Why I Gave Up Genius Hour

There is a lot of buzz online about providing 20% of classroom time for students to play and explore concepts of their own for the new school year. Modeled on Google's 20% time, (from which many innovations have emerged) this shift has come onto the scene in public education with critics and proponents on both side of the debate: "Is this good practice in public education?"

After doing "Genius Hour" for two years in a row, I'm giving it up after thoughtful reflection from managing projects, and quantifying learning outcomes that have come with this. Even if you're thinking of taking it up, here are some things to consider:

  • Interest wanes over time. If you do Genius hour, you will notice an immediate spike in interest when students are told they can learn about whatever they want. However, you'll notice that this starts its gradual taper as projects finish at different times and students struggle to plan and manage projects. 
  • It's not that novel of an idea. I've heard that 20% time is unlike anything ever done in education. However, is not an IB personal project or science fair project the same? 
  • You'll lose 20% of instructional time. The most important thing any teacher can do pedagogically is provide good teaching and instruction. This will drastically cut the time that you have to teach and implement a viable curriculum. 
  • Google employees are highly innovative. Many of our students are just finding themselves and do not have good "sense of themselves". I've always had students in both years that when confronted with this free time were wrought with indecision; no matter how much I've tried to help cultivate their interests. 

At first glance, giving the students the opportunity to learn about their interests may seem like a good idea and a nice respite from the hum drum learning in your classroom. The problem is, "hum-drum" learning is usually the product of an uninspired teacher that can't seem to make content and skills relevant or meaningful and connect them to real-life. Since there will always be opportunities for differentiation in a project-based environment, will "Genius Hour" stand the test of time?

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