“Genius Hour” Builds Knowledge in EduAmazing Ways

By CUE Blog Editor Kate Petty

CC MrsDKrebs


One day a little over two years ago I serendipitously watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED speech “Schools Kill Creativity” and finished the last page of Daniel Pink’s book Drive. Momentous right? My entire attitude about my role as an educator changed.  I looked around my classroom at the straight rows and glared at the uniform student work on the walls. The metaphorical light bulb blared above my head as I realized I had the power to affect change in my classroom for my students. With the help of Kevin Brookhouser’s reflections on his blog, “I Teach. I Think.” and Troy Cockrum’s reflections in “The Cogitations of Mr. Cockrum,” I introduced the 20% Project in my classes. I challenged my students to pick a passion and run with it. They spent every Friday for the entire semester working toward a goal. Their final reflections were absolutely magnificent and many were truly touching. I, however, was not patting myself on the back. I could do better.


Each Friday, my students began their research with the best of intentions but inevitably they were watching YouTube videos of stupid animal tricks by the end of the period. It was astounding to me how quickly they managed to divert their research into randominity in just 45 minutes. It quickly dawned on me that my students didn’t know how to research in depth. I knew I needed to scaffold the research and decided to scaffold up to the 20% Project by try something new beforehand this year.



Genius Hour” allows my students to choose one topic each Friday and research their hearts out about it- in essence- they become a “Genius” on the topic. We spent one Friday talking about how to write a good question such as “What is addiction and how does it affect relationships?” My students could stay on topic for the entire period each week because they were researching something new each week- it didn’t get old. I added one additional “motivating” factor to Genius Hour- during the last fifteen minutes, four to five random students were selected to stand-up and share what they learned with the class.


Not only do my students get research skills by researching broad questions, they also learn about how to search the internet with Google’s Search MOOCs. Students watch a short 3-8 minute video explaining a search skill and then take the very, very small assessment to check for understanding. Students use what they learn as they research and become search ninjas by the end of the project.


After about eight weeks of “Genius Hour” I up the ante a bit. Instead of one topic a week, they get three weeks.

Week 1: Research the Topic

Week 2: Create a Dynamic Presentation

Week 3: Deliver a Formal Speech with Specific Speaking Skills Woven In

They do three cycles of what I call “Presentation Ninjas.”  Students research and give speeches on three different topics culminating with a final speech in the form of PechaKucha. Each speech and presentation asks a bit more than the last- students must get more creative with their presentations and develop their speeches a bit more each time.


As students began researching their topics, a surprising thing happens, they talk to each other about what they are learning. Do you have any idea how amazing it is to walk around a room and listen to your students teaching other students about what they are learning in that moment? “Hey! Did you know that different colors represent mood?”  This type of learning becomes addicting, not only for the students but also the teacher.

Another pretty awesome thing happens with “Genius Hour”– my class and I learn about some really cool and eclectic topics. Did you know that you will probably get really sick if you don’t step outside and get some sunshine? Do you know why humans kiss each other on the lips as a sign of affection? Did you know Gibson guitars are better than Fenders? Do you know what “Taste Aversion” is? If Jeopardy comes knocking, my students and I will rock that game show.


Now that my students are SuperStar Searchers and Powerful Presentation Ninjas, they are ready for the 20% Project that I introduce second semester. They’ll be able to identify a learning goal that will last for the semester and they’ll be ready to give that final TED-style speech at the end of the unit with some major flare!


Does this all seem to good to be true? I asked my students to share their feelings about “Genius Hour” with you. Their ideas appear on my own blog post. If you’d like to know more about the concept of 20-Time which includes the 20% Project and Genius Hour, visit my website 20-Time in Education.

Kate Petty

Kate Petty

Kate Petty is CUE’s blog editor. She has taught high school in Orange County, CA for ten years and has been blending, flipping, and welcoming BYOD in her class for the past three years. She is CUE’s LeRoy Finkel Fellow of 2013 for her work with 20-Time in Education. She is also a Google Certified Teacher, Google Apps for Education Trainer, Project-Based Learning Certified, Microsoft Innovative Educator Trainer, Leading Edge Certification Trainer, and a CUE Lead Learner. Kate is on the OCCUE Board of Directors and serves as Webmaster.

About author View all posts

Blog Editor

OnCUE Connect

Sign up and connect to CUE members, resources, and more at OnCUE -- delivered to your inbox each day!