How to Create Genius Hour in School

As students become increasingly disengaged and apathetic toward school, a new movement is sweeping the educational front. CNN recently reported on “Genius Hour,” a concept taken from Google’s 20% time program where employees can spend approximately 20% of their time working on their own ideas and creations. Why so important? The educators who have implemented this program have found newly inspired and invigorated students, who are more curious and less concerned about trying something new and possibly failing. "I learned that sometimes you don't have enough time for all the stuff you want to do," Jesse Pratt told CNN. Pratt is an 8 year old who designed a marble run at school and built it at home with his father. "I thought it would turn out differently, but it's actually pretty cool the other way it turned out." Although no hard and fast rules are associated with offering Genius Hour, there are a few guidelines that may help process implementation go a little smoother.


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    Collaborate on projects. CNN found that because students have not been taught to think about how to create and executive a personal project, students and teachers had a difficult time with this direction.
    • Scan social media. Some teachers found ideas on Twitter and the news. Consider using timely, but age appropriate jumping off points for students to turn to for personal Genius Hour projects.
    • Select seasonal projects. Two Michigan teachers used the calendar and seasons for personal projects, for example in December students were asked to design a personal project about what Christmas is like in other countries.
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    Make room for failure. Just like what you may be encouraging students to do, open yourself to failure by trying new ideas. In some classrooms, finding enough unique personal projects may be trying, whereas in another classroom time management and staying on task may pose a challenge.
    • Write down what works and doesn’t work. This will remind you what you tried and found wasn’t effective so you don’t repeat the same process/behavior again in the future.
    • Don't box yourself into a certain time frame. Although 20% of the time may be the maximum you can devote, it doesn’t all have to be a single hour or half hour during the day. You could suddenly ask students to break from the usual lesson and spend 10 minutes on their personal projects, resume class and then break again later. However, you have to do what works with your students’ temperament and age group.
    • Explore a variety of mediums. Some kids love to work with art supplies, whereas others prefer technology or mechanics. Allow all students to use different methods of expression, which may enhance their personal project.
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    Work in the “here and now.” Teach students that carpe diem is king--if they want to do something, they should never be afraid to try it. Teacher Mary Kurbat told CNN, "It's an hour your kid gets to learn about herself, and that is really important at this age, when she's trying to figure out her place in world."
    • Allow students to explore projects that may be off topic. Even if you haven’t gotten to the genetics or space chapter in your science book, allow the student to explore a topic that you haven’t covered or may not plan to cover (as long as it is appropriate).
    • Be silly. Humor and education haven’t been best friends, but should. Students may have an easier time relating to Genius Hour with a punch of humor or levity. Allow the students to let go during this time to really be themselves (within reason) without penalty.


  • Get principal/administrator’s approval before implementing Genius Hour.
  • Don’t disregard your set curriculum and standardized test preparation. Continue to make school set mandates a priority.
  • Go slowly. Don’t try to do everything at once or implement every idea you have on the program at once. Take it step by step so you can see what works (or doesn’t).
  • Collaborate with other teachers and classrooms--sometimes idea exchange between grade levels can be most effective.

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