Genius Hour: From discussions with Primary school teacher friends of mine it was pointed out that something happened in Year 7 that changed students from the risk taking and independent learners that they were in Year 6 into passive learners by the end of Year 7. I had noticed the same thing with my own niece as she transitioned from primary to secondary, so I started to think about what was causing it. The more I looked the more I noticed that in secondary there is very little opportunity for students to make choices or take ownership of their learning and I wanted to change this.
I had seen on Twitter a number of primary colleagues talking about ‘Genius Hour’ projects where students from as young as Year 3 were given an hour a week to work on something from their own interests. It was a project that the students devised with the support of their teacher, but was almost completely their own. I really liked this idea and wanted to see if it was something that could be transferred to work in a secondary setting as well.
Project based learning is often maligned as a teaching tool, but I think that it has its place when used in an appropriate setting and the Genius Hour idea was perfect. I set about learning all I could about these projects and how they worked in the primary setting and which elements could be transferred to secondary.
So just over a year ago, I presented at Teachmeet London on my idea to develop project based homework in a key stage 3 in a way that allowed the students to take ownership of their learning, deepen their learning about something that truly interested them as well as an opportunity to ‘fail safely’.
The proposal was rather straight forward: Students would be given the time in the homework timetable that would be dedicated to a project of their own devising, the projects would then be presented at a project fair at the end of the term with prizes awarded for the best ones. There would be no negative consequences for those that failed to complete a project and students could work in groups of up to three.
In the summer term of the same year I presented the same idea to my SLT, which was an even more frightening experience than presenting to 400+ people at Teachmeet London. On the whole, my SLT liked the idea and gave me the go ahead to run the project in September of 2016 with the incoming Year 7 group.
It was decided that the project would be introduced through the PSHE program and would take the PSHE slot on the homework timetable. In addition, the Heads of House had the option to use their Heads of House lesson once a fortnight to support student with their projects. I created a lesson as part of the first PSHE scheme of learning to introduce the projects as well as a project journal for the students to complete as the project went on to help keep them on track and reflect on the process.
The first project fair was held in our sports hall in January 2017, with over 80 projects on show. We invited teachers, parents and 6th formers to the fair and I was truly overwhelmed by the work that had gone into the projects. We had projects ranging from exploration of the solar system, to Disney, to building a car, stop motion animation to name just a few. As I went around the fair the students talked animatedly about what they had done and why, I could see how proud they were of what they achieved and those that who hadn’t completed a project seemed keen to get involved the next time around.
We awarded prizes based on nominations by those in attendance, and they were based on subject links such as the “Ada Lovelace Award for Mathematics” and the Olympic Award for sports and sport science”, but the main prize for the best project in show was the “Leonardo da Vinci Genius Award”. These awards were presented in a Principals Assembly where students received their certificate and a badge to wear on their blazer.
After the event, I sent out a questionnaire to get some student feedback on both the project and the fair to see how it could be improved for the next time. The main changes that the students felt were necessary was that they only wanted Teachers and Parents to nominate for prizes (maybe 6th formers) and they didn’t want the project journals. Both elements have been incorporated for the next fair. However, overall the students loved the projects as it gave them an opportunity to show off something they are passionate about and show off what they are capable of outside of the traditional curriculum.
I also had a few changes to make myself, for example having the students register their projects so I know how many groups projects there are as well as which awards they would like to be considered for. This has been done using Google forms and still needs a few tweaks but seems to be working. In addition, we are going to have a ‘nomination station’ for votes to be collected as it took me nearly a week to count all the nomination forms from the first event.
I have also realised that to make sure that all the right messages are sent out at the very start that an assembly is need to introduce the project to the students before the lesson in PSHE where they can start to plan out their projects. As well as a meeting with the parents to explain the project to them as well.
So far, I have had over 60 projects registered for the second fair and the variation of topics is just as vast as the first, which should make the next fair just as exciting as the first.
For more detailed information, please see uked.chat/hecticgenius.
Kim Constable is a teacher of 11 years experience based in Norfolk. She teaches multiple subjects currently including Sociology, Psychology and PSHE across Key Stages 3 to 5. She blogs as Hectic Teacher and can be found on Twitter at @hecticteacher or on her website: hecticteacher.com