Genius Hour: The Mother of Personalized Learning

Genius Hour: The Mother of Personalized Learning

The concept of “Genius Hour” was new to me up until I realized that Genius Hour is what my former school used to call the “Multiple Intelligences” or M.I. clubs. Back in the day, once a month, we carved out an hour for all of the students to go to an M.I. Club of their choice. The year was 1998, and once my principal made the announcement, the students would scramble in the halls to get to their cooking club, printing club, bird watching club, football club, etc., etc. What I realize now, that I didn’t know then, is that with M.I. Clubs, our school was genuinely interested in what students were interested in. We took a break from teaching the curriculum and taught what students actually wanted to know more about.

 

Genius Hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom.  It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time while in school (retrieved from https://geniushour.com/what-is-genius-hour/). You will recall, in an earlier post, that I wrote about encouraging students to follow their desires rather than their passions. On the contrary, by definition, Genius Hour encourages students to explore their passions. Still, I’d like to amend this definition and state that Genius Hour allows students to explore and discover pockets of passions which can be bundled into long-term learning desires.

According to TeachThought, Genius Hour is:

  1. Student-centered
  2. Messy
  3. Emphasizes inquiry and research
  4. Authentic
  5. New challenges (i.e., it creates new problems to solve in your classroom)
  6. Inherently personalized
  7. Inherently creative
  8. Purpose-driven
  9. Maker-friendly
  10. Often collaborative and social

Genius Hour is not:

  1. Standards-based
  2. Data-driven
  3. “Free time” for students
  4. Teacher-centered
  5. Without any rules or expectations
  6. Less rigorous (compared to other approaches to learning)
  7. Structure-free
  8. Requires whiz-bang technology
  9. Unfit for schools and other formal learning environments
  10. Requires less planning and less teacher “effort”

After reflecting on the principles behind Genius Hour, I concluded that Genius Hour is the mother of Personalized Learning because during Genius Hour, students explore their interests and begin to understand themselves as learners and their learning preferences. During the structured inquiry, students have an opportunity to assess their knowledge gaps and ascertain their learning needs. Moreover, Genius Hour promotes project management, iterative thinking, systems thinking, exploration, critical thinking, and valuing lessons acquired from failures.

For instructional designers, Genius Hour is yet another strategy that can be utilized within any instructional systems design models. For instance, instructional designers for online learning can use Genius Hour to personalize learning based on learner analyses. Learners are taking courses for a reason, hence, doing a thorough learner analysis will allow the instructional designer to prescribe opportunities for learners to specialize in their interests.

The following is an example from my work. I’m currently working with the Borg’s Ubuntugogy as Contextualized Instructional Design Model.  See figure below:

Within this instructional design model, I could easily prescribe Genius Hour to occur within the apprenticeship phase of Borg’s model. Borg defined the apprenticeship phase “as a delivery method for experiential learning” (p.81). Hence, during this portion of the model, I could prescribe learning tasks that are structured around the principles of Genius Hour using a  framework that I developed based on Michalko’s ThinkerToys.

Borg defined an apprentice as “someone who learns from a skilled practitioner through shared experience” (p. 82).  Hence, the instructor is the skilled practitioner that will create a shared Genius Hour experience that can be individually personalized. In my framework, I propose that Genius Hour start with Mind-pumping. Mind-pumping fills the minds of learners with informed ideas, thus helping them to “act like an idea person” (Michalko, 2014). The following strategies will help learners fill their minds with ideas and capture those ideas before they dissipate.

  • Keep an idea log
  • Set idea quotas
  • Paying close attention to what happens around you daily
  • Capture ideas by writing them down

The next step I prescribe is to center the learner’s interests or challenges within a specific goal. Hence, learners can use the following strategies to highlight his or her  ideas that will help to attain the goal.

  • In what ways might I…
  • What are the key words within my challenge or interests
  • The five Whys
  • Squeeze challenges or ideas with restraints

Now, the meaty part of Genius Hour, the Creation Framework portion taken from Michalko’s ThinkerToys.  According to Michalko, “Thinkertoys reflect linear and intuitive thinking, both of which are necessary for optimum creativity. The basic difference between the two is that the linear Thinkertoys structure existing information while the intuitive toys generate new information using insight, imagination, and intuition.

Finally, design thinking can be employed once the creation of a solid idea is evident. Steps in design thinking include:

  • Empathize
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test

In sum, Genius Hour is the mother of personalized learning because learners embark upon a learning path of their choice within the context of the course. Learner voice is very evident and their preferences are made known throughout the inquiry. Moreover, learners develop agency when they perceive their ideas as valid.  If instructors want to enhance learner retention and course completion, then Genius Hour is perhaps one way to deeply engage learners and provide support for their learning needs, preferences, and interests.

Reference:
Borg, S. (2017). Ubuntugogy as Contextualized Instructional Design for Adult Leadership Development within the Swaziland Leadership Academy. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED582698 on August 26, 2018.

Michalko, M. (2014). Thinkertoys: A handbook of creative-thinking techniques. Berkeley: Ten speed press.

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