Blog Connected Learning Content-Area Literacy

Genius in your own “write”

Curators notes:

Angela sees that Connected Learning is already part of her teaching practice and uses the CL framework to reflect on and revise the ways she implements Genuis Hour in her 7th grade class.

This is my first year teaching at 6th grade science at E. B. Aycock.  E. B. Aycock is a Middle School located in Greenville, North Carolina.  The demographics of the student population is 64% African American, 25% Caucasian, 5% Hispanic, 3% Biracial, and 2% Asian.  Sixty-four percent of the students receive free-and-reduced Lunch.  My classroom demographics really reflected the schools’ overall demographics.  My classroom also was very diverse in academic abilities.   Each class averaged about five AIG students. I also had two classes that were designated for EC inclusion and one class was Autistic inclusion.

The diverse demographics and academic abilities in my classroom led me to implement the idea of Genius Hour.   Genius Hour is a designated time and day that students are given the opportunity to explore what interests them and teach the class and others about what they have learned in the medium of their choice.  The idea came from Google’s philosophy of allowing their employees 20% of their time at work to work on projects of their choice.   As a result,  Google now has Google News, Gmail, and AdSense.  For more information about Genius Hour, visit the Genius Hour Livebinder or the Genius Hour webpage.

Students were given the opportunity to participate in Genius Hour every Friday.   Before we actually began our first Genius Hour session, students had to complete a questionnaire about how they think and how they wanted to express their creativity.  We started off each session of Genius Hour with a quote about creativity.   One of the students’ favorite quotes was about how Thomas Edison’s teachers called him “too stupid to learn.”  Students would then venture out into the classroom and begin to work on whatever stage of the process they were on.   We would stop a few minutes before class was over so students could present finished products.

Genius Hour promotes the same philosophies that were reinforced in Connected Learning:

  • INTEREST CENTERED LEARNING Students were excited about Science.  They looked forward to coming to class, especially on Fridays, when they were given the opportunity to work on their Genius Hour Project.
  • PEER CULTURE The students collaborated with each other to complete their projects. Students were able to choose their own groups.  I was quite surprised at some of the partnerships that were created.   Some groups were paired up homogeneously while others were paired up heterogeneously and several children that choose to work by themselves.
  • PRODUCTION CENTERED LEARNING The students got to show off their creative sides while still learning.   They were able to hack different toys and trash to create a new product. They were able to explore different digital resources to use to present information.
  • CROSS GENERATIONAL Students were able to collaborate with other people in the building based on their interests. The Media Coordinator taught students how to set up a website. The Instructional Coach taught students how to use a Google Spreadsheet. The Guidance Counselors meet with students about Bullying Prevention and they created a Bulletin Board to promote bully awareness. Students had the ability to call on a custodian to help them with using tools like a screw driver.  Several groups of students wanted to study the differences in education with students with special needs, so they partnered with the special education teachers to create activities to use with the students that have special needs.

 During my first year of Genius Hour, I realized a few areas for improvement next year:

  • TIME/SCHEDULE  Participating in Genius Hour every Friday was difficult to maintain consistency. Students would forget about what they were doing and had a hard time getting started the next time we had Genius Hour.   It created a disconnect in what they were doing.
  • ACCOUNTABILITY  I never was able to develop a rubric that really fit with what we were doing in Genius Hour because on any given day there were 60 different projects going on in my classroom.  Not having a rubric made it hard to keep the students accountable for what they doing.   Some students worked well on their own and this was not a problem for them while other students needed to have more of a guide to follow to keep them on track.
  • CREATIVE RUTS Students would get stuck in creative ruts.   The majority of the students that are identified Academically Gifted struggled venturing out of doing the same “powerpoint” presentation for each topic they wanted to explore.
  • RESOURCES  The projects that the students wanted to complete required a wide variety of materials; such as, batteries, hot glue sticks, play dough, modeling clay, paints, etc.   The materials needed varied by the project and it was hard to always have them readily available.

 As I reflected on this year and how I implemented Genius Hour in the classroom, I felt that the Genius Hour Projects were a great success.   The students were actively engaged with each other, myself, and other staff members throughout the school.   They were able to create their own essential questions, devise a plan for researching, and come up with a mode of their choice of telling people what they learned.  Students learned skills that went beyond a ‘typical’ science lesson. They learned to problem solve, to develop higher order thinking skills, and to collaborate with peers and other staff members.  They were excited about exploring with different topics, hacking toys and trash, building models, and making digital presentations.

 Also, as I reflected, I realized I need to change how I schedule and manage Genius Hour.   Instead of being Genius Hour, it will become Genius Week.  I will do this at the end of each 9 weeks.   I will develop a rubric that is generic enough to fit any Genius Hour Project.   The week will go as follows:


Brainstorm Key Vocabulary from the units we studied and decide on key topics that Genius Hour Projects can be on.   Allow students to talk with their classmates about what their idea is for Genius Hour.   During this time, students can pair up with students if they choose.  Have students write their essential questions and get it approved by a teacher.   The student will devise a plan for the week and conference with the teacher about plan.


Students will begin researching their essential question.  Teacher will walk around and monitor students and assist them if needed.   Teacher will ask guiding questions to guide them in their research.


The students will start their mode of presentation as they continue to research.


The students will continue to work on their presentation as they continue to research.  Final Products must be completed by the end of Thursday.


Student will present their final products.  Students in the ‘audience’ will have to record answers to the following statements/questions as their peers present:

  1. One thing I noticed….
  2. I liked…..
  3. One question that they have

After the presentation, students will be able to share their one thing they noticed, their I like, and their question.   This will allow for students to get feedback from their presentation.

The exit ticket on Friday will be a short reflection about their Genius Hour Project.

Now I know that this schedule does not necessarily fit the typical Genius Hour model, but to begin the year with, I would hold them accountable to this schedule so they can learn the process of Genius Hour.

This school year I participated in the Tar River Writing Project that was focused around Connected Learning.    After a few weeks of participation, it became clear to me that Genius Hour is all about Connected Learning!   The projects the students created were production-centered.  They were actively creating, hacking and experimenting to come up with a final product.   All of their projects were interest-driven.   They were able to select what they wanted to research and show what they learned in a mode of their choice.  The projects also had a shared purpose.   The students sought the help of others adults in the building and in turn, those same adults would stop by the room on Fridays to see if any of the students need help. Genius Hour projects helped to create a peer culture of learning at EB Aycock.  Students were interested in what others were doing.   They would help each other and learn from each other.

The students would switch groups to join other groups when they became interested in others projects.  To help break down barriers between home and school, I provided parents with a website so they could stay connected with what the students were doing in class.

The students were still learning academic skills while learning life skills such as composing e-mails, writing letters, and interviewing others.  Genius Hour fits the model of Connected Learning and allows student to reach their full potential.

This post is part of the From Professional Development to Professional Practice collection.