Boredom: the sad inevitable reality of most elementary and high school classrooms.
However, should students accept this as a universal truth? Why should they be forced to sacrifice their interests for the purpose of ‘learning’? Shouldn’t we as teachers be doing a better job of intrinsically motivating our students to learn? I know that when I was a student, there was nothing worse than having a teacher talk at you for an hour and a half, using a presentation that was clearly three years old, or being forced to sit through a forty-five minute video on photosynthesis. I was so uninterested in the material that I would not do well on tests because I had trouble internalizing and relating to the information – all I wanted was the opportunity to pursue my own interests, not what someone else found interesting.
The problem is that half of the curriculum walks into your classroom when your students do – therefore, spending your time planning generic lessons will not be beneficial for your students. You must teach to their interests – but how do we as teachers do that?
I introduce to you: Genius Hour!
Genius hour originated from the search engine company, Google (you might have heard of them). They allowed their engineers to spend 20% of their time to work on any project they wanted to, with the hope that spending time on things they enjoyed would increase their overall productivity. As Drake, Reid, & Kolohon (2014) suggest, it is the perfect opportunity to, “develop 21st Century skills such as independence, learning how to learn, and creativity through inquiry” (p. 102).
If you’re struggling to develop autonomy in your students, genius hour could be the solution that succeeds in your classroom. It works because the teacher asks students to develop an essential question that will motivate them to explore a topic (some examples here) related to what is being taught and challenges them achieve deeper learning. A contract is written up, which determines the amount of time students have to work on their individual projects and sets specific guidelines without restricting the creative process. The teacher shifts from using the banking model of education to becoming a facilitator of knowledge, able to provide students with the help and resources they need. Teachers can step back from the learning process and allow their students to direct their own learning.
Here are three requirements to implement it into your classroom:
- You, the teacher, must approve the project.
- The project must be researched (using books, the internet, and any other resources available).
- When complete, the project must be presented and shared with the rest of the class (and even the world!)
Students use this “free” time to break the cycle of boredom and follow their passions, demonstrating their presentation skills and acquiring knowledge relevant to a subject area that their inquiry belongs to (cite this, textbook). Can you imagine if this had existed when I was in school? I’m not sure I would have ever left.
I highly suggest playing this video when you introduce Genius Hour into your classroom, it will surely motivate your students to achieve success (I’ve seen it several times and still get excited watching it).
As he puts it best, “what will you do to make the world more awesome?” I challenge you to ask your students the same question.
Time is truly the greatest currency we have. To use it as best as we can, to passionately pursue our interests as much as we can, and to have as much fun as possible while we can. Why not give your students 20% more time to do so?
Drake, S., & Kolohon, W. (2014). Interweaving curriculum and classroom assessment: Engaging the 21st century learner. Don Mills: Oxford University Press.