How to Introduce Genius Hour Projects
The introduction of genius hour projects to your students needs to be amazing! This is likely the first time that your students have ever been told that they can work on anything they want within the walls of the school. You don’t want to mess up this incredible moment.
Like a good book or movie it is the teacher’s responsibility to build suspense before letting the cat out of the bag. The week prior to my genius hour launch I kept telling the students that I had something very special to share with them on Friday. If your students are like mine, you may want to clue them in that it isn’t something they can eat. The reality is that many students put a higher priority on eating that something as cool as a genius hour project. I simply can’t compete with Jolly Ranchers, so I made sure to shoot that idea down immediately.
On the day that you introduce genius hour projects show them an inspirational video before unveiling the project. If you saw the home page of this website then you know that I’m a big fan of Kid President and so are the students. I challenge anyone not to smile while watching his video. After showing this video you will have every eye on you waiting for your next move.
The next thing that I do is show a pre-made Haiku Deck that explains the very simplistic rules of genius hour. Haiku Deck is an iPad app, but you can have the same impact with a PowerPoint or SMART board presentation.
Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app for iPad
Prepare for Genius Hour Project Questions
It’s only natural that students will be skeptical about what you are telling them. I asked my students how many were a little scared about our genius hour projects before I even took a question and the majority of the hands in my class went up…including my own. Let the students fire away question after question, but be prepared for the following questions. I put my responses in red. Yours may vary.
- Can we work with partners? No, not on this first project. Once we get one under our belt I will definitely consider it.
- How long do we have to work on this? There is no official timeline, but I’m thinking 8-10 weeks should be sufficient to have a great project.
- Is this going to be graded? Surprisingly, I haven’t been challenged on this question again. I will not be officially grading them though. I will let them know that their work may be visible to the world and that they will be unofficially grading their projects
- When you say anything, do you really mean anything? Anything within reason, but I will be approving your topic ideas before you are allowed to get started.
- Do I have to present it to the front of the class? You have to present it in some form or fashion. If you make a documentary, then you will show the movie. If you make a model, you will need to present what you learned to the class. This is about sharing passions and ideas.
Let it Simmer
Students should not be expected to come up with their ideas on the first day that you introduce the idea of a genius hour projects. A great idea would be to show students what other students their age have done in the past. Here is a list of my current genius hour projects from my 6th graders. They need to know that it’s OK to do a documentary of farm life, or that it’s OK to do a project about how to make hair bows. I spent the remainder part of my class brainstorming ideas. Every idea is good at first. It your job as the teacher to eventually categorize the ideas into good and bad ones and to explain why you categorized them that way.
Pro Tip: If a the idea or question can be answered on Google in less than a minute, then the idea is probably not a very good one.
Involve Parents in the Idea Process
Send a letter or email home to the parents letting them know that you are doing genius hour projects in your classroom. Here is an example Google Form that you could use. Let them know that you would like them to help brainstorm with their students on their topic ideas. I’m sure that many parents will appreciate the insight into your classroom, and we all know that parents have opinions. Good luck with the introduction process! Please comment if you have any questions about the process.