Elementary schools explore the Genius Hour

“What animals have gone extinct?” “How are butterfly wings so thin, yet strong?” “What can I do to help orcas in captivity?” -

These are just a few questions explored during Genius Hour by elementary students at Indian Peaks and Blue Mountain schools.

The idea of Genius Hour models Google’s work philosophy. Google employees are allowed to spend 20 percent of their work hours on any project of personal interest. Allowing employees to work on ideas that they were passionate about increased overall work productivity and generated several of Google’s most popular products.

Educators found similar exciting results when using 20 percent-time in the classroom. During Genius Hour, students choose any topic about which they are passionate or want to learn more. During the research phase, they can use printed materials or technology, interview adults or peers, or perform experiments. Students guide their own learning process, which encourages open creativity, innovation, and motivation.

Indian Peaks Elementary explored Genius Hour with their summer school staff and 148 students as a way to get struggling readers to want to read more and improve reading levels of their English-language learners. Principal Kathi Jo Walder was elated with the students’ excitement around their projects and academic progress.

“They worked through really difficult texts that they normally would not have even tried, way above what their levels were, because they were so interested in what they were studying,” said Walder.
This year, Indian Peaks is integrating Genius Hour as part of their after-school reading program to build on the excitement generated during summer and to continue reading growth.

Blue Mountain Elementary is in their second year of using Genius Hour with 560 students, grades K-5, participating each week in one hour of exploration. In line with their inquiry-based curriculum, Genius Hour was a way to further expand inquiry into reading and literacy skills.

Along with raising reading levels, Blue Mountain principal, Kristie Venrick, noticed increased pride and ownership in student learning. Venrick said, “[Genius Hour teaches] being confident in your thinking. [It supports] knowing where to find answers and [encourages] being able to stick with a project that is hard and long term. … It helps them learn to be good thinkers, problem solvers and risk takers in their learning.”

Genius Hour encourages students to explore their world beyond the classroom and find their role in it. Blue Mountain fifth grader, Alyssa, built a Mini Library in her neighborhood from her research and planning during Genius Hour in fourth grade.

“[We saw] a Mini Library in front of someone’s house. … We thought it was really cool. [My family] never had time to get to it. When the teacher said we were doing Genius Hour, I thought that it would be the perfect time to make one. … It was really fun working with my dad [to build it],” said Alyssa. “I like doing it once a week. It is a nice break to go and create something. It is hard work but fun along the way.”

Genius Hour shows students that learning is not a linear process, but a cycle that produces new ideas for exploration.