Genius Hour Part I

This week it unfolded. Passion…geniuses…or a combination of both?

We kicked off our IBPYP Exhibition these last few weeks in grade 5 at Yokohama International School. Our idea is to have the kids explore their passions and interests  under the theme of “How We Express Ourselves.”  Passions and beliefs lead to further inquiry and stimulate learning is our guiding or central idea.

IMG_4208Frontloading: To begin, students watched videos we found on Inspire My Kids. Great videos that prompted good discussions of “What is Passion.” Students came up with a definition of passion, based on what they saw. Passion is something that starts small and gets bigger. It’s something at which you persevere. I loved how videos got them thinking.

But until this week, we had mostly been discussing, getting a grounding in passion. We would brainstorm next, I thought, on their interests. Many of them had been plotting since the beginning of school year on what they would explore during the Exhibition as we have carried over the same theme for the last several years. Piano is my passion, I heard them say. Books. Mine is definitely books. Other students, in tremulous voices, said I don’t know what my passion is. Some were fully running, setting up an organization to donate money to a dog shelter (see “Student-driven action from a very small nudge.”)

Hands-on Time: I first read about it here on Inquire Within and considered starting it during Exhibition. After realizing that students, like all students, are at all different developmental levels, reflective levels, I thought it was time to dig in and see what came out of it. Genius Hour is when students get to explore something of interest to them. We played around with it as home learning at the beginning of the year. It was time to begin.

Students brainstormed interests.  I showed them some videos on genius hour (videos seem to reach this age and in these times just right). I told them they would have 3 hours this week and then would present.

After brainstorming, they thought about what they needed and went at it. Many were quick. Several boys went to the IT lab and brought back computers they could tear apart. Another kid grabbed a calculator. Some jumped on the Internet to research. Within 15 minutes, they were all absorbed. After 45 minutes, they had forgotten it was time to go home. I had to try to drag them away from the classroom.

The Next Day: The first thing the next morning, students came in and started talking. When are we going to do passion hour? I worked on my presentation last night. I researched more about gymnastics last night. My Dad was talking to me about the magnets in computers.

Wait. I hadn’t asked them to do any home learning. They were buzzing. I told them they would have a longer session later, and they were excited.

IMG_3887The Energy: When they got back into  their passion hour, they didn’t want to stop for anything. Life goes on at a school, and we had a speaker or lunch or our literature circles to do…They didn’t want to have a nice conversation reflecting on their passion hour; they wanted to do it. All of them were itching in their seats, ready to go. And when they came back from Japanese for the last period of the day, they all cheered when realizing they had more passion hour. I asked them if they wanted to do it next week. Yes, they all said. It’s so fun. I have more things I want to explore!

Some reflections so far:

  • Absolutely self-motivated. Home learning completely self-initiated. No need to tell them to get to work. They were practically sprinting to an area where they could work on their passion hour project.
  • Organized chaos. Because they were all so involved, they got along. They naturally formed groups–boy/girl without hesitation. They helped each other. Everyone for these miraculous 3 hours got along amazingly.
  • Migration. Some students migrated from one interest to another, and they could talk about it easily. It’s natural right? One boy started with stop motion videos, then helped out someone who was building a piano out of a box, then ended up taking apart a calculator.
  • Uncertainty. Other kids didn’t know what to do after they had “finished” something. A partner group took apart a computer motherboard, finished, migrated over to the stop motion gang. Then, after some questioning, they realized they could figure out more and test out more.
  • Realization of true interests. One girl, whom I have suspected all along as being passionate about videography decided to study gymnastics. On her own, after one session, she realized she wanted to learn how to make a stop-motion video. So, she did, and now she says she wants to learn more about film-making.
  • Self-reflection and change. One girl had decided she would spend her three hours making a list of 100 annoying things to do to a teacher. I questioned whether she could spend that long on it, and obviously questioned the worthiness of such an activity. I held my tongue, though. Their exploration. It was only their first time. After one session, she said she grew bored or finished it and moved on into the group taking apart a computer. I didn’t have to say anything.

Next week, the students will show their process so far, what they learned, and I’ll have them do a compass points visible thinking routine about what they learned and where they head to next. Feeling like this year’s Exhibition will have more depth already.

Here’s a stop motion video done in the three hours of our passion/genius hour with some extra time self-prescribed at home. Good stuff.

A Day In a LIfe Of Auggie from YIS Academics on Vimeo.

About kdceci

I am a grade 5 teacher in a PYP school in Chicago, Illinois, USA. From the US originally, I worked in Asia the last 13 years. I am passionate about inquiry-driven education, collaboration, and ensuring kids get to continue to be kids that play, create and think as long as they can. Outside of school, l love to write, read, hike, run, meditate and travel.
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5 Responses to Genius Hour Part I

  1. Just love all the wonderful learning that is going on. When my class had their first Genius Hour they went home and started researching different things. At first I was upset because I had wanted them to do the work in school and then I realized…they were doing this on their own…I hadn’t ASKED them to do it. That’s real motivation and learning.

    I love your student’s stop motion video – clearly a great project for her and what a great product!

    When kids are invested and involved – I feel like true learning will happen as evidenced by your reflection.

    Thanks for sharing!


  2. I enjoyed reading this post and got some some great ideas. I have been researching Genius Hour and I am excited to start it in my classroom. I LOVE the idea of front loading with the “what is passion” video.

    Also love the stop motion video, especially because I am a dog lover 🙂


  3. Very interested in how this ended up going for you, especially in an Eastern school. Teaching in Taiwan right now, I’m really struggling to get my Genius Hour high school sophomores to be motivated to push themselves in intrinsically-motivated projects. Many of them seem to be set on just meeting a certain baseline to earn a certain grade. Has this ever been an issue for you before?


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