Tag Archives: genius hour

Reflections on Genius Hour for Science

Good morning.
In response to an email I received from alert reader Tamara Gonzalez at the Baldwin School of Puerto Rico, I’ve been reflecting on the Genius Hour projects my students have completed over the past decade. Today’s post outlines how I structured Genius Hour to maximize student learning, facilitate meaningful feedback during the creative process, and minimize the stress of overseeing several dozen individual projects simultaneously.


My first attempt at a Genius Hour-like project was for the AP Physics and grade 9 general science classes I taught at The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK) in DRC. I’ve also run a Genius Hour for my MYP science students in grades 8, 9, and 10 here in Tanzania. In all of these classes, I’ve had the luxury of teaching in 85- or 90-minute blocks meeting on average 3 times per week. In general, students have had at least one full 9-week term to complete the project so that students complete four Genius Hour projects over the course of a school year. A couple of times my team and I elected to give students more time, so that they completed 2 or 3 projects during the year.


I ran 2 Genius Hours with the AP physics class: a projectile motion project in the 1st semester and a Rube Goldberg project during the 2nd semester. The objective of the projectile motion project was to design and build a trebuchet, catapult, or ballista capable of hitting a 1-m² target with a 1-kg projectile from a distance of 50m. I introduced each project at the start of the term with interim due dates every 2 weeks and a final due date in the last week of term. Students had “normal” lessons (notes, problem solving, lab practicals, quizzes and tests) in blocks 1 through 4, with every 5th block dedicated entirely to work on the Genius Hour project, when I’d conference individually with each student. The Rube Goldberg project had a similar structure, but the objective was to have 5 distinct steps from units other than those covered in the projectile motion project. In addition to the dedicated block every other week, students had access to my classroom every day after school so that they could work on their designs as needed. Students were also encouraged to work on their projects at home and film their work as evidence of progress.
For the MYP classes, I’ve made extensive use of Google Classroom and Drive to monitor students’ progress. I wrote and shared the Genius Hour task instruction sheet with view-only privileges. Then I created a color-coded organizational document, which I shared with the “make a copy for each student” option in Classroom. The organizational document is an easy-to-follow repository of information at all phases of the project, from brainstorm to publication, where the student completes formative tasks and records progress toward his or her final goal. Work is not lost or misplaced, and because it is a shared document, I can monitor each student’s progress and verify whether they’ve met interim deadlines.


I collaborated with our librarian so that my students were always in the library during that 5th block dedicated to Genius Hour. The first few library sessions incorporated her lessons on research, plagiarism, and citation skills, with students using my organizational document to keep notes and record progress toward their final product. During the GH-dedicated block, I opened every student’s organizational document and used it to guide a 3-minute individual conference about his or her project, during which I added comments to the document so that they’d have a written record of my feedback. This arrangement meant that every student received both verbal and written individualized feedback from me at least 4 or 5 times before the final product was submitted, and because of the commenting feature of Google Docs, they could ask questions at 1am if that’s when they were working on it.


Overall the quality and depth of student work was far superior to anything I’ve gotten via other projects or assignments, enough that Genius Hour has become a central feature of my teaching. The first time my team submitted student work for MYP moderation, our scores were moderated down because the projects weren’t all standard essays or research papers – we submitted videos and podcasts as well as traditional papers – but I view that more as a reflection on the IBO’s rigidity around moderation samples rather than on the quality of student learning. In subsequent years we figured out that it was best to only submit the essay/research paper products, and the moderation marks were fine.
That’s a bit of a rambling analysis, but it touches on most of the major questions I’ve had while discussing Genius Hour with other educators.
Happy learning!

Genius Hour is Back!

Good morning! It’s been a long time since I contributed anything to this blog apart from some tweet links, but I have good reason to return: My grade 10 students have finished the latest iteration of their Genius Hour projects. They  chose between biology and physics and were given 20% of all lessons to work on a topic of personal interest. Below, you will find a selection of some of the work I’ve received.

A look at HIV immunity and genetics:

Sleep disorders:

Using the electromagnetic spectrum to communicate:

Albinism in Tanzania:

Biotechnology in Agriculture

Good morning and happy new year!

Back at school today after a lovely 3-week holiday in southern Spain, so it seems best to start with a celebration of one of my student’s Genius Hour projects. The animation below was created by 8th-grader Darik de Jong, and it explores the positive and negative impacts of biotechnology in agriculture. I think the quality of animation is excellent, and Darik communicates the required scientific information clearly.


Genius Hour in Chemistry

“Chemistry is, well technically, chemistry is the study of matter. But I prefer to see it as the study of change.”

-Walter White, Breaking Bad

My last class today was one of those moments that keeps me teaching. My two grade-level collaborators and I just launched a Genius Hour project for our Grade 10 chemistry unit – How have scientific and technical innovations in chemistry changed our world? – and some of the ideas our students came up with are pretty engaging. Check out this brief list of some of the more memorable proposals from today:

  • A discussion of the benefits and limitations of spray-on solar cells
  • Are methadone treatments for heroin addicts ethical?
  • How has molecular gastronomy impacted the food industry?
  • How has the development of cheap plastics impacted the lives of subsistence farmers in east Africa?
  • What are the potential environmental consequences of new-generation car batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles, and how do they compare to the consequences of internal combustion engines?
  • How has our perception and use of LSD changed, from a proposed Cold-War truth serum, to a recreational drug, to a possible treatment for psychological disorders?
  • A comparison of social interactions before and after the invention of indoor air conditioning.

I love the idea of kids exploring their own personal interests within the framework of a subject or topic. School should be more like this more often. It’s certainly less boring for the students, but it’s also considerably more engaging for us teachers as well. For one thing, I don’t have to grade 60 of the same tedious essay topic assigned year after year! Instead, students create videos and animations, write songs, and make public speeches à la TED talks.

In previous open-ended projects I’ve done with my classes, I have found that I am better able to judge individual students’ understanding of major concepts in science because we have many more two-way conversations, rather than the typical one-sided lectures common to so many classrooms around the world. Not only am I better able to assess their learning, but students’ learning goes considerably deeper.

For more on the Genius Hour movement in education, check out Chris Kessler’s blog, GeniusHour.com, and the video below.

Happy learning!