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Combining Genius Hour with Online Learning

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There seem to be a few extra hours in the day when they’re all spent at home. Gone are the hours of hustle and bustle, prepping to go out, unpacking from the day, commuting from here to there and there to here.

Wouldn’t it be marvelous if we could give our students the gift of something beautiful to do with more of those hours? Something that will put them into that much-lauded state of blissful focus where they don’t even notice time passing? 
With standardized tests canceled and more creative freedom than usual to connect with and inspire our students, now might be the time for a genius hour project. 
I’ve written about this before, enthusiastically, but I think these next six weeks are an ideal opportunity to get started with genius hour. 
Genius hour is basically an opportunity for students to engage in a project of their own choosing. Something they’ve always dreamed of doing. While on the surface, the project might seem to be totally unrelated to ELA, in the process of researching and learning what they need to know to follow through with the project, and reporting on their process, they’ll easily tick plenty of ELA boxes. 
Let’s look at some examples of genius hour projects.
A student might launch a project that involves… 
  • Learning a new language (like Spanish, Navajo, or coding)
  • Learning to play the guitar or piano
  • Making French pastry
  • Designing clothing
  • Starting a Youtube channel, podcast, or blog
  • Submitting short stories to literary magazines
  • Building and painting bookshelves 
  • Starting a small business
  • Starting a social media movement
  • Coding a robot
Now, for a full classroom genius hour, you’d probably want to build in a ton of scaffolding. Students would make plans and set deadlines, consider ways of prototyping, launching, presenting. 
But for this, I think the main thing is to put the project out there and give them time. Let them report back to you each week in a way that works for them. 
Maybe they will blog about the project using a free platform like Blogger.  They can use it to describe what they’re doing and share photos and videos of their progress. 
Maybe they’ll write you an email each week describing what they’ve been doing and how it’s going, attaching a cell phone photo or two. 
Maybe they’ll write about what they’re doing in a notebook each week, filling the page with writing and things like sketches and models and song lyrics and whatever goes with the project in a sketchnotes-style journal of the work. They could snap a photo to send you for the weekly check-in, or mail you the whole thing at the end. 
Maybe they’ll start a private Instagram account to showcase the work and share it with you. Each week they can post photos and videos and writing about their progress. 
There are a million ways students can share their genius hour work with you, and just about all of them involve ELA skills in action. But more than demonstrating their skills, ideally this project will inspire your students to tap into their own joy in learning. Skill development will happen from there. 
A beginning coder who really wants to get better will soon find podcasts, Youtube channels, and experts on Twitter who can help her go further. A young pastry chef is likely to begin a beautiful journey down the rabbit hole of cookbooks and food blogs and Instagram video demonstrations when he realizes how hard it is to bake a macaron with a good “foot.” A newly minted podcaster will soon be typing up scripts and interview questions, carefully crafting emails to potential guests and maybe even pitches to advertisers. 
Needless to say, genius hour can also easily become a careers unit, as students see the work other students are doing.
During distance learning, your role will be to manage these check-ins, encourage your students, and keep pointing them in the next direction. They’re stuck for a podcast platform? You can send them a link to Anchor. They’re not sure the best way to start learning French? Suggest an app, or a Youtube channel. You can remove roadblocks for them and cheer them on. 
To help you get started, I’ve created a springboard assignment sheet for genius hour, which you can download free in the Distance Learning section of my shop on TPT. Here it is in PDF form, and here, in an editable version on Google Drive

Did you know you can learn about all your wish list ELA strategies on your daily commute or walk with The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast? Explore one-pagers, escape rooms, sketchnotes, creative annotation options, research projects, poetry workshops, and much more through over a hundred quick episodes waiting for you on your favorite podcast player!


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I'm Betsy

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  • I just got this launched in my 9th and 10th grade online classes! I gathered ideas from all over the internet which got a bit overwhelming, so to have it all in one simple document is a lovely idea. I think I over-complicated it because my poor freshmen were flailing there for a while. I think we are all sorted out now, though, and hopefully everyone is working on it over our spring break. First check in is next Friday!

    • Good for you! That's so great to hear. I really think genius hour is perfect for this moment in time.

  • I see that you shared the Google Drive version of your Genius Hour activity on Teachers Pay Teachers, but my district is blocking access to that site on my district issued device. Can you share that link with me? I would be so grateful! My email is mmoser@efcts.us

  • I see that you shared the Google Drive version of your Genius Hour activity on Teachers Pay Teachers, but my district is blocking access to that site on my district issued device. Can you share that link with me? I would be so grateful!garmstrong@bhcs.vic.edu.au

  • This is perfect, excellent! Thank you a lot. I hope we all have good internet service to normally proceed with the remote learning. To all parents and teachers out there that are facing difficulties due to internet service problems you may find useful checking for outages and comparing some ISPs. Overwhelmed services result in constant internet outages that ruin my kids online learning experience.
    Thanks again for sharing this, I hope will have stable signal to keep going.
    All the best!


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