Do you ever hear somebody talk about what’s happening in their classroom and instantly feel a mixture of good-hearted envy and eagerness swell up inside of you? Well, that’s what exactly happened to me recently.
After attending the talk, “Voice, Choice, & Airplanes” by educators Katie Bielecki and Kristin Hundt at a local conference in Lansing, STEAMLab17, I became immediately inspired to look into genius hour. I wasted no time and sent a text to the other seventh grade English teacher, teeming with excitement.
During their talk, Bielecki and Hundt spoke at length about the importance of curiosity, imagination, passion, and choice within their classrooms. They referred to these classroom mindsets as habitudes, taken from Classroom Habitudes Teaching Habits for 21st Century Learning by Angela Maiers (Note to self: ORDER THIS BOOK). Naturally, these mindsets were something I readily agreed with. This talk about students’ habitudes led to the discussion of what those mindsets fostered in their classrooms–Massive undertakings, like genius hour.
Genius hour was originally inspired by Google’s 20% initiative which lets their employees use 20% of their work time to pursue personal ideas. In schools, this typically looks like one hour a week, where students come up with individual passion projects, do their own research, and share their ideas and conclusions (Grinberg, 2014).
Until recently, I didn’t know that genius hour was inspired by Google, but it doesn’t surprise me. In the book, A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, he asserts that the current world “[…] demands citizens who are self-learners; who are creative and resourceful; who can adjust and adapt to constant change” (2016, p. 49). The ideal citizen described here exhibits the same habitudes described by Bielecki and Hundt during their talk, no coincidence. These mindsets are not only valuable in the classroom, but in all areas of life.
Throughout A More Beautiful Question, Berger describes how innovators at top companies, like Google and Amazon, are creative, curious questioners who are not afraid of failure (2016). I think there is a clear connection to embracing those mindsets within a classroom through the implementation of a genius hour alongside classroom habitudes.
By students guiding their own learning, driven by their individual interests, it not only increases student engagement but also teaches students that failure is an option. This mindset helps students become risk-takers (Grinberg, 2014). Being a risk-taker is a skill important outside the classroom as well, shown throughout A More Beautiful Question. Berger describes anecdotes of innovative questioners who don’t stop after failing to answer a complicated question. Rather, the best questioners come up with better questions and improvements/solutions to the problem at hand (Berger, 2016, p. 33).
Similarly, in a classroom with the right mindsets and genius hour, students are free to question the world around them and become global thinkers. Students don’t simply wonder, for example, how to help kids in Haiti have access to more books. Instead, students pose the question and begin working towards a solution. Bielecki and Hundt described one student doing just this, and working towards this goal and action for the entire school year.
As I have said before, I work at an International Baccalaureate (IB) school. Not only is inquiry at the heart of IB, but curiosity and risk taking are also important pillars. Through genius hour, I think I will be able to help my students take their questions and curiosities about the world and turn them into action. They will be able to fail and try again. They will be able to seek help from peers and mentors. Students will be enthusiastic and in charge of their learning. And THAT thought gets me excited.
Finally, in A More Beautiful Question, Berger describes how schools with inquiry-based learning share core principles of letting students explore, be in charge of their own learning and work on projects instead of test-taking (2016, p. 54). Again, this emphasis on inquiry aligns perfectly with my school’s vision and those of our district. Not only that, but I think students will find power as they begin to explore their individualized line of inquiry.
I’m having visions of my classroom teeming with active, engaged students, eagerly researching their individual projects. I am also having visions that it may be a bit chaotic at first… But if I’m not willing to take a risk by giving it a shot, what right do I have to I ask my students to be risk-takers?
I hope you look into the book I reflected on throughout this post, A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger. I am all kinds of excited after reading it, and even more so after attending the talk on genius hour this past week.
Let me know if you have any tips or if you have used genius hour at the secondary level–I’d love to pick your brain!
Looking forward to hearing from you and for what is to come,
Berger, W. (2016). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.
Grinberg, E. (2014, March 10). ‘Genius hour’: Students, what would you like to learn today? Retrieved July 20, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/09/living/genius-hour-education-schools/index.html.
Images: All images belong to Guadalupe Bryan.