"Do things with passion or not at all."
Unit eleven in the Flipped Learning Certification Level II course was with Kate Lanier, a Physics teacher in Texas. I have come across genius hour in the past, I think you would have to be living under a rock to have not heard of it. My understanding is that it originated with Google or one of the other big tech companies who gave employees twenty percent of their time at work to work on passion projects with some stunning results, a concept has been taken by education and tweaked to be the genius hour.
There were a few key points that Kate outlined as being critical to genius hour. One of the critical aspects in my opinion is that we as teachers do not have to know the skill or have the knowledge that students want to pursue; I suspect it may be better if we do not know. As teachers we often feel that we have to know everything about the topic or subject and this is why many teachers do not dive into new strategies or ideas such as genius hour, project based learning, flipped learning etc. We do not need to know coding, for example, if that is what the student wants to pursue. If we can point the student to some good quality resources, that will be enough in many cases.
Kate also stressed that it has to be new learning for the students, that it cannot be something they already know about. It can be an extension of something they know, if new learning will occur as part of that extension. This could mean that they cannot simply research their personal fandom (Marvel, Star Wars etc.), however, if they wanted to learn to make a stop-motion animation, they could certainly use that fandom as the base.
Reflecting on Kate's explanation of genius hour, there seemed to me to be a lot of similarities with Project-Based Learning, with the key difference being that the student chose their own project or focus rather than being given one to work on. I have come across various criticisms against genius hour; including that it is inappropriate in novice classrooms, which seems to make sense; that it sets a poor standard by indicating we can relegate creativity and passion to an hour a week, and the criticism that expecting employees to do all of their work in only eighty percent of the time in order to free up twenty percent of their time to work on a personal passion project that will benefit the company seems like it is completely inconsistent (I have been unable to find the article where I read this criticism).
My belief is that like anything this can work in some contexts but not in others. I would not be putting this in place in a novice class, however, providing genius hour as some sort of integrated cross-curricular project to help students tie up and bring together their learning from a unit of learning could be a valuable investment in time. The challenge, however, is still being able to complete the required curriculum in only eighty percent of the available time.
I would love to hear from anyone who has tried to implement genius hour, successful or not, and what your leanings were from the experience.