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