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Genius Hour - Where Passions Come Alive

Getting Started with Genius Hour – A Free Webinar

The Genius Hour Journal

Want to start Genius Hour in your classroom but not sure where and how to begin? Already started Genius Hour and need a bit more guidance?

Join us for a FREE Webinar about Genius Hour. You can sign up here:

Getting Started with Genius Hour Webinar

And even if you can’t make the live webinar, we’ll be able to send you the replay.


FREE Course: The Complete Guide to Genius Hour and 20% Time in the Classroom

It’s been almost a full three years since I told my students they would have 20% of their class time to work on whatever project they were inspired to create. Since then I’ve learned so much from my students and our amazing community of 20% time and Genius Hour teachers. I have tried to share this journey, the ups and downs, through blog posts, video interviews, a 20% time MOOC, and most recently my book, Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom.

Now, as I begin moving forward into other projects and seasons of new work, I want to make sure that any teacher looking to start 20% time or Genius Hour with their students have a completely FREE resource they can dig into and get the nuts and bolts of how to make it happen.

The Course: The Complete Guide to 20% Time (and Genius Hour) in the Classroom

When you sign up for this free email course you’ll receive the following:

  • 4 learning modules
  • Video interviews and examples
  • Research and resources to support this work
  • Parent letters, rubrics, and timelines to help the process

Sign-Up For the Free Course Here

You’ll receive the entire course over the period of 7 days. Each Learning Module will be sent directly to your email inbox. 

Module 1: Why 20% Time?

  • 3 Videos on the need for 20% time and Genius Hour
  • 4 articles on the research behind inquiry-based learning
  • A guide to explaining 20% time and Genius Hour to teachers and parents

Module 2: How to Get Started

  • 2 Videos on the step-by-step process for starting the project
  • 5 articles on how to begin and move your class forward
  • 3 resources and handouts for your class

Module 3: Navigating the Project’s Ups and Downs

  • 3 Videos on Motivation and Facilitating Successful Projects
  • 3 Articles on passion, purpose, and what to do when Genius Hour Fails…
  • 3 Resources on conducting research, the CRAAP test, and giving feedback

Module 4: Final Presentations, Grading, and Reflections

  • 3 Videos on final presentation possibilities and assessing these projects
  • 2 Articles on reflections at the end of the project
  • 3 Resources for continuing the learning and grading

A few summers ago we had an awesome group of educators come together for the 20% Time MOOC. It was a summer filled with learning all about “why” we need this type of learning in our schools, “how” to get started with your class, and “what” to do during the project and after the project. The MOOC taught me a lot and brought our community together in some amazing ways. Afterwards a number of teachers asked if we could have something that was specific about 20% Time and Genius Hour. That’s when I began writing my book on the subject. I believe this course will be an awesome resource for any teacher interested in getting started or learning more. I also hope it is a resource we can point to time and time again as a step-by-step way to implement 20% Time and Genius Hour in the classroom. Check out the course for free when you sign-up for my newsletter to get even more innovative resources for the classroom.

Sign-Up For the Free Course Here 


Time Window designed by iconsmind.com from the Noun Project

Genius Hour Projects: Start with a Feasibility Study

One of the most common questions I get with a Genius Hour/ 20% Time project is: “Where do you start? While I could go into brainstorming ideas, collecting and connecting methods, or even proposal guidelines, I want to start off with a story to illustrate what a “feasibility study” is and why it may save you time and your sanity.

Two years ago I had a student in my innovation class that loved sports. She was a gifted athlete that was offered several different scholarship opportunities for volleyball. However her brother had Down Syndrome, and she felt that his opportunities to play sports were limited. So after some brainstorming (and watching a “Real Sports” episode on HBO about the Miracle League) she proposed to start a baseball/softball league for special needs athletes.

She did all the things each student was required to do- find collaborators/ mentors to help her, draft up a proposal, create a calendar of accomplishable goals, etc. The proposal looked great because the mentors were top-notch, and her goals seemed in line with her task. Nothing seemed out of place… until she got started.

Three months of somber meetings and survey’s led to more reasons why starting this “league” was nearly impossible for one student to accomplish. She had no idea about the “red tape” that is associated in starting non-profits. She knew nothing of liability insurance, finding board members, or seeking out volunteers.

So, after months of dead ends, and feeling totally defeated, she figured that maybe she should just host one game, then talk with the parents, and see if it was worth pursuing.

In the end, she learned that the parents really didn’t want to volunteer, mostly because they wanted to be a spectator for once. They were, in general, tired and wanted the joy of watching their child play rather than work an event. She also learned that getting past the “legal stuff” was an enormous task.

In her reflection that she turned into me she mentioned that it would have been better if she had asked more questions in the beginning. This led me toward “The Feasibility Study,” which according to Wikipedia is: “an evaluation and analysis of the potential of a proposed project which is based on extensive investigation and research to support the process of decision making.” 

So, had she done this at the beginning of the project, she would have saved weeks, if not months. This would have been a one week study of talking to the parents, mentors, and school administrators to discuss the odds of this project ever getting off the ground.  When she started off she never asked her mentors about the obstacles that were going to creep up. Had they been asked “what am I really up against?” the mentors probably would’ve been honest. Instead they probably didn’t want to crush the her spirit, so they just brought up the obstacles in smaller bits.

I read “Think Like a Freak,” by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, and they wrote about something similar- the Premortem.  Most people know about a “postmortem examination,” (also know as the autopsy) which is a look at why something died, or failed to survive. But here is how Stephen Dubner explains the premortem:

“The idea is simple… it tries to find out what might go wrong before it’s too late. You gather up everyone connected with a project and have them imagine that it launched and failed miserably. Now each write own the exact reasons for its failure.”

 Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brainimages-2

So learning from the past (and from the good guy at Freakonomics), I now start every large project with a “Premortem,” usually in a group setting. We place post-it notes to the wall for every conceivable idea on why any large project will fail. Then the smaller groups take the proposal to the mentors, but instead of asking them to help, they ask them for candor. “Can this work?” or “Can you come up with three reasons why I shouldn’t start this project” are now common questions for the mentors.

So I admit a feasibility study might “scare the creativity out of them” or cause “analysis paralysis,” I believe it is worth the time and effort to do a feasibility study. Believe is or not, knowing when to quit is a valuable skill. We just took a field trip to the Silicon Valley area this fall and heard this from several developers at Google, Facebook, and Voxer when we visited their headquarters. In fact the smaller start-up Invoice2Go CEO told us that trial and error learning happens fast. Trying to stick with an idea that is bound to fail is pointless. Basically what my students heard was: “Fail fast and fail often. Get the data, then get it right.”

“Fail early and often” at Invoice2Go

Learning from the development team at Facebook

Learning from the development team at Facebook

Learning about workspaces at Google

Learning about workspaces at Google

Earlier this year I had a group that wanted to start an ASL (American Sign Language) class. They felt that our school should offer ASL class in the foreign language department, and there was a need/ demand for the class. They wrote up a proposal, found two good mentors, and had reasonable goals. What they didn’t realize is that they have NO say over the school budget. They never thought about who was going to hire a teacher for a class that didn’t exist yet. After one day of the feasibility study (they met with the Principal), the team learned that they had to demonstrate demand. They hadn’t thought about the potential of “replacing” a teacher that taught a less popular class, let alone the money it would take to hire a new teacher. Then they learned about the curriculum costs, scheduling tasks, etc.

So after the study they took all the data and re-focused their project: start an ASL CLUB. A club could be student-led, would be virtually free to offer, and most importantly, would show a demand in student interest if they would want to still pursue it as a class offering.

I wrote a book titled “Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Collaboration and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level” because these types of learning experiences has changed the way I feel about education. I am more inspired by my students everyday by providing them some freedom and creating a culture that encourages collaboration and a willingness to take risks. I also wanted to ease the fears of students embracing social media as a means of showcasing work and finding great mentors.

Pure Genius

If you have any questions about our unique class, or want to learn more about Genius Hour, I encourage you to connect with me, or other great educational leaders like Joy Kirr, A.J. Juliani, and Chris Kesler (among many others). The movement is taking shape, and these connected educators are always willing to help! If you do a Twitter search for #GeniusHour or #20Time you will come across some great resources. Or is you would like, feel free to email me at: dwettrick@gmail.com.

“Opportunities Are Everywhere”

-Don Wettrick


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Genius Hour Blog – We’re Learning to Research

Genius Hour Research Week #1

This week for genius hour the students are starting to research their ideas. It couldn’t have come at a better time because this week our department received a cart of 30 Chromebooks. The students were thrilled to be able to research their projects from their own desks instead of having to go to the computer lab.

Each week I’m going to throw out some tips that the students can use that will help them with their projects along the way. I’m calling them ‘pro tips’.

Genius Hour Pro Tip #1

This week I showed students how to use a Google Doc as a dumping ground for their research. I showed them how to copy and paste information from the web as well as how to copy URL’s and pictures for later use. I also explained to them that it was OK to copy information for our own research processes, but that when they create their own projects the verbiage needs to be either cited or in their own words.

Most of students did a good job getting started. I did have a few that messed around a little more than they should have and one of them I had to even shut down and given an alternative assignment to. The class was really focused after that. I hated to have to remove someone from the project this early.  I felt like I needed to set the expectations now that just because we are doing something fun that it isn’t a time to play around.  That student will be back with the group next week.

At the end of the class period I took a very unstructured poll about how much time the students felt like they needed for research. The majority said that a total of 3-4 weeks would be sufficient time to get the data that they need to begin the creation phase of their projects.

I’ve posted a few pictures of students working on their projects. I’m still not 100% sure about posting students pictures from our school online, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. I’ve made a note to myself  to figure out our districts digital policy as it relates to students.  There’s a lot of gray area and I want to be sure that I’m not crossing into any zone that I shouldn’t be.

Researching how technology effects the human body

Researching how technology effects the human body

Researching how to make hair bows

Researching how to make hair bows

Two 6th graders developing a website on web coding.

Two 6th graders developing a website on web coding.

Approching Your Administration about Genius Hour

school board

Propose Your Genius Hour Idea

Once you have decided to move forward with a genius hour project, you’re going to need to get approval from your administration. Don’t assume that your proposal for genius hour without asking that your administration would never approve a project like this. You will need to be prepared with a list of benefits and how genius hour will positively impact students.

1. No loss of class instruction – You will need to explain right out of the gate that there will be no loss of class time by implementing a genius hour at your campus. This will undoubtedly be a principal’s first reservation about the project. I wrote a post about how to make time for genius hour. The argument can be made that by having a laser-like focus on each minute of in class instruction, that your teaching will actually improve during curriculum time.

2. Creating LIfe-long learners – The goal of genius hour is to create a love for learning. By allowing the students to learn about whatever they want, it helps them to understand that school is not just a place where they have to come and memorize facts about curriculum that they will never use in their real lives. Encouraging students to further develop their passions may even unlock a future career path. Most schools today funnel students down a standardized path of suckiness. I stole that general idea from Dave Burgess of Teach Like a Pirate fame, but it’s totally true.  Genius hour is like giving students a magical key that opens up a door to a world that has never been seen before.

3. Develop relationships with students – One of the most important factors in becoming an effective teacher is to be able to develop a personal relationship with our students. When my students feel safe and fully trust me as a teacher they will follow me to the ends of the Earth. Students love genius hour projects. I am able take time to develop relationships during genius hour time that I simply don’t have the time to cultivate during the regular work week. I have seen students raise their standards of performance during my normal curriculum time because of the relationships that I have built with them during our genius hour time.

4. Teaching 21st century skills – Common core and state standards include technology integration as a skill that students should learn and possess. Although technology is not required for genius hour, I have found that many students choose to create their final projects with technology that is not taught in the classroom. They are almost all using technology to research their project as well. Genius hour is a huge opportunity to introduce new technology skills to the students. The students also teach me technology that I may not know about during this time also. It’s a win-win for both of us.

The key to a successful genius hour proposal is to be prepared with all of the positive outcomes from a genius hour project.


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Making Time for Genius Hour in the Classroom

Planning a Genius Hour

One thing that you probably thought about when you first heard of genius hour is that you don’t have time to do something like that in your classroom. I’m here to tell you that simply isn’t true. It’s human nature to challenge a new idea when it first enters your ears. We can’t help ourselves but try to poke holes in why something can’t be done.  The path of least resistance is often the easiest route to take, because we don’t have to take any action.

For example, I told my wife once that I wanted to build some lounge chairs for our back patio. She laughed at me and exclaimed, “You’ve never built anything in your life, why do you think that you can do this!?” Her point was solid. I hadn’t ever built anything before, and my track record for starting and stopping projects before they are completed is abysmal. However, she underestimated my drive to take on a new challenge, and I certainly wasn’t going to pay retail price for a new patio furniture set. It wasn’t easy but I did complete the project. The benefit to my family is that we are now able to utilize our backyard in a new way.  It outweighed the pain of building the set of furniture myself.

In order to create a successful genius hour in your classroom you are going to have to modify the way that you are currently spending your time. This isn’t as difficult a process as you may think that it is.

My genius hour classroom is setup to where if the students have mastered the content on Monday through Thursday then I will allow them to spend all period on Friday working on their genius hour projects. This means that I have to be much more efficient in how I run my class Monday through Thursday.

I’m going to lay 3 strategies that I use to make time for genius hour in the classroom.

Turn your lessons into blended lessons – In many classroom the teacher talks at the front of the class for the entire period while the students take notes about that particular lesson. Although there may be some good interaction between the teacher and students, I can almost guarantee that there is at least 5-15 minutes of wasted time due to disruptions in the class, and waiting for students to catch up with their notes.

What I have had a lot of success with in my class is to video the heart of my lesson and show it at the beginning of class. I have been able to compact a 40 minute lesson into a video that is under 10 minutes. During the video, the students take notes on a graphic organizer that I have prepared for them. I used to believe that it was important that a student write down everything that I said, but I have come to realize that understanding the content is king.  It is more valuable that a student have notes that they can reflect on that are actually legible.  During the remainder of my class I’m able to allow students to work on projects that let them to practice and dig deeper into the content that they just learned.

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I have lectured far less this year than previous years, yet student scores and understanding has greatly improved. Another benefit to the videos is that the student can go back and watch them whenever they want. You know that kid that is always absent from class? Yeah, he’s covered now.

I call this model the blended classroom and it has allowed me to free up enough time to have a genius hour every Friday, yet still keep up with my scope and sequence.

Modify your behavior plan – No one wants to admit that behavior may be a problem in their class, but it is likely that you are losing at least some time during the week because students are off task. I have started using a free behavior manage software called Class Dojo this year. This allows me to redirect students with a click of a button, rather than have to waste to time by stopping the class and speaking directly with the problem student(s). Students earn points each week that can be used for small rewards like candy or choosing their own seat the following week. Is my class free from discipline issues? No. Have the discipline issues subsided drastically? Yes. I’ve gotten to the point where I allow student to police each other. One of my rewards for earning the highest points is that you get to work the laptop that gives/take points away in Class Dojo. The students absolutely love that and it frees me from a menial task.  I once heard someone tell me to never do something that a student can do for you.  It’s so true.

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 Teach with a sense of urgency – I heard this technique from another teacher friend that visited the Ron Clark Academy. He says that the teachers teach to the highest students in the class rather than the lower students. At first, this idea may sound crazy, but in my experience it absolutely works. Create a sense of urgency and let the students know that you are moving and shaking. Tell them, “I see that Michael is done, we’re moving on.” It only takes a few times before you notice the entire class has picked up the pace to keep up with you…and Michael. You can easily save a few minutes each class period this way.

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I’m sure that there are others that might suggest giving an additional homework assignment for material that you were going to give in class, but I’m just not that big into giving a lot of homework. Students should enjoy learning other things outside of the classroom.

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Genius Hour Presentation from #edcampwaller

I presented a session on genius hour at #edcampwaller on 4/27/13.  The presentation is a step by step process of how to implement genius hour into your classes.  The presentation hits the highlights of all my genius hour blog posts and answers just about every question that you may have about genius hour.  If any other questions come up I’d love to continue the conversation in the comments section.

My only regret is that I was a little more prepared with some resources like the Livebinders link and that never got back around to dropping some names of other fantastic Genius Hour teachers.  I don’t want to leave anyone out with a list here, but you can find all of them at the hashtag #geniushour on Twitter.  You can also look through the genius hour blogs list


Video streaming by Ustream

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Genius Hour Blog – Controlled Chaos Has Arrived

We took our last state test yesterday.   Today my classes moved beyond standardization and back into the the autonomous realm of genius hour. It’s good to be back.

Each student in my classroom is at a different stage of the project life-cycle.  If someone where to walk in my room they would probably think that I had lost my mind.  It all looks very unorganized, but based on my observations learning is happening.

This week we talked about the end game and what that looks like, how long it’s going to take to get there, and what we need to do to make our deadline.  There are only about 6 more weeks of school and I would classify the project as a failure if most students aren’t completed and presented by the time summer rolls around.  I do have a couple of students that are ready to present next week.  Their projects aren’t what I would call top-notch, but they are presentable.  The actual presentation may be better than what I’ve seen in passing.  I made the decision to allow them to present because I think that they will be able to reflect and complete a better project by the end of school.

I had a few students ask if they could change topics today and I had to shut that down.  Most of them were just stuck and needed a little nudge in the right direction.  Disaster averted.

I was working on my own genius hour project in the front of the class today by creating a presentation that I’m going to give at #edcampwaller this weekend about genius hour.  I think the students found it neat that I was working along side of them.  Hopefully it was a lesson that we are always learning, sharing and teaching.


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Genius Hour Video Interview #1 – Paul Solarz

Genius Hour Video Interview #1 – Paul Solarz

This evening I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Solarz about Genius Hour (aka Passion Projects) in his classroom.  This is the first interview in a series of interviews that I have planned for Genius Hour teachers.  Mr. Solarz clearly has a passion for being an educator and his students are fortunate to have him as a classroom leader.


Interview Notes

– Works with @joykirr

– Learned about genius hour from the books The Passion-Driven Classroom: A Framework for Teaching & Learning and The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child

– Gives credit to Google’s 20% time

– YouTube for Schools

– Read more about the KWHLAQ chart that Paul uses for his classroom

– Paul briefly mentions Teach Like a PIRATE It’s a fantastic book that every teacher should read.

– Twitter hashtags #geniushour and #20time

– Paul’s website http://psolarz.weebly.com/

– Paul’s email can be found at the very end of the video (not publishing here)

– Paul on Twitter @paulsolarz


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Genius Hour Blog – Let’s Not Lose Momentum

This week was our 4th week of genius hour.  Most of the students are still excited about their projects, but some of them are running into some roadblocks.

The major roadblock that we had this week was that the wi-fi in school was crawling today.  We’re still in the research phase of our projects, and it was frustrating for everyone.  I had mentioned previously that our science department had received a set of Chromebooks, so there may be some wi-fi growing pains associated with that.  Our regular computer labs were busy yesterday, so that wasn’t an option for us.  As a class we discussed that the project life-cycle is not a straight path to the finish line.  There will be bumps along the way.

There were a few students in each class that realized that they weren’t going to be able to do the project that they had originally come up with. Some of the reasons were because they simply couldn’t find good information, and other reasons were because they saw what others were doing and realized that their ideas simply wasn’t as good as they could have been.  I allowed these students to change topics, but as of yesterday everyone is locked into their original idea.  Many students will begin the actual creation process starting next week.

The majority of genius hour teachers/bloggers seem to have a student reflection component to their projects.  I was certainly planning on doing this at the end of the project, but to date I have only been having oral reflections with each student.  I ask them 3 questions at the end of each genius hour period.

  1. What did you accomplish today?
  2. What do you plan to accomplish next week?
  3. What does the final project look like in your head?

The answers to these questions have allowed me to gauge where each student is and makes them accountable for their progress.  I could certainly have them blog the answers to these questions, but my class periods are less than 45 minutes and I want to give them every opportunity to work on their projects during that time.  Most of them do not have access at home.

I received another blow this week when I found out that this website is actually blocked by our district.  I sent a request to have it unblocked but it was denied for reasons that make no sense to me.  It’s not the end of the world, but I really wanted students and other district teachers to access my reflections.  At this point, I’m over it and have moved forward.  If I worried about our district tech policies all the time I would never sleep.  Onward, Ho!  Nothing worth doing is easy.


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