Jumping into the Deep End

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 Unknownintrigued 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 learningpassion 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 Screen shot 2014-01-13 at 7.55.05 PMSeptember 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 toScreen shot 2014-01-13 at 7.58.21 PM 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 1aafd74e7a0100c095527ad156262eebon 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.

If you would like to see the first Genius Hour projects please click the link to the class website Mrs. Middleton’s Class Genius Hour Page 1, Genius Hour Page 2, Genius Hour Page 3.


6 thoughts on “Jumping into the Deep End

  1. Anne-Marie,
    So glad you jumped into the deep end with us on this particular part of your classroom day! I didn’t know you were hesitant, but I understood when you said it was “the worry about failing!” Isn’t that what our students are so very afraid of?? Isn’t that why we’re trying to teach them to just jump in themselves?? I love the message you shared with this post about your journey! I know others will benefit greatly from reading it, and become encouraged because of you. Thank you so very much for sharing your steps towards this huge decision.

    • Thank you, Joy. As I watched my students totally immersed in the process prior to Christmas I had actually thought to myself, “What the heck was I waiting for?” My fear of not being great at something first time around has kept me from doing as much as I could but I am growing and learning to take those risks more each day.It is what I want for my students, to believe in the possibilities and move through life with a growth mindset. We need to be the examples for our students.
      Thanks again for always being in the background supporting and encouraging.

  2. Oh Anne-Marie! I am so happy to hear that you jumped in!

    I, too, remember not really being sure at the beginning but being totally impressed with what the kids could do and what they created at the end!

    You bring up such a great point when you say, “…the worry about failing”. That worry is so real! Like you, I have gone back to being a student and between those worries and my regular worries about failing, I feel like I am more aware of how my students must feel. Does that make sense?

    Brookfield (1995) reminds us that we need to stand outside ourselves and view our teaching from other lenses. I think that going back to do graduate studies has really helped me see my own teaching through the eyes of a student and one of those discoveries has been that risk-taking is awfully difficult! I think Genius Hour gives students a safe space to practice taking educational risks, fail and re-try and really problem solve!

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, Anne-Marie! You are so inspiring!


    • Thanks, Gallit, for your words of support and words of wisdom. It is quite amazing that even after 23 years of teaching there are many days that I feel like a newbie! I shared with my students today that I had published this post and my feelings of being scared of failing. They were so supportive in their comments and appreciative that I would share that with them. Risk-taking 101 🙂

  3. Anne-Marie
    Thank you for this post (and all the others, that I am slowly making my way through). I am a postgrad teaching student in Australia, and we are exploring 21st century teaching methods, so this has helped me a lot! I love the idea of Genius Hour and can’t wait to talk to my mentor teachers at prac about ideas like this, especially as I will be with Grade 6!

    Cheers from down under.


    • Thank you for taking the time to let me know you found some of this helpful. I hope that you ‘jump in’ much more quickly then I did as it is well worth it. My students have been working on their second GH projects and I cannot wait to see the final projects. I am trying to determine the best way to push them further into deeper thinking and learning as this is where the most satisfaction comes from.
      Good luck in your teaching career.

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