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  • Writer's pictureDarren Ellwein

Genius Hour Twist

Here’s to the creative group that embraces Genius Hour and Passion Projects.  The transparency of this group on Twitter is phenomenal.  Our Genius Hour Twist is “Under the Influence” of several key people: Joy Kirr @joykirr and Don Wettrick @donwettrick.  Joy runs her GH in her classroom, allowing for 20% of her week to be spent on these projects.  Don Wettrick has written a book called Pure Genius.  It details his work with his innovation class and discusses the value of fostering an environment of creativity.

After doing several Google Hangouts with Joy in the late summer and fall of 2014, I approached a teacher, Mr. Dick (@techducation), to see if he wanted to take on the task.  This led to what I call the ‘singular model’, GH projects completed by a single teacher in a single discipline or grade level.  In other words, they are completing this project alone.  In our building of 340 students we had four teachers leading a singular model by the end of first semester.  When reflecting on the experience with students, they were burnt out on the multiple projects.

This experience led me to visualize a grade level sharing a GH project.  When speaking with Don, he thought it was a great idea, and neither of us had heard of this being done.  But it is only a thought if you don’t have a group a teachers willing to take a risk.   To move this from thought to reality, I approached our 8th grade team members about my vision – have every 8th grade student complete a GH project by sharing it across disciplines.

Carla Diede (@carladiede), Team Leader, ran with this idea and produced a GH folder of documents that were used for the project (partial screenshot below).

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 2.09.07 PM

The goal: begin second semester with an 8th grade kickoff/brainstorming event.  After that event a content area would own GH each week, or give 20% of their class time to promote projects (i.e., ELA week one, Science week two…).  The students will have 14 weeks to complete their projects with some selected to do TED Talks.

By creating an adjusted schedule for classes in 8th grade, a two hour block was created at the end of the day for GH.  First, teachers had their advisory students and discussed the purpose.  They also viewed a TED Talk by Scott McLeod (@mcleod) looking at the creativity of some projects.  Next, teachers brought all the students to the Commons, an area large enough to involve 123 students.


In the Commons several teachers introduced the activity to the students.  Staff wanted to help students with the idea process, so they created categories to foster topics (i.e., Science/Health, Community Service, Technology, Art/Music/Literature, Construction/Design, and School Improvement).  Students had five, little post-it notes that needed an idea on it.  Those notes could then be placed in one of the categories on larger pieces of paper with a category as a heading.


Students then rotated in groups viewing each category and the generated ideas.  They then would have their idea approved by peers and teachers.  We facilitated this process with Google sites; it will also serve as our tracking system for progress.  Travis Lape assisted in refining this process.


When a decision of a project was completed, students could then begin researching.  Each teacher was assigned a category, so students had a staff member with some expertise available to assist.


When comfortable with student progress, the teachers walked students down to their advisories to wrap-up the day.

As a reflection tool, I asked Don Wettrick via Google Hangouts to listen to the team discussion with our 8th grade teachers.  They reviewed the activity, sought ideas to better the process and viewed the path forward.  Don had some great input as he listened to the conversation.


Over the next 14 weeks, students will refine their projects or change projects after doing feasibility studies.

Reflecting on this project, I am so excited to have a group of teachers that own a venture like this.  Whether they are GH promoters or along for a ride, the students are going to see a consistent front from our 8th grade team.  It is also a joy to see the excitement in the teachers while creating this project.  I believe more each day that we should be in the business of unleashing student creativity.  What do businesses really need in today’s world?  Creative, flexible thinkers who are not afraid to risk failure.  GH fits this perfectly, and South teachers are beginning to embrace this as well.  Similar to Don, we are transparent with our ideas.  We would love to connect with you regarding this GH Twist.

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