A few weeks ago, I sat in a meeting with my son’s teacher as she explained her educational approach. She mentioned the term, ‘Genius Hour.’ Actually, mentioned is too calm a word. She said it with a huge smile that reflected her love of the concept. When a teacher has that sort of reaction, you pay attention. By the time she’d finished explaining the idea, I admit that I had tears in my eyes.

Genius Hour is a self-led exploration that can take whatever shape a learner desires. This is what kids need!

Who Invented Genius Hour?

No one knows exactly where the idea came from, but it’s generally credited to progressive business leaders who recognized that workers have many interests and ideas outside the parameters of their duties. Most famously, Google allows their employees to spend 20 percent of their work time on “passion projects.” The time spent on non-job-related projects led to inventions like G-mail and Google Glass! Passion projects can tap into brilliance. At some point, educators grabbed a hold of this idea and adapted it to the classroom.

What is Genius Hour in the Classroom?

In education, Genius Hour lets kids focus learning, energy, and time on their passions and benefit from the guidance and resources a teacher can offer. Teachers give kids a set amount of time each week to study a topic of their choice.  Students begin the process with a question, any question. They can decide to research how baseball got its start in the United States, or determine the best temperature to cook a moist cake. They then choose whether to work individually, in pairs, or in a small group. From there they research and record. When they’re finished, they create a final product to present what they’ve learned. This quick video provides an inspiring overview:

What’s So Great About Genius Hour?

One of the most crucial, but intangible, aspects of teaching is engagement. We need kids to be invested in what they study and produce. Colonial politics or three-digit multiplication can feel abstract and useless to a fifth grader obsessed with Minecraft. Genius Hour allows kids to work on topics they’re already engaged in.

In the end, kids aren’t going to remember every factoid or calculation they did in school. For that matter, real life will rarely ask them to recall those concepts. Most jobs will require them to solve a problem by asking the right question and then solving it. School should be more about learning how to learn than rote learning. It’s even better when students  realize they enjoy the learning process.

Is There a Downside?

As with any new idea, so much of the success depends on implementation. There could be a lot of wasted time as some kids struggle to find a topic, or figure out how to work on their own. Personally, I would rather risk a bit of wasted time to have my kids develop critical thinking skills that will serve them long after graduation. I want them to develop their ability to learn and their passion to do so!