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.
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.