Every once in a while I get so excited about learning something new I can’t stop. It is the equivalent of a book you just can’t put down or those rainy days when you watch an entire season of your favorite show. This is an element that I can’t say necessarily exists in my classroom, or the majority of high school classrooms I have seen. But what if it did? What if students were so grossly engaged they didn’t know they were learning and didn’t even want to stop? What if innovation and creativity found their way into high school classrooms?
Enter Genius Hour (aka: 20% Time, Passion Projects, etc.). Genius Hour gets its roots from Google. Google employees use 20% of their time to focus on projects they are passionate about so long as the project has the ability to move the company forward, and it has! So why not bring this to education? Over the last couple of years a select few have. In genius hour students create projects they are passionate about but may not necessarily relate to the course curriculum (often because the projects are far ahead of it!). Genius Hour lends itself nicely to Elementary Classrooms because of the cross-curricular nature of this setting. Students can make projects that dabble in science, technology, and English all at once, what a beautiful thing. This got me wondering what it would look like in a High School math classroom.
Last year I experimented with a couple of these projects and they were hugely successful. So much of what we do in education is cookie cutter and I wanted this project to be far from this. As a result freedom was one of my main objectives. I didn’t want students to make me a project, I wanted them to create something for themselves; something they were proud of, passionate about, a project that pushed their learning. I wanted students to quit playing school and focus on something other than harvesting points. I students to take risks and do something extraordinary. As you might imagine this was like a completely different language to them. So I decided to make project pass/fail. If students did the project to a high enough quality (we established a B) they would pass. If they didn’t they would not pass and would be required to redo it. This really seemed to blow them away because it was so foreign to them. Just like it was foreign to me when I took a pass/fail class in my Bachelor of Education degree program. I thought I would only do mediocre work since there was no incentive to work hard, in fact I think I worked harder and I took more risks. My students did the same…. I had a pair make a computer program that after multiple iterations designed a dragon fractal, another pair looked at the math of card-counting, a young lady looked at how we are mathematically running out of music, and another group proved that babies have number sense by a cool experiment they performed on their dog!
The feedback I heard from my students was through the roof and I couldn’t have agreed more. Many said it was their favorite math class ever, right from the research, creation, and presentation of the projects. But unfortunately I felt I only had time to do it once a semester. This year I plan to do things differently, so much so, that this is will be my main focus going into my third year of flipping my classroom.
I have taken a look at the learning outcomes and have identified areas that I can be more efficient and cut out the fat. So my goal is approximately once every two weeks we will spend an hour or two researching and creating projects to present a couple weeks after.
Over the next week I am planning to hammer out the specifics of what the projects will look like during our districts summer Pro-D days, this will make up part II of this blog post. During that time I’ll try to walk the fine line of giving students guidance on what Genius Hour projects can be while not stifling their creativity by giving them too much structure.