Genius Hour is often described as a classroom version of a practice at Google, where engineers spend 20% of their time on pet projects of their choice; it’s estimated that about 50% of Google projects have emerged from this creative time.
Fifth grade teacher Chris Loeffler introduced the concept to students by going through the Friends School mission statement, encouraging students to explore their passions creatively, to reflect on their work, and to consider how their ideas might be shared with—and even be helpful to—others. As Chris described it, “Students started by choosing an essential question that would guide their work, from research to the creation of anything their minds could imagine. The three main rules for Genius Hour were that students had to ‘Research, Create and Collaborate.’” Teachers helped especially with the research process, guiding students to quality sources, including online sources using their school-issued laptops.
Creations have ranged from slideshow presentations, to blueprints, drawings, 3-D models, and lesson plans. Students developed final presentations on their projects, which they presented to the class. A sampling of projects:
•Football cleats—two students decided they wanted to improve football cleats; they learned about current designs, interviewed varsity players, and used the Tinker CAD program to design their own versions.
•Endangered species—one student wanted to learn about what would help protect two particular animal species. That led to the founding of a lower school Endangered Animal Support Club, which organized a service bake sale.
•Memorization—A student thought about songs, mnemonics, and other devices people use to remember information. Using GarageBand and a homemade “recording studio,” he created a song to teach third graders multiplication facts.
One of the overarching goals of Genius Hour, Chris says, is essential to the timeless educational mission at Friends—to help students “learn how to learn.”