Category Archives: Genius Hour

An Unbelievable “AHA” Moment

By Marianne Smith


I first heard about Genius Hour from my colleague Gallit Zvi. She is a fabulous colleague and an amazing teacher! We were taking our PB+15 in Integrating Technology for the Digital Age through Simon Fraser University. It was our second Summer Institute of a two-year program. This is my story…

I was teaching at Hall’s Prairie Elementary School in Surrey, BC. It was September 2012 and it was my second year at the school with a 4/5 combined class. I had 18 wonderful students that year. The school itself was established in 1885 and is a small, rural school with approximately 90 students. The students at our school come from a variety of different backgrounds.

What prompted me to make Genius Hour a part of my practice and introduce it my students was the fact that I realized rather quickly into my Graduate Diploma program that I was a control freak! People that know my teaching style have had a good laugh because they have known this about me for years…why was it that I had know idea. I had been teaching for eleven years and didn’t have a clue until I formally examined my practice.

I was also finding out that many people close to me were not or did not work in a career that was fueled by their passion. Teaching is my passion and I just assumed that people close to me had also been working in careers that were passion based.

My journey was two-fold: 1) I needed to let go as a teacher and 2) I wanted my students to authentically experience the spark that a person feels when they are doing exactly what they are meant to do.

Genius Hour was every Friday afternoon for yep, you guessed it, one hour and it was going to run for six weeks. We started by talking about Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. My students were then to pick 2-3 intelligences that best suited them and based on what they choose come up with what their genius was. I use the word “their” based on a suggestion from my father. Thanks Dad. My students knew that I was not going to be assessing or evaluating their genius for report cards or anything of the sort. This was simply their time to explore, learn and have fun.

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My students’ genius consisted of many things: volleyball skills, clay wiener dogs, paintings, oil pastels, garage band, creating a catapult out of basic classroom items, a comic book and a written short story complete with illustrations.

As Genius Hour got underway I started to offer my students unsolicited advice. I reminded myself that this was their time to make their own decisions. I quickly learned to back off and when I did the most amazing thing happened…I physically felt lighter! I was able to breathe better! I was happy! I was laughing and smiling! I did not have to manage students’ behavior they were completely engaged and therefore managing themselves. I was able to walk around the room and see different parts of their personalities that I had not noticed before because they had not had an opportunity to shine through. I did not have to worry about assessing and evaluating. I did not have worry about meeting the PLO’s.

All of my students were engaged, all of my students were happy, all of my students were learning!! I was happy and I was learning! It was quite literally like a huge weight had been lifted. I felt mentally and physically free. It was an unbelievable “AHA” moment. It truly was an awakening within my self and within my teaching practice. And even more then that I had one student whom I had taught the previous year in grade four begin to flourish.

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I’ll call her Pippa. Pippa was a talented, bright young girl who had a great sense humour, but for many reasons failed to produce much work the previous school year and was not off to a much better start in September 2012. She brought nothing between school and home and would spend much of the day hiding behind her gorgeous dark hair or curled up in her chair with her down on her desk.

Genius Hour struck the most beautiful cord with her. She was so excited about it that the next school day she showed up with a Tupperware bin full of paint brushes and a plastic mattress cover to keep the clay and paint from getting on the classroom floor!! How fantastically, beautiful is that! Her Tupperware bin actually broke…she brought it to me right away and was not leaving for the day until we had fixed it! Thanks to masking tape we were able to get it ship shape in no time.

The following Friday when she knew Genius Hour was about to start she literally jumped up and down and yelled, “It’s time for Genius Hour, it’s time for Genius Hour!”  Her face displayed a wide, fabulous smile. I had never seen her get excited about anything in the past. I had found a way to reach her. What a wonderfully, amazing thing!

I later interviewed Pippa as a part of my Field Study and I asked her if she liked Genius Hour. She replied with, “Yes, because I get to do art in class for an hour, but I don’t like it because it is only one hour.” Another girl in the class called out, “It should be Genius Two Hours.” To which I laughed out loud. What a wonderful thing to laugh out loud on a Friday afternoon with your students.

About four weeks into Genius Hour Pippa and her family moved to another part of the province. It was very sad to see her go. My hope is that she has and will take the amazing feelings that she experienced with Genius Hour and use it to help guide her in her life so that she is able to choose a career path that is best suited for her. Good luck Pippa!

Genius Hour continued for another couple of weeks. On week five I casually asked my students who wanted to present their genius next week (they had been reminded that I was not marking their presentations). Without hesitation every student (but one) raised his/her hand. They were incredibly excited to share their genius with the class. The following Friday the students presented and their presentations were effective and engaging. They didn’t appear to be nervous because this was something they chose to do. As a teacher I had never witnessed the majority of the class being so excited to present in front of their peers before. Great job boys and girls!

As for myself I am continuing to implement Genius Hour into my practice on a yearly basis. I will be introducing it to this year’s class in mid October. I still find myself trying to control things, but with the experience of Genius Hour am able to recognize it quickly and remind myself to let go.

Good luck to those of you that decide to try Genius Hour in your classrooms. You will not be disappointed.

Blog by Marianne Smith

Grade 3/4/5 Teacher

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Posted by on March 19, 2014 in Elementary, Genius Hour


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Fortune Does Favour The Bold – My Genius Hour Presentation

Today is a Great Day for Learning

This Blog was written in response to the December Precept from R.J. Palacio’s “Wonder” I am reading with my class.   In this post I wanted to model reflective thinking of the precept “Fortune favours the Bold” which is highlighted in the book by one of August’s teachers and deeply thought about from the perspective of the character Jack Will.  Here are my awesome student’s Fortune Favours the Bold reflections from the novel Wonder.  I’m sure they would love some comments and feedback.  😀

Here goes me being bold…

I have many examples in my life of when I was bold.  Being bold to me means that I challenge myself to be great.  One of the most recent examples of me being bold was when I presented 2 workshops at the Provincial Intermediate Teachers Association Fall 2013 Conference in Burnaby.  I found out shortly after registration had started that…

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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Elementary, Genius Hour


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Genius Hour: An Avenue to Better Teaching

Genius Hour has gotten a lot of attention on Twitter, blogs, and in classes the start of this school year.

With all the success stories, there will be a few who criticize, or write to provoke conversation, at the very least.

I’m writing today to defend Genius Hour, and explain how it has affected the rest of my students’ week.

What I will do is tell you what’s happened in my class this year, as a result of spending FORTY minutes talking about what genius is, and what it is not. We spent time discussing the seven “habitudes” of geniuses that Angela teaches about in Classroom Habitudes. Here are some quips from my 7th graders that I’ve actually written down for a post such as this.
“These are great! We have some really creative people in this class!”
“That must be his genius!!”
“Look at what I did – it’s genius!”
“He’s got perseverance, creativity, AND imagination.”
“I worked on being ‘adaptable’ yesterday after school…”
“Please add me to the ‘resident expert’ list under ‘neat & organized.'”

My students are realizing what they’re skilled at, and with what skills they may need help. They have already started asking each other for help during our creative days (Dot Day being the most recent). They are relying on me less this year than any other group I’ve had, and instead going to each other. We have already started building a wonderful community of learners. I’m going to continue telling my students that they have genius in them. We all do.

I have to say that I’m very fortunate to work where I do. Many teachers do not have any time to spare – to hand over to their students. Others who are allowed time for this need to make sure it ties to standards, and that students are graded on it. I have the luxury of attaching it to standards my way (see this LiveBinder and specific plans I’m using in 7th grade ELA), but I am also allowed leeway on how to use the rest of our time during the week. Here is a list of how, by implementing Genius Hour ideas in my classes, the concepts have seeped into the other 80% of our time.
Students can choose where (and how) to sit, as long as it’s safe and not distracting to them or others.
Students can write in response to a prompt of their choice, as long as they write in relation to our goal or focus for the day.
Students decorate the room. Many put up their own ideas made at home.
There is no teacher desk. It is converted into a student station, with supplies for students to use whenever they have a need. (They can also sit there!)
The only front of the room is when we have the projector on. The rest of the room is fair game for where the speaker (me or a student) stands. (I’m actually always on the move.)
Student passions are used as catalysts for discussions or writing, or reading, or…
Students give book talks.
Students read what they choose.
Students take pictures for our movie updates for parents.
Students have blogs for authentic purposes – not for grades.
Students are asked, “Why not?” more often than they hear the word, “No.”


I am no longer the “sage on the stage.” I am truly the “guide on the side” for most of our lessons. Implementing Genius Hour in my classroom has made me ask these questions (from p34 of The Passion-Driven Classroom) every day: Who is in charge of learning at our school? Who does the most work in our classroom? Who does the creating, constructing, producing, performing? The answer must be: The learners.

Many teachers remain disconnected from their students. As Angela Maiers and Amy Sandvold share in The Passion-Driven Classroom, “96% of teachers reported that creativity should be promoted in the classroom. However, when asked which students they actually preferred to teach, teachers chose the students who were most compliant” (5). “Messy” learning, which is what Genius Hour is, and times when the learners are working the hardest, is difficult for me to see with my “old school” eyes. I like order. I appreciate quiet. … But the things I HEAR from students during these “messy” times are precious gems. They alert me to the fact that students are learning, and enjoying the process simultaneously. That’s what it’s about. And that is how implementing Genius Hour has affected my teaching during the other 80% of the week.

This has been cross-blogged from Joy Kirr‘s personal blog.  Click here to read the original post.

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Posted by on September 22, 2013 in Elementary, Genius Hour, Secondary


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“Genius Hour” for Kindergarten? Is that even possible?

This post is cross-blogged from “The Way I See it”, written by our new contributor, Jodi Pulvers.

“Genius Hour” is a relatively new term in education, but has been around in the business world for a few years. Organizations such as Google have an 80/20 work week, where employees are given 20% of their work week to “explore” things that interest them. Many brilliant ideas have come out of that 20%.

The short version on the education side goes something like this: In July of 2011, Daniel Pink wrote a blog about how a Credit Union in Washington was using “Genius Hour” with their employees. These employees were given time each week to use as a “Genius Hour” to pursue their passions. Angela Maiers saw this blog and re-tweeted it and suggested we need this in schools for teachers.  Denise Krebs spread this information via Twitter and her blog, both of which were discovered by Hugh McDonald  and Gallit Zvi who were keen to try the idea in their classrooms. I work with Gallit and Hugh and their passion is contagious! More info about “Genius Hour” will be included at the end of this blog.

Gallit is my buddy teacher and our classes often do projects together. The more time I spent with her and Hugh and see how engaged their students were during “Genius Hour”, the more I contemplated trying it with my class. But I was plagued by thought like, “They have ideas, but they can’t research them…they can’t even read” and “how would they share their learning when they can’t write sentences yet”.  I am very fortunate to work with an amazing group of people who are always making me question my practice and push me to try new things. My co-workers are always encouraging me think outside the box and they never let me “get away with” excuses like the ones mentioned above. Many of our conversations end with “well, why can’t you do this?” These conversations make my head spin, leaving me to come up with ways to modify things to the K level. As my principal Antonio Vendramin,  tweeted last week, “It’s all about the What if… rather than the Ya, but…

I am not one to back down from a challenge, so driving home one day thinking about how to make his happen – it hit me! We can use our buddies to help us with the “research” and we can use the Book Creator app on the iPads to create books about an animal that  interests them. I knew I would need more help, so I recruited our amazing teacher-librarian Anna Crosland and asked her if she wanted to be a part of this “experiment” with my K class. Anna jumped on board and the 3 of us (Anna, Gallit and I) developed a plan. This activity was done in April/May of last year.

1)  I would make a Sample eBook with my class. This took about 3 lessons. For this book, we used Penguins as that was the last animal we studied and we made a pages for habitat, food, enemies and 3 interesting facts. We took pictures and recorded the sentence using the Book Creator app.  Here is our class book.

To read the rest of this great blog, click here

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Posted by on September 14, 2013 in Elementary, Genius Hour, Kindergarten


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My Top 5 Reasons to do Genius Hour with Your Class!

5.  Personalizing education is so important.  Not all learners are the same, so why should their education be the same?  Genius Hour allows students to choose their own projects, personalizing their own learning.

4.  Kids need time to be creative!  Check out Sir Ken Robinson’s TedTalk below.

3.  Passionate people are successful people.  Students need time to find their passions.  I am amazed by how many of my students struggle to communicate what their passions really are.  They need time to explore their wonders (and often need some guidance with this too) so that they can figure out what they love to do.

2.  Inquiry based learning.  During Genius Hour students form inquiry questions to investigate.  Being able to ask questions is a key competency that we need to develop in students.
1.  Teaches resilience.  Students will fail during Genius Hour.  And they will problem solve and figure out another way to look at the problem.  We need to reinforce this learning strategy and Genius Hour is the perfect time for this.BONUS:
***Genius Hour is FUN.  In a survey I did with my class last year, most students listed Genius Hour as one of the top things we did that year!***Did I miss anything?  What would you add to this list?(This was cross blogged from my blog,
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Posted by on September 14, 2013 in Elementary, Genius Hour, Secondary



Genius Hour is Personalized Learning

I am reposting this to the newly formed collaborative site It outlines the important role Genius Hour has in creating personalized learning opportunities for students.

Today is a Great Day for Learning

I feel the importance of personalizing learning for students should be at the forefront of any discussion relating to education and Genius Hour does that. We want to find ways to engage students as learners and creators of inquiry driven content. Students want to feel connected to the learning that is happening in their classroom and the standardization of learning across North America does not do that.  Students in many classrooms around North America are motivated by letter grades and percentages and NOT LEARNING! Students in our classrooms are like adults in the real world.  If you do not engage them in their learning then they will not know how to learn and not want to learn. How else can you explain large chunks of the population dropping out from school?

Please check out this journal article published in Educational Leadership. “Special Report: Why Students Drop Out” by Amy Azzam…

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Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Genius Hour


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Welcome to our collaborative blog,

Thank you for checking out

Our vision is to create a community, collaborative blog!  One where we can post stories and articles from Genius Hour teachers around the world!

Stay tuned for stories from our contributors…or even better: follow this blog and never miss a story!

Let me know if you want to join us,

Gallit Zvi 🙂



Posted by on September 2, 2013 in Genius Hour, Welcome Post