It is a perfect way to model life-long learning.
  10. Your students will never forget what it felt like to create.

Gallit Zvi, a Canadian elementary school teacher, has written about the Genius Hour and how she has implemented it in the classroom classroom in her blog.  According to her blog post, the Genius Hour allows students to develop their “own inquiry question about whatever they want to explore.”  She gives students three one-hour Genius Hour sessions over the course of the week and expect them to present their learning to the class.

Zvi also explains the impact that the Genius Hour has made in the lives of her students in her post.  She describes it as an “amazing time” and shares the wide variety of passions her students explore during these very important hours:

“Some students are huddled around a laptop doing research on countries they are interested in, others are creating websites, PowerPoints and slideshows on an area of interest, and some are out in the hallway filming movies.  Some aren’t using technology at all, but rather are building and creating things with their hands. But no matter what they are working on, the common thread is that it is something they are interested in and/or passionate about.”

This “common thread” is what intrigues me the most about the Genius Hour: students have the freedom to drive their own learning about a topic and are empowered through that freedom.  Students’ passions vary greatly, so the Genius Hour allows everyone to use their time and energy in the classroom towards exploring them in an encouraging and collaborative environment.

So, what are your thoughts on the Genius Hour?  Should more teachers implement this policy into their classrooms?

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One Response to Student Empowerment and the Genius Hour

  1. madisongoers1 says:

    Katelyn, this is a very interesting topic. I’ve actually come across this policy when researching for past blog posts and it appears to be extremely motivating and empowering the employees of Google. By scheduling in time for employees (and potentially students) to work on something they are passionate about, supervisors and educators are encouraging creativity, fueling one’s passion to learn about something they care about, and preparing one to pursue future dreams. I really like the idea of this completely unstructured time during the school day where students are allowed to take a break and work on something they may actually care about, in contrast to the curriculum in cases. I would agree that this does give students the freedom to learn and encourages them to take initiative for their education. Being that there has to be a degree of structure if implemented in schools, I wonder how much structure would be too confining to a student? Should there be standards, requirements, deadlines to meet, or grades? Or would these take away from the initial purpose of this time? Thanks for sharing! I’d love to hear any additional thoughts.


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