Genius Hour/Passion Projects-Reflections of a Fifth Grade Teacher



I decided to take the plunge this year and implement Genius Hour/Passion Projects in my fifth grade classroom. I did my research and found resources I could use, but I still did not feel 100% confident about implementation. Finally, I decided to give myself permission to go forward anyway and learn as I go. (If you need a background on what exactly Genius Hour is, this is a great resource http://www.geniushour.com

A summary of how we run Genius Hour/Passion Projects in our classroom. 

  • We spend an hour a week dedicated to this process. Some weeks it is two, half-hour sessions a week, and others we can do the full hour on one day. This time is non-negotiable. I always honor this time and never take it away as punishment.
  • There is no due date because some projects can be completed in a few sessions and others are very extensive and need more time.
  • I keep track of their essential question (which is approved by me) on an excel spreadsheet with the date started and the date completed.
  • I allow students to abandon a project (just like I allow them to abandon a book) after we discuss why they want to change their essential question.
  • When students are ready to present, they let me know and I schedule 5-10 minutes out of our day to have them present.
  • If I notice a student is not making progress on their project, I ask questions and provide feedback to help the student meet their goal.

Changes I Plan to Make

  • Some students struggle with not having a due date and need more guidance and scaffolding. I need a better system in place for these students.
  • Possibly incorporating outside mentors/experts in the future for students.
  • Involve students in creating a rubric/criteria around the question, “What is a quality product/presentation?”

Take-aways after being involved in this process weekly with my fifth graders for five months.

  • I have learned more about my students’ strengths and interests through this process than ever before. 
  • Since students are learning about something they are truly passionate about, the non-writer writes and the unmotivated student is motivated.
  • Students learn about themselves through this process as well. The tech savy student who always made PowerPoints with the coolest effects (not so great content) realized he could make a PowerPoint on HOW to make a PowerPoint. (Future tech teacher or computer programmer??) He is our go to expert now!
  • Students learn more about each other through this process. When students present their project, the class sees a side of a peer they might not otherwise be aware of.
  • As a teacher, Genius Hour/Passion Projects allow me to give feedback to students as they tackle roadblocks or make a personal discovery about themselves. Some are realizing talents they never knew they had.
  • I cannot name how many Common Core State Standards are being met through this process! (Research, evidence, opinion, reading for information, etc.)
  • Students utilize what is learned in class to gather data for their project. One student used a line plot (from Math) for her survey on when kids should be able to have a cell phone.

As you can see, I could go on and on about the positive outcomes this one hour a week has had on our classroom. Yes, there are a few changes I need to make, but the positives definitely make it worth it. Just think, I almost didn’t attempt this because I was worried about not being an “expert” on implementing Genius Hour/ Passion Projects in my classroom. What are you waiting to try out? Just do it!!!

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5 thoughts on “Genius Hour/Passion Projects-Reflections of a Fifth Grade Teacher

  1. I am so glad you posted this. I am nearing the end of a Genius Hour after school club for 2nd-6th grade. We (Rebecca Crull) and I are facilitating the group together. We have 13 kids that attend twice a week for twelve sessions. Since it is all voluntary, I find it hard to know how hard to push the kids. We are sharing our projects on April 2nd. The “traditional” teacher in me is worried to death that they will not be prepared to share by that time. The facilitator in me knows I can trust them. Because the kids didn’t know each other going in to the project, I underestimated the time I would need to build community. Also, I did not know them as students so it took a few weeks to “learn” them. Overall, the learning process has been fascinating to me. The first sessions were silent and the kids depended on me for approval and permission. (I felt completely overwhelmed. Braced for impending catastrophe.) I called Rebecca and cried. How was this ever going to work? The next day we met with the kids and the session was fantastic! A mentor came in to talk with a student whose project was way over my head. Now he is well on his way–everyone else, too. I realized that our students don’t know how to research, so I will need to work on that next time. Two more sessions of research to go, then spring break. I am so nervous that we will not be able to pull this off, but then I take a breath and remind myself that this is all a process. My main goal was for the children to experience the “joy of learning” in the midst of standardization. Even if the whole presentation thing is a flop, I know that I did achieve my goal and so much more. Thanks again for your post. It obviously helped me to process my experience.

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    1. I’m glad you found the post helpful. I think we need the reminder that the process is where the learning happens, even if it is a bumpy ride. I know I need this reminder, especially when attempting new things.

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  2. Right now I’m trying to find all I can on Genius Hour/20% Time, as I plan to try to implement it next year. Any advice on the amount of time to devote to this? I keep reading an hour/week, but is there such a thing as too much? Is 30 min/day very productive (just get started and then have to stop)? Maybe all of Friday afternoon or an hour twice a week. I’m trying to read as much as I can, and to work on this during the summer. 🙂 Thanks so much for the great article.

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    1. I stuck with the hour a week. Sometimes we broke it up into two thirty-minute sessions and sometimes we just did the one hour. What I found helpful was having a poster of the Genius Hour process and students would move their name to the part of the process they were at. The sections are: generate questions, choose question, begin research, pick a presentation tool, present to class, share with the world. This way I could track their progress (or lack there of) and make adjustments as necessary. I would only set a deadline/due date if a students was not making progress. Some students took months to complete one project, but the project(s) turned out amazing (and they were making progress the whole time). Sometimes students abandoned projects if they lost interest or found it too difficult and that was OK. In the process, students learned how to manage projects over a long period of time and learned from the “failures” just as much as the successes. Hope this was helpful!

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