Shrewsbury EdTech

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Step-by-Step Guide For Introducing Genius Hour

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This is the first in a series of blog posts that will chronicle my team’s attempt at piloting Genius Hour with our students. I’m hoping it will give some guidance to teachers who are considering a test run as well. Remember though, no one is expected to implement any type of “Genius Hour” project this year. If nothing else, you will be able to learn from our successes and failures next year. I’m assuming there will be plenty of both!

Instead of calling it “Genius Hour”, we decided to go with “Passion Projects”. (Same idea, different name.) I felt it was a more accurate name because 1) we are not giving them one hour each week to work on projects and 2) we’re not expecting them to all be geniuses. That’s a pretty high bar to reach. Instead, we’re simply encouraging them to “follow their passions”.

**Special thanks to Emily Bredberg at Shrewsbury High School for sharing all of her Genius Hour resources with us!!**

Here is a step-by-step guide for how kicked off Passion Projects with our students. All of the resources mentioned below can be viewed here in Google Drive.

Step 1: Watch Dan Pink’s Ted Talk on the puzzle of motivation

The big takeaway from this video is that extrinsic motivation limits creativity and critical thinking. School does not foster these skills because student performance is often tied to extrinsic motivators (parents, grades, course placement, etc.) Very rarely to do students want to learn for the sake of learning.

Step 2: Passion Project Brainstorming Survey

All students completed this Google form that asked them to reflect on what they were most interested in learning. These word clouds reflect the most popular answers.

What would you like to LEARN?

want to learn

What would you like to MAKE?

like to make

Step 3: Project Kickoff Presentation

Here is the Google Presentation we shared with students on the first official first day. It explains our expectations as well as different phases to the project, which I will explain further below.

Step 4: Develop Action Plans

Students are currently in different places in developing their action plans for their passion project. Some are still zeroing in on a topic they’re passionate about while others are nearly done planning. In the next blog post, you will find out how well these action plans helped students develop their projects!

Key elements in the Passion Project Action Plan include: 

  1. Topic
  2. Open-ended question
  3. Physical resources needed – Students must list what they will provide and what they hope for the school to provide.
  4. Digital resources – These are further divided into iPad apps and everything else (websites, blogs, wikis, YouTube videos, etc.)
  5. Game Plan – It’s important for students to have an idea what learning will look like for them. They must write down the steps they will take toward completing their project.
  6. Final product
  7. How final product will be shared with others

A few reflections at this point…

  1. Most students seem pretty excited about this project. We are realistic and know not every student will be able to identify a passion or even think of a topic they really want to learn more about. For these students, we plan on copying 7 Green’s wonderful idea to use the DIY website. Students will earn “badges” as they successfully complete various tasks.
  2. There’s an app for that! I encouraged all students to spend at least 20 minutes browsing the app store for free apps that are relevant to their projects. They have been able to find apps for everything from coding to fashion design to photography.
  3. Research is an important component of Passion Projects. Many students want to learn just enough about the apps and programs they have found so they can make something. We are encouraging them to become “experts” with these applications. If they use Explain Everything, for example, they should take the time to learn everything they can about this app. If they want to learn about photography, they should learn the advanced camera features.
  4. Resources are limited. A lot of students are interested in learning computer programming. This is best done on real computers. Others want to learn photography. They have asked for access to photo editing programs like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. They would also benefit from computers, but our school computers don’t have these programs. If we’re serious about moving forward with school-wide Genius Hour projects next year, it would be great if we could get site licenses for some of these creative programs.
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Author: Mr. Mularella

Middle school science teacher/world traveler

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