Exploring Genius Time in Schools


According to Fortune 100, Google is #1 in the list of best companies to work for – six years in a row. There are surely many reasons for this, and one of them might just be Genius hour.

If you were an engineer at Google, you could use 20% of your working time developing a project of your own interest –something you think could benefit the company- freely and independently. Creativity and innovation flourish when people are allowed to focus on their passions within work, and many successful Google products reportedly have been created during this time.

Could Google’s model be applied in schools? And if so, how?

For many years now, we have been implementing what we call “Enrichment Cloisters” at our school. It is not exactly Google’s Genius Hour – but the concept is similar and has proven to be effective in promoting creativity and motivation with our kids.

How does it work?

Every year, we set apart one full week in our school calendar, where regular classes will simply not take place. Instead, kids will work on a project of their choosing – within a range of options. Early in the school year, we poll the students to find about their interests: What would you like to learn about this year? What would you like to build, create or develop? What are you passionate about?

We use this information to design 8 to 10 different workshops or “cloisters”. The topics are chosen taking into account as much of the student’s input as we possible can. Teachers then choose which workshop will they mentor, moved by their own expertise or learning interests. We enlist parents as resources and co-mentors.

A crew from Al Jazeera filmed one of our cloisters -carpentry-  as part of their documentary on our school (Rebel Education Series)

We then publish the topics for the workshops and allow students to register to whichever cloister they like. There is no age or gender limitation. Boys and girls of all grades, 1st to 9th, share their working space for one week. We have covered topics such as carpentry, medicine, photography, architecture, radio, film and television, veterinary, ecology, magazine editing, restaurant entrepreneurship, science and technology, among many others.

At the end of the week we host an exhibition of products. Some of them are already complete, others represent an invitation for further development. There are both independent and collaborative outcomes of the experience. Kids report that this is their favorite week of the year.

A group of kids working on stop motion animation

Of course there are challenges. The only reason we do not host the cloisters twice a year or even more is time constraints. It is difficult enough to give up one week of regular lessons and still meet the curriculum. And surely, we would love to be able to offer even more cloister options –but hey, we are a small school with limited resources.

There are absolutely no grades at this “genius time”. And really, who needs them? Enthusiasm is so high you could use kids’ energy to light up a city.

Every child bears the seed of genius within. And one of the greatest joys for educators is providing the time and environment for it to gloriously emerge.

 

As part of the Top Global Teacher Bloggers from Cathy Rubin’s Global Search for Education, this is my answer to this month’s question: How could Google’s “Genius hour” model be modified and utilized in schools?

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