The topic of student-centered learning has generated much discussion partly as result of the new Teacher and Principal Evaluation System. Separating the distinguished level performance across all three instructional frameworks used in Washington State is the degree to which students take charge of their own learning.
Genius Hour is one structure that leads to high levels of student autonomy in the learning process. It was one of most inspiring topics I recently explored at EdcampPDX. Genius Hour, much like the Edcamp movement for teachers, is intended to help students explore their own passions and creativity. Twenty percent of learning time in school is devoted to “passion projects” developed by students. During this time, students decide what and how they will learn. It is based on a business strategy from Google designed to increase employee satisfaction and productivity and led to the creation of applications such as Gmail and Google News.
Genius Hour “provides a path to intrinsic motivation.” It is based on the premise that “when students have a say in their learning, they become more engaged and their learning improves,” according to Chris Kesler who writes about Genius Hour on his website.
Our presenter reflected on the enthusiasm in which even the most at-risk learners in her class embraced Genius Hour and the growth they made both academically and socially as a result of solving relevant, authentic problems. She went on to say that she analyzed her student’s projects and came to the realization that they had addressed 24 Common Core State Standards in the areas of math and literacy. Other participants shared how this same strategy had been used other content areas, including a band class in Lake Oswego.
Here are three rules for Genius Hour suggested by Chris Kesler.
- Begin with students developing a driving question to communicate what they will learn about. If it can be answered by a quick internet search, the question probably needs to be refined.
- Involve research to provide resources to support learning.
- The project must be shared – ideally with the entire world. Several of the teachers at EdcampPDX shared that their students recorded Ted Style talks for this purpose.
As I listened to how the 20% principle had inspired such powerful learning with students, I wondered how this same principle might be applied to a professional learning context for teachers.
What would it look like if 20% of our professional learning time were devoted to passion projects that were designed to advance our district, building and student goals?