One way to help students begin thinking about what “Big Questions” they will pursue for their Genius Hour projects and the products they will create as a result, is by encouraging them to move in the direction of their “why.”  Last year, our college counselors showed the following TEDx presentation to my sophomores with author, speaker, and consultant, Simon Sinek:

If students are to produce a successful product (the what), using our year-long, weekly process (the how), then it should first originate with meaningful, intrinsic motivation (the why). Knowing their why will build tenacity when they feel like giving up. Knowing their why will help them create a truly beneficial product for another (a requisite for the project). Knowing their why will provide purposeful direction for life after high school.

Showing this presentation at the beginning of the year before I introduce Genius Hour and then engaging in journal reflections and discussions directly after will not only help my students cast a vision for their projects, but also provide a framework for their entire educational experience.

Here’s to another year of making a difference in the lives of our students!

12 thoughts on “Genius Hour: Know Your Why

  1. I love this. I think knowing the “why” can apply to most things in life. Teaching our students to recognize and find they “why” is a skill that will benefit them forever. It definitely makes projects and learning more meaningful. I think knowing why we do things can be the most motivating factor there is.

    1. I agree, Brittni. The more we model our “why” and provide them with resources to define theirs, the more we will be able to create cultures of thinking within our classrooms and beyond. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Great post, Naomi. I used to work in leadership development prior to teaching, and one trait of a good leader leader was his/her ability to convince stakeholders of the “why?”. In our jargon, for leaders to inspire others, they have to outline the “what’s in it for me?” for their stakeholders, which encompasses the “why?” as well as the benefits/rewards of engaging in a project/activity. Thinking of it on a personal level, I am more engaged in activities in which I’m invested in the “why”, even if said activities are merely a means to an end (in which case, a lot of grit is needed to muscle through them). The challenge in education I find is to re-balancing the “why?” I would love to tip the scales back from “I neeeeeeeeed an A” to “I want to learn for the sake of learning and will work toward that end”. Perhaps that’s too mature of an outlook in terms of teenage brain development, but, as the leadership development industry taught me, great leaders also need to set a clear vision!

    1. Casting a vision and helping students find their “why” can be both an exciting and daunting task, Kerri. However, the results are far more meaningful as we both know. Thanks for your comments!

  3. First of all, I have just heard about Genius Hour and I must say I love the whole concept. I believe it will help students be independent and knowledgeable in the future. I love that you want your students to know the why behind their leaning. I agree with you this will give them the motivation and determination they will need in their futures even after high school.

    1. The students’ projects are more thoughtful and fine-tuned with each passing year we do it. I’m hopeful that by finding their “why” and creating a product of benefit to another, my students will be well on their way to charting a solid course for themselves beyond high school. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Great post! Thank you for sharing the video. As I watched I found myself thinking about the “why” for a lot of different things in my life. Very reflection inspiring. In terms of the classroom, I feel this video would be a little to advanced for my 5th graders, but it did inspire me to try a spin off type activity during the first few days of school. Thank you!!!

    1. Love it, Rebecca! The more we can call our students to thinking about their “why” even on the simplest of levels, the more thoughtful and intentional they will become. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Knowing the “why” in a situation is SO important! I love showing my kids why what they are learning is important to their future. I think it opens their minds and gives them a ton of motivation when they see how it is applicable. Great post!

    1. That’s so true, Ryann. Truly understanding their “why” impacts present and future choices. The more we can help our students define their “why” and remind them of it when the work becomes challenging, the more they will grow. Thanks for your comment!

  6. The “why” is so important in education. I teach adult learners math, and the why is what they always instinctively want to begin with. Why are we learning this? When I ever need it? The way turns a chore into a project. Thanks for sharing!

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