The Genius Hour Chronicles: Day 1- Project Planning

I just had my first session with Genius hour with my seventh graders. I didn't really know how it would go and I was overcome with tugging feelings of intrigue, and nervousness. If you don't know, Genius hour is modelled after Google's 20% time, wherein employees were given some time during the time to play and explore and interestingly, many of Google's innovations have arisen through this non-structured time. There are a lot of teachers who have been blogging about this activity, so there is a good support community out there (see @GeniusHour on Twitter).

Passing Fad?
I've tried to read multiple points on this subject. Ewan MacIntosh writes a fabulous post about how the focus needs to to still have self and peer assessment and how a clear defined goals stand to make planning a smooth process or this is merely a passing fad. My favorite point he makes is:

"You can't expect 100% of creatives to be 100% creative all the time when there is no common vision"

In other words are we being too optimistic thinking that simply designating some personal choice time will cause the most recalcitrant student to suddenly blossom, unconstrained by traditional teaching to the middle? I too was curious to know if students would be super engaged and motivated, or would there still be some that were indifferent or apathetic. The fact is that Google is harnessing the best and brightest of the world and my middle school students represent a huge swath of competencies, English abilities and academic strengths. To apply the same formula for two such different academic groups may be a recipe for disappointment so we decided to keep this experiment within grade 7 (not 6 and 8) and focus this as a first semester experiment before we decide whether to continue this into the spring.

Image Courtesy of CC

The Response
90% of students had 2-3 ideas that they brought to class. Most of them were very interesting, although some needed some tinkering so that students knew where to divert their focus. Shawn and Quint wanted to put Mentos in Coke and watch it explode. Turns out they know that it explodes but don't know why, after a few seconds they wordsmithed their question to "What is the chemistry of a mentos and coke reaction?"

Phantee wanted to investigate the chemistry of why glow sticks glow. Mel and Kim wanted to perform intellegence tests on our classroom hamsters. The menagarie of questions and topics focused primarily on life science and physical science, but earth science topics were sketchy. One child, Lisa, wanted to present on the theory of space time and has become an avid reader of Stephen Hawking.

After a 50 minute session, all students had a worthwhile investigation on their Trello board and said they were all extremely jazzed about jumping in. I wonder how I'll manage the long game when they finish their projects at different times.  



Su-Min's Dilemma
I had one student that came in and had spent no time thinking about his project nor had no interest. He was an extreme case; and coincidentally had transferred to our school from a neighboring country and was pretty bummed about leaving his old friends behind. I had provided a number of science fair idea websites for the students to access and after sitting down with him personally, he chose:"Does the color of a food affect whether of not you'll like it?"

Building a Class of Inquirers is Key
Our middle school has a good culture of teaching students to ask questions and not be dissuaded from mistakes, disappointment or failure. If we didn't, I think that just suddenly trying to implement such a program would feel forced and awkward. Science teachers have been doing 20% time for years as science fairs have been around since forever. Are such projects not the result of such planning and work time?

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