Students Follow Curiosity in Genius Hour

A trebuchet launching golf balls, homemade backpacks, and grapes igniting into plasma. These were just some of the projects the 8th graders proudly displayed at the Genius Hour Showcase. Marshall was filled with full-scale models, customized websites, and Ted Talk-style presentations.
Marshall teacher Lori Durant modeled Genius Hour after Google, where employees can use 20% of their time to work on a project of their choice with few restrictions. Many of these projects have gone on to become heavy hitters, including Gmail. Durant was able to foster this creative energy in her classroom.
“It’s all about student choice and trying to give them a voice and encourage them to learn without us saying ‘jump this high and here’s the box,’ because that doesn’t really show learning and they’re not interested in a lot of those things,” said Durant.
Durant originally planned Genius Hour to fit seamlessly into her literature curriculum, but this idea would quickly change as Durant gauged her student’s excitement levels.
“Their faces were just lighting up and I said, ‘but you know, this is a literature class, so it has to be connected to that’ and their faces just went black,” said Durant. “It was like ‘oh, another school project.’”
Without further thought, Durant eliminated the literature requirement and hasn’t looked back since.
From a go-kart built from scratch to a smartphone app made to help students learn basic math, Marshall 8th graders took full advantage of the freedom granted for their year-long projects.
David Olsen stood with his trebuchet towering above him. In addition to launching objects, building a trebuchet allowed Olsen to learn academic topics in an enjoyable way.
“It helped me learn a little bit about some physics and how it works,” said Olsen.
This echoes the outcome Durant wanted her students to achieve: “confidence in their ability to own their learning. And to know they don’t need to have an adult to say ‘this is what learning is.’”

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