6 Mar
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Genius Hour and Growing Lifelong Learners

I want my kids to love learning for the sake of learning and to hunger for knowledge. School projects that actively enforce those principles  are my favorite. Genius Hour is a prime example.

The idea behind Genius Hour has been utilized in corporations to increase productivity. Employees are given a set amount of time each week to work on pet projects in their field. Google has seen success with this route. Gmail anyone? I’m more motivated to apply myself to tasks I have vested interest in and passion for than something that’s assigned. Wanting to do something as opposed to being told to do something can make a huge difference in the quality of the outcome.

Genius Hour is used in educational settings to allow students to be creative and self-directed. Our 4th grade son’s class finished their Genius Hour presentations last week. Students were told to choose a project topic they were passionate about, and topics were approved by the teacher. One hour of class time each week for the last few months was devoted to researching and developing projects.

student sharing a Genius Hour project

Our son is a young World War II scholar. He devours books on the topic and chose to research Kamikaze pilots for his project. Not only did he work on his project during Genius Hour at school, but we found him at his computer on Saturday mornings and after school researching. He was passionate about what he was learning and self-motivated by the topic. He was learning to learn.

Students were given creative license to decide how their final projects would be presented to their classmates and parents. Our son chose to create a PowerPoint presentation and a battleship and plane from LEGO bricks for his presentation. Projects from his class included growing crystals, researching the history of baseball, and comparing different animals. One student built a chair and another built a bear for a baby sibling who will be born this summer.

Students present their projects individually in front of the class and then collectively, science fair style, for parents. I know public speaking tends to make people nervous, especially children, but it’s one of the most valuable life skills to teach young people. I ask questions. It’s the reporter in me. I enjoyed talking with the students about their projects. It’s interesting to see who picked what to study and why. I learned several things from those 4th graders that I’ve never thought to ask about.

Our elementary school isn’t heavy on homework. Our 1st grader has a weekly spelling test, other than that, no homework. This makes me ridiculously happy on many levels. Genius Hour gave us an avenue into our son’s school week that he willingly shared instead of me pestering him with questions attempting to drag information from him past good, fine and great to describe his school days. He shared photos, videos and an abundance of stories he found while researching. He sought an older brother’s advice when building his battleship and plane. My involvement in the project was limited to listening, reminding him how and where to properly use commas, and transporting LEGO creations from home to school and back. Other students worked more closely with a parent for their projects. Building chairs requires tools and supervision. Other projects required specific supplies. I love that their was room for family members to share expertise and support throughout the process.

Our son thinks he solely learned about Kamikaze pilots and had an excuse to play with his favorite toys. In actuality, he honed his researching, writing, and speaking skills. He learned ways to organize information both to be easily understood and aesthetically pleasing. Building with LEGO bricks is math disguised as play. Genius Hour is an avenue for adults to step back and see how unique and capable students are if we give them the opportunity to direct their learning.

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