Launching Genius Hour 2015

This will be our second year using Genius Hour in our classroom.  We loved the freedom and empowerment it gave our students, the learning, service, and engagement the projects brought to our team, and the way it merged voice and choice perfectly in our classroom.

Katie and I are anything, but complacent: we are always striving to do things differently and for the better for the students we serve.  We are also reflective of our teaching so when it came time to hash out last year and plan for this year, we were certainly thoughtful about how to set up and launch Genius Hour.  This year, we wanted to share how we laid the foundation for Genius Hour; hope it inspires!!!

Day 1: First Day of School

  • Read The Crown on Your Head by Nancy Tillman and ask kids to reflect why we chose this particular book on this particular day.  Student shared messages of hope: the idea that we are all special, we all matter, and that we needed to create an environment where our individual “crowns” could shine.
  • Asked students to do some quiet reflection, mid day, about their favorite moment thus far in 6th grade.  Brought that to share in a whole team community meeting.
  • Discussed the importance of all the little moments we have.  Explained how in our team, we NEVER want to waste your time; we know how precious this year is, how fast this year will go, and how important it is that what we are doing is meaningful, connected, engaging, and helps us make a positive difference.
  • Showed this clip – “The Time You Have (In Jelly Beans)” which explains, perfectly, how little time we truly have in our life that’s JUST ours to do with what WE WANT.
  • Had students reflect and discuss their reactions.
  • Students worked in small groups to write down answers to these two questions on butcher paper: What would you rather be doing right now?  What would you like to fix?
  • Students had the opportunity to see several other groups posters.

Day 2:

  • For our team time today, we got back into the same small groups.  Each group was given three pieces of aluminum foil and some pipe cleaners and asked to CREATE!
  • Did a gallery walk for groups to see other student’s work and we reflected together what went well and what we would want to change.  This will help us think of small group norms, as well as get a feel for how students responded to the idea of them to create on their own without much direction from their teachers (does that sound like Genius Hour, or what?)
  • In whole-team community meeting, we asked if the geniuses would stand up (adapted from Classroom Habitudes, Maiers, 2012).  Not many students did.  We talked about why someone WOULD NOT stand up… students shared that they feel like genius is something above them or better than them.  Some students admitted to being scared of what others would think if they stood up.  Others, it was obvious, were looking around to see if their peers would stand or not.
  • Showed them the quote – “You are all geniuses and the world expects your contribution” (taken from Classroom Habitudes).
  • Gave a pep talk on how important it is that this year we all know our own genius and are able to show our own genius… how important it is that our crowns can shine in this team.  Our goal is that in June, if we were to ask geniuses to stand up again, that ALL students would stand more quickly than they ever have.

Day 3:

  • Have students talk to their text (Reader’s Apprenticeship) about this genius definition: “Genius is the act of solving a problem in a way no one has solved it before.  It has nothing to do with winning a Nobel prize in physics or attaining certain levels of schooling.  It’s about using human insight and initiative to find original solutions that matter.  A genius is someone with exceptional abilities and the insight to find the not so obvious solution to a problem; a genius looks at something that others are stuck on and gets the world unstuck. (from Classroom Habitudes, Maiers, 2012).
  • Merge that with our thinking from yesterday and if you, personally, stood up thinking you were a genius or not.
  • Showed this short story of a Thailand kids soccer team.  These children live surrounded by islands, made their own soccer field on water despite their community thinking they were crazy, and ended up making being incredibly successful with the whole village rallying around them.
  • Our students were asked to think about how these kids got the world ‘unstuck’ and where they saw ‘genius’ being shown.

Day 4: Last day of the first week of school

  • Read You’re Here For a Reason by Nancy Tillman
  • Students reflected, synthesizing everything from this week together, that it’s so important that each and every one of them are here… that sometimes we don’t even know the genius we let out in the world and the ripple effect it can have… how it’s imperative they are at school each day and that they not waste a single part of a jelly bean (a day)… and that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM has something positive to offer our team and our world and we need to let that individual genius shine.

This first week felt connected, thoughtful, motivating, and most importantly, empowering for our students as we build community in our team and begin Genius Hour.  We can’t WAIT to see how each crown in Team 61 can shine, and how many things we can get the world unstuck about.  We hope all of you enjoy this journey with us.


(special thanks to Classroom Habitudes by Angela Maiers, Nancy Tillman’s PHENOMINAL picture books, and Joy Kirr’s Genius Hour Live Binder.  These resources SO inspire our work)

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