Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Two years ago, I had an idea. I wanted to see a class in my school that allowed students who are intrinsically motivated to do something they were interested in. I began searching around on the internet and stumbled upon Passion Projects, 20% Time (based on a Google practice), and Genius Hour, but it was mostly being used at the elementary school level. It was awesome to see how these elementary school teachers were allowing their students to conduct these “passion projects” on Fridays when they were finished with other work, but I was still looking for more.

I thought, “Why couldn’t we do Genius Hour every day for an entire year?” I went to work mapping out what this course would look like, and presented it at a meeting with the superintendent at the time. Turns out, they were planning on implementing an intervention period the next year, and it was approved as something advanced students could choose to take. I did surveys with my current seventh graders, and we had twenty-eight students willing to try out this new class the next year, and Genius Hour was born!

So, how do you keep twenty-eight eighth graders engaged daily doing independent projects that are not developed by a teacher? Here’s my formula for success:

  1. Set Rules: Students must be held accountable for what they do every day in class. My students have to reflect on their research each week by writing a blog post on Fridays that I check. I also ask them to read each other’s’ blogs and comment on them.
  2. Brainstorm: At the beginning of each quarter, students have to brainstorm their ideas, and fill out a proposal form. This requires them to develop an essential question that is not easily answered, create a timeline for their project, list their required materials, and develop a daily plan. Students then “Pitch” their projects to each other and to me, and we give feedback. If I think a student may have picked a project that would not take a full quarter, we sit down to brainstorm what they could do differently.
  3. Encourage Failure: I have had many students who attempted to create something, and then it failed, sometimes massively. That’s ok! They don’t fail the class, because they took the chance to try something new, and they learned in the process. Students cannot fail this course unless they do absolutely nothing.
  4. Show Your Work: Students have to present their projects to the class at the end of the quarter. Sometimes it’s in a gallery walk, sometimes it’s a full class presentation. Students develop visual aides, and practice what they are going to say. We refer to many Ted talks to help model what a great presentation looks like.
  5. Teach: So you maybe have no idea what Aquaponics is…but you could help that same student develop a presentation, work on speaking skills, and generally be a good coach and mentor throughout the process!

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][bctt tweet=”Genius Hour is not for all students.” username=EducatorsRoom””]

Genius Hour is not for all students. They have to be motivated to work independently, set their own pace, and work through the inquiry process. Students should also have a general understanding of technology, and you can guide them with tips on how to do Google searches effectively, find valid sources and cite them, and what Web 2.0 tools can help make their presentations interesting and appealing.

When you give students the freedom to learn on their own, the results can be amazing! I’ve seen projects such as “The Roots of Prejudice”, “Mop Shoes”, “Can Superheroes Really Exist?”, “Decorating on a Budget”, and “Concussions in Sports”. They were all amazing and interesting, and even better because the students had ownership!


I am a middle school Language Arts teacher, pushing my students each day to their fullest potential...

Join the Conversation


  1. Great post! I also teach 8th grade ELA and AVID, and have done a Passion Project before…I might just try doing one each semester. How much time do you give them weekly in class?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.