Genius Hour has become quite a trend in the educational sphere lately and, after seeing it in action at Merrylands East Public School last term, I decided to try it with my Year 8 class this term.  Genius Hour is based on the initiative by Google to give their employees twenty percent of their week to explore something they are passionate about.  Google found this incentive incredibly productive and many of their recent projects such as Gmail, originated from the work completed by employees in this time.  Although, Google has since cancelled 20% time in the workplace, I really love the idea of working on something you are passionate about.  Students often whinge that they don’t like the topic being studied or wish they could be doing something else, and for me this is what Genius Hour is about – working on something you are passionate about.  Genius Hour in the classroom gives the students a lesson a week to work on something they are passionate about and discover their ‘genius’.  This program at Mount Alvernia is based around our Inquiry-Based learning approach and allows students to create a passion-based project as they move through the stages of inquiry.

There have been many studies undertaken around Genius Hour in education and I encourage you to explore these online by typing ‘Genius Hour’ into a Google search.  Dan Pink in particular, is a key motivator in this area and his TED talk explains the ideas behind Genius Hour well.

There are many resources and approaches available online provided by particular teachers, and while many of these approaches vary, the key idea I have taken on board is that genius hour, while student-centred, needs a defined structure.  I think many people are quick to jump on board because they like the idea of giving students an hour to ‘do whatever they want’, in my perspective, this would never work.  While students may like this idea for a few lessons, I could see them quickly become bored and disengaged as they run out of things to do, or, achieve what they want to in one lesson and be left with nothing to do.  I approached Genius Hour as an opportunity for students to undertake  an inquiry project on something they were passionate about.  While the topic and outcomes were completely up to them, what I was looking for was their ability to move through the inquiry process and measure the differences in their knowledge and understandings before they started and after they finished.  While this approach is quite student-centred, it does involve the teacher (or a team of teachers) to act as mentors and guide the process.  Much like guided-inquiry, there is always opportunity for teachers to intervene when things aren’t going to plan and ensure that students are on task and achieve what they set out to.

Recently, I came across a blog post by Ewan McIntosh suggesting that 20% time (Genius Hour)  is not measuring up to expectations when applied to a classroom context.  I interpreted his main concern as being that when students are given this time, they don’t know what to do or quickly lose interest when their projects become too difficult for them to manage. I guess this comes back to structure and process, I don’t expect all 30 students to create something that ‘wows’ me, what I do expect is to all students passionate about why they are learning.  I think Simone de Beauviour hit the nail on the head when she stated,”One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius”.  This is exactly what Genius Hour provides for, allowing students to consider what their passion is and how they might go about using their passion to create something.  Personally, I am hoping that Genius Hour will inspire the girls to explore their passions, allow them to take ownership of their learning and further develop skill such as research, collaboration, problem solving and critical thinking. We are only a few weeks into Genius Hour, but I am expecting students to be actively involved and enjoying a project of their choice.. the passion this involves is more the genius I’m looking for.

While it is still early days for #geniushourmta I have included some screen shots of some of the plans the students have for Genius Hour (taken from their reflective blogs).  I’m looking forward to the final products!

Creating a Tribe of Twitterians – Part 2

It has been over a term now that my year eight class have been using Twitter to assist their learning and the experience has been incredibly rewarding.  I am continually amazed at how the use of Twitter has demolished the walls of my classroom and assisted in extending the learning of my students beyond their physical confines.  In particular, the experiences I have had with my class on Twitter are a great example of why modelling is the best policy when it comes to Social Media.


I believe that building strong relationships with my students is essential if we are going to work together effectively.  Often, this happens in class, however I was pleasantly surprised to find that Twitter nourished these relationships between classes.  Simple things like recommending great reads, congratulating or enquiring about a student’s absence became much easier over Twitter, particularly during holiday times.  Using Twitter made it much easier to send well-wishes to sick students, congratulate them on their achievements or share something that I knew would be of particular interest to them (eg, a movie launch or book recommendation).  It quickly became second nature for my students to let me know what they had worked on in class if I was out at a conference or meeting and recommend things to me they knew I would like.  The image below is a quick snapshot of the Tweets I received after my most recent time away from the class. Not only did this let me know what they achieved in the lesson, it also helped me to know what I needed to cover the next time I saw them.

Used with permission

A snapshot of Tweets

Not only did using Twitter build on the relationships I had with my class, it also allowed greater communication and relationship building between my students and other members of staff.  The students also used Twitter as a means of communication with their peers between classes.

Used with Permission

Relationships between staff and students

Used with Permission

Conversations with Staff

Used with permission

Conversation between Students

Seeking Clarification

Having your students Tweet in class is a great tool to allow for real-time feedback and clarification.  Although we like to think all of the students in our class will ask questions the moment they don’t understand something, this doesn’t always happen.  What I have noticed is that when students are able to Tweet their questions they are a lot more open about what they don’t understand.  This allows you to give real-time feedback and allows your students to seek clarification and move on quickly, instead of waiting until you check their work or assessment for understanding.  I noticed the particular benefits of this when I had a student-teacher taking a lesson in my class.  The students who were too shy to ask questions or didn’t want to interrupt started Tweeting their questions/observations and this allowed their peers or myself to help them out so they would be able to understand the content of the lesson.  Below is a brilliant example of the students coming to the assistance of their peers.

Used with Permission

Seeking Clarification from Peers

I was then able to follow through and check for understanding at a later date to ensure that the student  had really understood the concepts being studied. You can see that her peers also offered her positive encouragement and recognised her efforts to understand something that she had found confusing.

Checking for Understanding

Sharing of ideas with class and wider community

Students love to have their voice heard and Twitter provides an excellent forum for this.  Sharing notes, resources and ideas on Twitter came very easily to my students, and often our class hashtag became the best place for people (including myself) who had missed a class to catch up.  Sharing happened with the class, with other classes and staff and also authors and people in the wider community.  Some examples of how this happened in my class are below.

Sharing ideas and notes

Sharing ideas and notes

Sharing Resources

Sharing Resources

Sharing of Activities

Sharing of Activities

What's for Homework

What’s for Homework?

Modelling IS the best policy 

As you can (probably) tell, I have absolutely loved the opportunities for collaboration and relationship building that Twitter has created for my class.  However, what I do need to stress is – I was lucky that things went seamlessly for me.  I think this has a lot to do with modelling.  Taking five minutes out of the occasional lesson to discuss Tweets we had seen and what we thought about their professionalism and effectiveness really helped the students understand exactly what they should be doing when using Twitter.  I can’t stress enough that if you start your students on Twitter and don’t know how to use it yourself you won’t get any results, and students will probably only use it  to follow celebrities and TV shows.  In order to use Twitter effectively in your classroom you must be willing to follow your students and have them follow you. You need to be comfortable enough to have a conversation with them when they aren’t Tweeting appropriately (eg, using a ‘selfie’ or ‘Emojis’).   If you take the time to model for you students and make them aware of the appropriate usage you will find that they use it professionally and are well on the way to creating their positive digital footprint.

If you are feeling overwhelmed at the thought of your students being able to contact you 24/7 just remember.. you decide where and when you Tweet 🙂