About a year and a half ago I came across an idea that caught my eye and was catching the eye and minds of many educators around the globe – Genius Hour. I was instantly intrigued by the idea of having students follow their passions within the classroom setting. The research behind this new idea made sense. Of course we are inspired to learn more when we choose what we want to learn about and are following our questions. We also tend to be much more engaged in the learning process.
Sometime in 2012 I was introduced to Gallit Zvi who was working in the same school district as myself. With similar teaching philosophies and personalities we hit it off immediately. As Gallit has been instrumental in orchestrating the sharing of passion based learning I asked her out for coffee where we spent 3 hours talking, sharing, and inspiring each other as educators.
The theory behind Genius Hour made sense, the research behind passion based learning fit nicely into my constructivist views of learning and I set out to learn more and develop a plan for implementation in my classroom. Well, as life happens I just did not get to it. As important as it was to introduce this in my teaching other inquiries kept pulling me away.
But in the spring of 2013 I finally introduced the idea behind Genius Hour with my class. They were extremely excited to give it a go and wondered when we would begin. Normally I am a teacher who does not dip a toe in when trying new things but jumps into the deep end, hoping to stay afloat. For some reason I was hesitant to do this with Genius Hour. I kept wondering how I would start, what would work best for my students, what would it look like in my room? So once again I pushed it off as my uncertainties kept me from diving in (gulp – should I say – the worry about failing!). I had promised my grade 6s, though, that we would start Genius Hour in the fall when they came back to me as grade 7s.
So September arrived, 15 familiar faces walked through our door along with 12 new grade 6s. Getting to know this group, establishing community, working through the bumps of September gave me more excuses to push it off. Thankfully I had one student who had been over the moon excited in the spring time about doing Genius Hour. He asked me on numerous occasions when we would get started. Without this young man’s prompting I may still be pushing it off. Finally, finally, I decided to dig in, give it a go, and take the risk of implementing something new even though I had no idea of the shape it would take. Over the past couple of years I have started to take more risks with so much of my teaching but I still have a ways to go!
One of my teaching partners, Linda Wilson, had tried Genius Hour in her room last spring. She was impressed with the student learning and the creative, engaged process of students following their passions. Linda and I decided to do Genius Hour at the same time, that way I could use some of what she had already learned and we could share in the process. As we both have grade 6/7 combined classes we were planning to have the students work together on future GH projects so it made sense to do the first at the same time.
With two weeks left before the Christmas break I introduced Genius Hour to my class. I will leave the details of the actual process that took place to another blog post but suffice to say I could never have imagined what I witnessed from each and every student. The excitement towards learning, the engagement with every child, the creativity of their questions, the critical thinking of digging deeper, the problem solving, the sharing of specialties, this list could go on. I gave the students 4 in-class work sessions prior to share day and each of those days I would stop, look around and be thoroughly and completed in awe of what I saw.
Once again I have shown myself that I need to take risks more often in my teaching and worry less about it not coming out right because the right is what we make of the process. I need to set aside the day to day “stuff” and do what I know is right for for student learning and I need to follow that inner voice that says, “go for it, what do you have to lose.”
I could not have ended 2013 in a better way. A huge thank you to Gallit Zvi who started me on this journey, and to Denise Krebs, Joy Kirr and Hugh McDonald for publishing their own journeys; without knowing it, you helped to guide me to where I needed to go. And to all those educators who shared their Genius Hour journeys on the Wiki and Livebinder GH sites – thank you. I have a feeling that 2014 will be a year of even more changes inside Middleton’s class – I am so looking forward to jumping in to more deep ends.