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.
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.
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