This year* I introduced Genius Hour (20% Time) to my sophomore English classes. I love fostering student engagement through high interest projects and assignments, and after reading so much about it by innovators such as Kevin Brookhouser, Daniel Pink, A.J. Juliani and others, was curious to see how my students would respond. I chose our final quarter together to a) gauge student interest, b) calculate the time actually needed to complete it, and c) upon completion, determine what I needed to adjust to make it even better for the following year.

Sample Projects

This year’s projects were quite good being that it was the first time for all of us. The energy and engagement from the students was outstanding! From the international students who taught themselves to cook Southern food, or write and record love songs in the “language of home,” to those who taught themselves to sew, crafted a designer prototype for a walking/therapy boot, built a mini-model of a shortwave radio to reach North Korea (he never quite got it to work, but it was cool, nonetheless), or even designed and implemented a nine-week flexibility training plan for football, the students were focused and using the skills we had learned throughout the year to blog, vlog, interview, and present.


From Day 1, I was already reflecting on how it could be better. I am one of those teachers who jumps right in and iterates as I go. This was no exception.

One of the adjustments for next year will be to provide more opportunities to help students discover a passion, and in that discovery, find an opportunity to use their newfound passion to make a difference in the lives of others. Next year, every Friday will be Genius Hour. Rather than limiting the students to one quarter for a “mini-Genius Hour,” the entire year will be used to send students on a “curiosity quest” to a) discover their passions, b) research “the perfect” group/organization with which to partner, whether locally, nationally, or internationally, so that c) their “Empathy Interview,” and consequently their final projects, will be far more meaningful.

Additionally, the extra time will enable mini-lessons on TED Talk content creation and delivery to ensure a more polished final presentation for peers and guests. As you can see from the photograph above, one of the school’s Tech Team members helped me set the stage for the presentations. It looked pretty amazing! However, even though I had physically taken the students to the Theatre the day before, provided the order of presentations, let them hold the remote and walk around on the stage, showed them the floor monitor that they could watch to avoid reading the screen behind them, they needed a bit more practice. Public speaking is anxiety inducing for all of us, and I want to ensure that new projects and uses of technology don’t add to that natural anxiety. Further, I’ll need to address lighting issues. Kevin Brookhouser’s video samples were great models, but mine will need a bit of work. I’ll need to find better lighting options for more optimal recordings so that students may receive copies of their work, and so I’ll have samples to show future classes.

A moment of “wow.”

One of my favorite outcomes was the student who had a major setback in her project, revamped it midway after I encouraged her to “fail forward,” and then set off to a local nursing home with her new, and much more improved, product: a collection of bracelets she had made with the help of friends, each with a thoughtful message attached. Upon receiving a bracelet, one resident said to her, “I needed some hope today, and then you came along with your bracelet. Thank you!” Powerful. Now that’s a lesson that won’t soon be forgotten.

Here’s to a new year of iterating and discovering!

How will you be implementing or improving your Genius Hour/20% Projects this year?

Please post a comment and share. I’d love to hear from you!

*(Revised from 6/17/16)

One thought on “Genius Hour 2.0

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