The 10 Most Asked Questions About Genius Hour and 20% Time Projects

By AJ Juliani, 6 comments

How do I get started?

Lucky for you there is many teachers who have already jumped into Genius Hour and 20% Time Projects. Even luckier is that they have shared their experiences online, in books, in interviews, webinars, and in courses. I offer teachers a free four-part mini-course on Genius Hour and 20% Time (you can check it out there).

I’m also teaching an online course this upcoming Fall Semester for the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. If you want to see exactly how to get started, and then be walked through the process by me and other teachers taking the course, check it out here and pre-register before it is too late.

Where do I find the time in my curriculum?

Great question. I started a 20% time (Genius Hour) project in my English class and connected it to our reading workshop model where students were already being asked to read non-fiction. It was a great fit, but I also had to make it work. We choose to do this project every Friday for a semester, and there were a few Fridays we had to miss because of work that needed to be done in the regular curriculum. I’ve seen elementary teachers take one hour each week from their Social Studies or Science block of time, or sometimes use an exploratory or special period during the day.

In fact, it seems like everyone does it differently because every school is different. I’d say to start as small as possible. Do a smaller project first and see how much time it takes. Then you can build on that the next semester, or next year. Of course, there is always the possibility of doing an Innovation Day instead of a multi-week project, which I’ve seen many teachers and schools have success with as well.

Does this project connect to standards?

Yes. It connects to many standards in many different states and countries. At its core, Genius Hour and 20% Time Projects are Inquiry-Based Learning experiences. Here are some of the standards it connects to as a sample:

Standards That Connect to Reading/Researching with Inquiry

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Standards That Connect to Analyzing and Applying with Inquiry

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.

Standards That Connect to Writing and Presenting with Inquiry

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Standards That Connect to Creating and Evaluating with Inquiry

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.1
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Standards for Mathematical Practice

How do I structure the project?

Well, there are many different ways to structure a Genius Hour and 20% Time Project. It comes down to how much time you have to use in the classroom, and what (if any) constraints are on your situation.

Generally, you’d like students to go through each step of this process to complete a project (but modify as you see fit):

The Beginners Guide to Genius Hour

What if the students don’t want to learn this way?

A teacher I work with asked me last week, “How do we deal with those students who aren’t doing anything with Genius Hour? I feel like I’ve helped and helped…but they don’t seem to care at all.”

Maybe you’ve had this same experience with a student (or group of students) while running a Genius Hour or 20% Project in your class. Maybe it is something that worries you about starting this type of learning project where students get to choose their learning path and delve into their interests and passions.

While inquiry-based learning may be scary (and exciting) for many students, it can also be difficult for a teacher to manage..especially when the freedom you’ve given students is used to do “nothing”.

In a post I wrote a while back about this topic called, “What to do when Genius Hour fails?“, I go into three specific steps to deal with this situation:

Step 1: Talk with the student about life (not the project)

Step 2: Ask them for help

Step 3: Find a new purpose

The point here is simple: You don’t need to create the desire as a teacher. Instead, our job is to help students connect their existing desires to this project as a new purpose for learning. 

How do I pitch this to my principal/colleagues/parents?

I get this question a lot (especially lately). There are four things you can do to not only pitch the Genius Hour and 20% Time Projects, but also convert them to believers!

  1. Send a letter home! I love this letter sent by a teacher about the Genius Hour Project. It is inviting, open, and full of great details!
  2. Invite them into the classroom. Seriously, this was one of the best things I did. I invited the principal, my colleagues, and parents into our class during Genius Hour days to see/help the students with their work.
  3. Share your student blogs and give regular updates. There is nothing to hide and you want to share student research and work as much as possible. Use blogs and regular updates to showcase the process.
  4. Invite them into the presentations. We invited parents and the school community to see our students present. We also live-streamed the event. Other teachers like Nicholas Provenzano turned the entire presentation into a TEDx event!

Is there student examples we can look at?

Yes! Here are two of my favorite places to look at student Genius Hour Projects:

How do I grade this type of project?

There are many different ways to grade, assess, and reflect on Genius Hour projects. The live binder has 15+ rubrics and assessment resources to dive into (link here).

My favorite way of assessing this project is to grade the process, not the final product or presentation. For this, I used the G.R.I.T. Rubric developed by San Francisco College Track. It assesses students on their Guts, Resiliency, Integrity, and Tenacity throughout the project. I love it!
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Are there any good resources for Elementary students?

Yes! Look at all of these great resources on the Genius Hour wikispace! Also, Bill Selak’s article about Genius Hour with 2nd graders, and Erin Klein’s article about Genius Hour with 5th graders.

Can’t forget to peruse the wonderful Joy Kirr’s Livebinder for Genius Hour (it is a wealth of information!).

What’s next after Genius Hour and 20% Time Projects?!

Honestly this is my favorite question! Genius Hour and 20% Time projects are a fantastic way to give students choice in their learning path and implement inquiry-based learning in your classroom. But, it’s not the only way, and it may not be the “best” way for your students and class.

In my new course for The University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (4.5 continuing education graduate credits), I walk you through using technology with a purpose, extending reading and writing, and taking inquiry-based learning to the next level. It is going to be a fully immersive online experience that starts on September 15th (pre-register now to reserve a spot). Here’s a brief overview of the course:

  • Session 01: The PLN Frameworks: The Four Lenses of Learning, The Five Reading Writing Talking Processes
  • Session 02: Extending Reading & Writing with Technology, The Unlearning Cycle & 21st Century Literacy
  • Session 03: Inquiry-Based Learning, Genius Hour
  • Session 04: Projects with Purpose, Technology & Research
  • Session 05: The Design Thinking Process
  • Session 06: SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) and What It Means For Your Classroom Learning Experiences
  • Session 07: Launching Your Project to an Authentic Audience; Technology Tools to Share
  • Session 08: 21st Century Assessment Practices
  • Session 09: Extending Choice With Technology, Reflection

Click here to learn more and pre-register this week to reserve your spot in the Fall Semester!

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