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Curriculum Opinion

“The Genius Hour Guidebook": an Interview With Denise Krebs & Gallit Zvi

By Larry Ferlazzo — July 06, 2016 6 min read
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Educators Denise Krebs & Gallit Zvi agreed to answer a few questions about their book, The Genius Hour Guidebook:

LF: How would you describe Genius Hour to an educator who has heard little or nothing about it?

Denise Krebs & Gallit Zvi:

Genius Hour is a combination of inquiry-based and passion-based learning. It is a time (usually one hour per week, but sometimes more) when students are able to learn about something they wonder about or are passionate about. They get to pick the topic and type of project. Some students use this precious time to inquire into an area of interest/wonder such as a time in history, an animal, a weather pattern, etc., and some students work on projects that are more driven from the heart such as promoting animal rights, spreading happiness, ending bullying, etc.

Genius Hour is a time for teachers to explore the beauty and change that occurs when the learning reins are handed over to their students. When students are the ones who drive their own learning, magical things happen in the classroom for all the learners--students and teacher alike. The teacher then becomes empowered to provide more and more time for learner-centered opportunities in the classroom.

LF: I’m not very fond of the word “rigor,” but what are ways to ensure that students are enhancing their academic skills and applying higher-order thinking while participating in Genius Hour?

Denise Krebs & Gallit Zvi:

We suggest beginning Genius Hour with several discussions about inquiry and designing a strong question. We also spend time with students talking about creativity and the attributes of a creative thinker. We use the creativity rubric that Denise and her students created (it is in our book and available on our companion site, geniushourguide.org), and students get to know the attributes and self-assess as to where they think they are at the starting point.

We definitely think it is important to lead up to Genius Hour in a meaningful way, and then when students actually start their projects they are thinking about the inquiry process or the creativity attributes (problem solving, generating ideas, etc) that they are working on.

Another way that ensures students are getting the most out of their Genius Hour projects is to hold one-on-one conferences with them. During these times students can explain how they are doing, what they are working on, how they might need extra support, and the teacher can ask questions that help them focus on those critical and creative thinking skills. We find this personal time spent with students helps hold them accountable and wanting to do their best work. In addition, warm relationships develop between teacher and student as they listen to and learn about and from each other during these conferences. Teachers, including both of us, confirm that these strengthened relationships are one of the best by-products of Genius Hour.

LF: There are, and have been, other instructional strategies that encourage students to identify a topic of their interest, including project-based and problem-based learning. How would you say that Genius Hour is different, or is it?

Denise Krebs & Gallit Zvi:

Genius Hour and project- and problem-based learning definitely share some of the same attributes--answering engaging and essential questions, solving real-world problems, thinking deeply, and learning actively by the students, to name a few.

Perhaps there is one important difference, though. In Genius Hour there is one more step that is given fully to the students--the creation of the problem, project, or question. Students themselves choose the problem to solve and how to go about solving it. Teachers don’t suggest or guide the problem-finding in Genius Hour, as they might in PBL. In fact, many subject area teachers do not even require the students to stay within their subject area for Genius Hour projects. For instance, math students are free to explore their passions in music, visual art, science, language or humanities. And, of course, with this freedom, students learn about the interconnections between subjects, and that the arbitrary school dividing lines between math and all the other areas of knowledge aren’t real.

We encourage teachers to really make Genius Hour a time where students can take risks, learn from their mistakes, find new problems to solve, and adjust and keep going throughout the project time allotted.

LF: Okay, I’m a teacher who wants to implement Genius Hour in my classroom. What’s my pitch to the principal?

Denise Krebs & Gallit Zvi:

We think it is important to focus on what a great learning opportunity Genius Hour is. Because of the nature of Genius Hour, and the choice that is offered students, we cannot always speak to what content areas will be uncovered during Genius Hour, but in our pitch to the principal we can certainly focus on the processes of learning--things like critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication skills, etc. No matter the project, students inevitably grow in these areas.

In addition to those 21st century learning skills, the language skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing, including publishing, are all tackled in an authentic manner in each Genius Hour project.

We also hear from teachers and administrators both who were convinced when they saw the students fully engaged and involved in Genius Hour. That’s why we always suggest inviting the principal to see Genius Hour in action.

LF: Apart from your book, you have also provided a number of other supportive resources for teachers who are interested in Genius Hour. Can you describe them?

Denise Krebs & Gallit Zvi:

We have a monthly Twitter chat on the first Thursday of the month at 6 pm Pacific time. It’s a time when we tackle topics like introducing Genius Hour in your classroom, developing inquiry questions and project ideas, sharing Genius Hour projects our students have created, GH in the primary classroom, GH in secondary school, creativity and imagination, wonder, maker spaces, and more.

There is also a wiki, where we post the chat archives and other resources. //geniushour.wikispaces.com/

The twitter account, @geniushour, is a place to share resources and help Genius Hour teachers build a network.

Routledge and MiddleWeb, our publishers, host a website for us to be able to share resources that add to what we wrote in The Genius Hour Guidebook. You can find that website here: //www.geniushourguide.org/

LF: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to share?

Denise Krebs & Gallit Zvi:

Although our book is written with Middle School teachers in mind (4th through 8th grade mostly) we know that Genius Hour works wonderfully with younger students as well as older students. If you check out the companion site to our book, geniushourguide.org, you will find posts about primary and secondary students, so please check that out if you are teaching those grades and wondering if Genius Hour can work for you!

Also, even though we recommend asking students to begin with a question (using an inquiry-based learning approach) that doesn’t mean that we require traditional research as part of their projects. We absolutely love it when students think outside the box and come up with their own unique inventions and creations, or when they decide to do a passion-based project to make a difference in their community. We are often asked if students must do research as a part of the project, and we don’t believe that they do. Of course, some will have inquiry questions that do rely on lots of research and that is great too! We embrace all kinds of student-driven Genius Hour projects!

LF: Thanks, Denise and Gallit!



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