What Is Genius Hour?

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Raising Innovators: A Guide to Genius Hour, Pt. 1

This is the first of a several part guide to Genius Hour, an exercise in creativity, problem-solving, and child-led innovation. This post offers a crash course in the purpose and processes behind Genius Hour. Future installments will offer examples of Genius Hour in action and tips for implementing it in your home or classroom. Stay tuned!

What Is Genius Hour? A Crash Course in Child-Led Innovation
 

For all the ruckus varying parenting and teaching philosophies cause, most of them share a common goal: raising children to be productive, savvy grown-ups. Unfortunately what it takes to get there evolves over time, and sometimes we have to play catch-up. A few short decades ago, success was often measured in tangible units, like how many files you closed or shoes you cobbled. Today’s economy is innovation-driven, which means a successful app can be just as profitable, and often more so, than a manufacturing business years in the making. How can we prepare our kids to thrive in a world that prizes good ideas just as much as productivity? This, my dear reader, is what Genius Hour is all about.

From The Googleplex to the Classroom (or Home)

 One can’t have a serious conversation about innovation without acknowledging the big G in the room (Google), so it makes sense that a practice dedicated to developing a generation of doers and thinkers was developed by its doers and thinkers. That philosophy: 20 percent time.

Twenty percent time was a program that allowed Google employees to work on side projects that interested them. According to Google Technical Solutions Engineer Alex K., 20 percent time deserves credit for many of those neat little features and conveniences we’ve come to expect from the tech giant. Google’s 20 percent time eventually met its official end, but not before revolutionizing the way many parents and educators practice innovation with kids. How perfectly Google.

Nuts and Bolts: How Genius Hour Works

Genius hour is modern learning’s version of Google’s 20 percent rule adapted for our youngest innovators. It is a project-based approach to learning; the goal is to dedicate an hour or so each week to brainstorming, planning, testing, and reviewing ideas. It is also a distinctly child-led exercise, so it may not always work the same way twice. Here is a breakdown of the general process.

Step 1: Brainstorm

Children spend time coming up with things they want to create or problems they want to solve and document, if not through words than pictures. We use something called a “wonder wheel” in something else we call an “idea book.” I’ll cover this in the next part of this series.

Step 2: Plan

Children devise a plan–or three–for accomplishing whatever goals they set for themselves in step 1. Once again, pictures are a-okay, especially for younger innovators.

Step 3: Execute

Children put their plans into action. Your job is to assist them by keeping them safe and helping them gather materials, but you are not under any circumstances allowed  guide the project. Really big projects may require a few weeks worth of Genius Hours. That’s okay.

Step 4: Share

Let kids show you or their peers what they’ve done with their time. Ask questions about their thought processes and work, but do not critique them. The goal is to get them comfortable sharing and presenting their ideas.

Step 5: Reflect

Encourage kids to think about their projects. If their cardboard pteranodon feeder worked (at least for the birds), discuss why it worked. If it fell apart in the rain or couldn’t support the weight of 5 lbs. of birdseed, chat about that, too. Some kids may want to modify their plans or prototypes; others want to move on to the next big idea. Both are perfectly acceptable.

This process may sound easy enough, at least for the adults who get to sit back and enjoy the show, but that looks (and posts) can be deceiving.

Child-Led Learning for Grown-Ups: The Art of Restraint

A step-by-step guide to how Genius Hour works only tells half the tale. For most kids, creative liberty is something that happens in coloring books, so actually developing an idea is new terrain. The concept of supporting, but not actively teaching and guiding kids’ thoughts is just as foreign to most adults. That brings us to the second part of this series:

Genius Hour Rules: Hands-On Learning, Hands-Off Parenting

Aimee Hosler Education Journalist
Aimee
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Aimee Hosler has a snazzy husband, two boys, a dog, and official pedagogy-nerd status. She doubles as a freelance journalist specializing K-12 and higher education in general, and PBL, maker education and creative thinking specifically. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including USA Today, TeachThought, Education World, The Global Digital Citizen Foundation, Yahoo! News, Teacher Portal and more. She lives in Virginia.


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