When I first learned of the concept and practice of genius hour, I was so excited to implement it in my middle school art classroom. I had vivid daydreams of innovative projects and professional creations that could only be fueled by raw passion from my students. While that did happen in some cases, not all was coming up productive.
I have not given up, however! I will be continuing the practice, but I have collected some general advice from my experience. Here I will also outline what it is, how it is supposed to work, some of the benefits I saw in my classroom as well as some of the drawbacks. Hopefully, this will help you, my fellow educators, if you dream of implementing genius hour ideas into your own classrooms.
What is it Genius Hour?
“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 during school.”
Ideas for Integrating the Arts
Making something you’re passionate about is automatically engaging and exciting. It also makes you inspired to learn. Students who are normally disengaged may be more motivated when they are able to create something self-driven instead of teacher instructed.
The teacher will schedule time for students to work on their passion projects in the arts discipline. I break the process down into 4 categories: Question It, Research It, Make It, Share It. It is important to keep students on track during these processes so that you do not run out of time.
What is the big question that you want to work toward answering? Example: What alternative materials can I use to paint with? What is the best recipe for air drying clay?
Students come up with a research plan. They will decide on the resources that will help them best answer their big question. Are they YouTube videos? Books? Magazines? Experimentation? Interviews with other teachers or members of the community?
This is where the creation comes alive and all the research becomes worth it.
We will share our creations with the class and then possibly the school. Students will have to present their findings and discoveries with the class.
- Raw Creativity: The ideas and creations that students come up with when their passions are allowed to be fueled are inspiring and mind-blowing.
- Behavior Improvements: When students are engaged, they are less likely to misbehave.
- Community and Self-Esteem: Student felt a sense of community and a spike in self-esteem while sharing their creations with the class, the school, or even larger audiences.
- Supplies: We all know, as art teachers, that supplies and materials can be an issue on good days with planned activities. We also know the heartache that washes over us when we cannot provide a material to a student who wants to create with it. It might be so sad that we go out and buy whatever our students want with our own money. Try to resist that urge. It can be a learning experience and a lesson in problem-solving if a student needs to be flexible with their vision.
- Room/Space: In middle school, I often average about 25 students per class with 5 classes a day. With a different group every two days, that totals at least 250 projects at once. This does not seem to be cumbersome when projects are 2-Dimensional, but if everyone is making a sculpture of their choice and size, this can get cramped fast. There have been times when partners have worked well together, but if one person loses interest, it can get a bit sticky.
- Timing and Accountability: Students and teachers need to be aware of time management when it comes to these passion projects. You do not want projects to take a single day, but they should not take 18 weeks either. Try to keep students on track with an accountability journal or planning sheets. If you allow students to take their projects home and work on them throughout the week or the weekend, be prepared if they forget their work. This could be a lost day of production and the students’ needs to use the time they have on either another project or facet of their project to add later. It should not be free time away from their goal.
- Streamline: some students were extremely frustrated by the openness of this assignment. Some students had no idea of what to do and felt overwhelmed. Some students had too many ideas and had difficulty narrowing their focus. Step in when you need to and let them learn from these experiences to help them in the future.
- Place Some Limits: In size, scope, time, materials. These are teachable moments in flexibility and can sometimes lead to better results.
- Accountability and Productivity Tracking: This is not “Free Time” where a student can feel free to distract others from their work or fall down the YouTube rabbit hole without any concrete progress. Because of this, come up with an accountability journal or productivity sheet so students can keep track of their work, progress, and plan for the next class.
- Give Guidance: Keep students on track, but do not take over their project. Guide and coach don’t instruct and direct.
- Plan Ahead: Genius Hour can be a wonderful plan for the end of the year or semester when student work should all be graded and returned, yet class time still needs to be rich and meaningful. You want to give enough time to celebrate successes and share creations. This can take time, so you do not want to rush this process. It is so important.
Genius Hour is an amazing practice to implement in the arts classroom. It opens up doors to self-exploration and creative problem solving. Through a little bit of guidance and coaching, teachers can create a time and space wherein engaged students feel free to innovate and discover artistic concepts.
Lauren Hodson is a middle school visual and computer art educator in Plymouth, Massachusetts. As a mentor teacher and professional development presenter, Lauren is passionate about creativity and making art accessible for everyone. Her passions in STEAM and Arts Integration are at the root of her goal to collaborate with classroom teachers everywhere.