Build Future-Ready Skills with Genius Hour

Learn about the benefits of Genius Hour and how to add it to your classroom.

Updated on: July 31, 2017

"Genius Hour." Just another education buzzword, or a remarkable way to personalize learning? According to Genius Hour evangelist and Shift This author Joy Kirr, it’s the latter. She’s discovered that adding Genius Hour to the classroom engages students, develops their creativity and persistence and—best of all—encourages them to become lifelong learners.

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Here are some Genius Hour resources to help you get started.

  1. The Genius Hour Manifesto
  2. Follow #geniushour on Twitter
  3. You’ll love the free Genius Hour e-mail course from AJ Juliani

Just in time for back-to-school season, we asked Kirr to explain the benefits of Genius Hour and share her tips for adding it to your classroom.

What exactly is Genius Hour?

“It’s when students get a choice,” explains Kirr, who started using Genius Hour with her seventh-grade students in 2012. The basic concept of Genius Hour is that teachers set aside time each day or week for students to work on an inquiry-based project they are passionate about.

Students choose their topic, use a variety of methods for learning (reading, experimenting, watching videos, etc.) and decide how they’ll share that learning (a demonstration, an illustration, an invention) – all based on what best suits their strengths and interests.

Does Genius Hour = future ready?

As Kirr and others like Chris Kesler explain, when students have a say in their learning they become more engaged, their confidence is boosted, and learning becomes fun. With that in mind, Kirr sees a clear link between Genius Hour and helping students gain the skills they need to be future ready.

If we believe that [students] need to be leaders or collaborative or creative, then we need to provide that time and make it dedicated.
—Joy Kirr

“If we believe that [students] need to be leaders or collaborative or creative, then we need to provide that time and make it dedicated,” she explains. “Usually we’re telling them what we believe they need to learn, but they need to be kids that can learn on their own. They need to develop lifelong learning skills.”

Getting started

Want to try Genius Hour in your classroom? Kirr recommends following these steps:

  1. Decide if the project is geared toward a specific subject or open-ended.
  2. Determine how much time you’ll dedicate to Genius Hour in class. Then publish the schedule and share it with your class. (You can start with half an hour a week, 20 mins a day—whatever is comfortable for you.)
  3. Consider if you want to do one big project as a class first and then split into groups, or let students work on their own from the beginning.
  4. Tell the students and parents what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
  5. Determine when students will share their learning. (Monthly, quarterly, etc.)
  6. Decide how students will share their learning. (a presentation, a video, a report, etc.)
  7. Write down your expectations for students during class time. (In Kirr’s class, students were expected to “learn, create and share.”)
  8. Decide whether you’ll grade the project or not. (Kirr suggests opting out of grading because Genius Hour learning is so intrinsic.)
  9. Make sure you conference one-on-one with students!
  10. Do what works best for you. “Whatever your plan of attack, it has to work for you,” says Kirr.

Of these steps, Kirr says conferencing one-on-one with students is absolutely essential. While Genius Hour is designed to encourage independent learning, it is essential that teachers facilitate and ensure students stay on task.

It really helps you get to know them – their strengths and their struggles—and that affects everything you do.
—Joy Kirr

“It’s not a time for teachers to check their e-mail and get their work done,” explains Kirr. Instead, teachers should use the time to get to know their students— “that’s when the benefits of Genius Hour will start to spill over into the rest of your week,” she says. “It really helps you get to know them—their strengths and their struggles—and that affects everything you do.”

Kirr has 25 students in her class, and to ensure she has one-on-one time with each student, she catches up with 12 one week and 13 the next week, asking the following questions:

  • What are you doing?
  • What are you learning?
  • Why are you doing this?
  • What’s your goal for the next two weeks?

Ready to dig deeper?

A great starting place to learn more is Kirr’s Genius Hour LiveBinder. You’ll find detailed guides for getting started, how-to’s from teachers in the trenches, examples of student work for every grade level and plenty more.

Watch for new tools from TeacherVision in August to help you personalize learning and build future-ready skills in your students!


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Want to read more from this author? Check out Wendy's posts on this free math project, four mistakes new teachers make (and how to avoid them!), and her suggestions for your summer reading list.
Author Bio:

Wendy McMahon is an education technology writer who has been working and writing in the edtech field for more than 15 years. She currently writes for EdSurge, EdTech Magazine and Pearson. She holds a Journalism Degree from the University of King’s College. Follow her on Twitter at @wendymcmahon.