I’ve written before that one of the greatest assets of the Flipped Learning is that it has allowed us more time for creativity. Because of this extra time, we thought we’d try giving it back to the students – so this year we are trialing Genius Hour.

So what is a Genius Hour?

Genius Hour became quite trendy for a while a few years ago and really started to take off in the world of primary/elementary schools. For those who aren’t aware Genius Hour (or 20 Time) is where you give students an hour per week to work on whatever project they want. The only stipulation is that they need to present it to their peers in a very open and public way. It flowed on from an initiative at Google who allowed their workers to spend 20% of their work hours on a pet project. Anything they wanted and they were using their Google’s time and resources.

Part of the reason we went down this road is that we (again myself and my teaching buddy John) were familiar with the work of Dan Pink and others looking into motivation. We were also really keen to try and focus on intrinsic motivation this year with our move further into game-based learning.

How did we get our Genius on?

Well, this year we gave all of our junior classes – year 8 & 9 Science for myself and 8, 9 & 10 for John – one period a fortnight or thereabouts to work on a passion project. Never less than this and it worked out to about seven periods in a 10-week term.

We gave some guidance:

  1. Students had to produce either a product, demonstration or digital artifact.
  2. It had to be science adjacent – they had to be able to explain something about how it worked in the end.
  3. This would be presented at the start of the following term to peers and special guests.
  4. The theme was the past.

A chance to fail upwards

The whole point of the first round was for students (and ourselves) to work out what was needed to be successful. It was super open ended and I’m not convinced that we gave the students enough guidance but so far so good. This first presentation was to set the bar for future work – the audience was only the other classes involved in their year group. Some were outstanding and some were disappointing, but that’s ok. Students understood that they might not nail it and could build on this for future lessons. A huge focus for us is building a culture of a growth mindset in our classes. Students who weren’t quite happy with what they put forward were given feedback (from us and their peers) and all had ideas about where they’ll improve next time. For many, this was as simple as either time management or deciding on an idea and sticking with it.

Genuine geniuses

We only have photographic examples of a few but here we go.

Plague: The Card Game

Two girls in our class built the following game because they were curious as to how people dealt with the black plague. Makes sense this is generally skimmed over in classes. We (in Science at least) center our discussion on what it was, the impacts and our current understanding of Germ Theory. Not enough for these young women.

Plague the Game

Plague works like Exploding Kittens – a turn-based card game that gets super stressful and requires some strategy when it comes to blowing up your opponents.

What's in the Box!
The various cards for Plague

After a few rounds of this for fast finishers today my next goal is to find a site that will print up a card game for me and have this made.

Dino’s: They got got – but how?

One pairing was keen on knowing why the Dinosaurs aren’t here anymore. Turns out that making a giant asteroid and creating a nuclear winter is slightly against school policy so they used the alternative option and made a digital artifact.

As someone who makes a stupid amount of videos – this is cool. It worked on their strengths they learned some new skills.

And there were many more…

These weren’t the only Genii there were other excellent projects and the next round looks even brighter now that we’ve had a full run through.

Other Genius ideas

  • A working graphite microphone housed in a matchbox! We caught some audio and I’ll link it here in an update to this post.
  • Several pinhole cameras that produced some cool photography.
  • The Airsky – an Eskie/Cooler/Chilly Bin that kept your drinks cool and air-conditioned the air around (sort of).
  • Several games that compared the past to the present?
  • Video game coded in Scratch investigated the different properties of WWII weapons.
  • Video game coded in Scratch that had a crack at creating their own version of Space Invaders.

If this is something that you want to try with your class or have any questions, hit us up. If you can see anything that we can improve on – let us know in the comments.

Pete Whiting