Sunday, January 27, 2013

"Genius Hour" for Kindergarten? Is that even possible?

"Genius Hour" is a relatively new term in education, but has been around in the business world for a few years. Organizations such as Google have an 80/20 work week, where employees are given 20% of their work week to "explore" things that interest them. Many brilliant ideas have come out of that 20%.

The short version on the education side goes something like this: In July of 2011, Daniel Pink wrote a blog about how a Credit Union in Washington was using "Genius Hour" with their employees. These employees were given time each week to use as a "Genius Hour" to pursue their passions. Angela Maiers saw this blog and re-tweeted it and suggested we need this in schools for teachers.  Denise Krebs spread this information via Twitter and her blog, both of which were discovered by Hugh McDonald  and Gallit Zvi  who were keen to try the idea in their classrooms. I work with Gallit and Hugh and their passion is contagious! More info about "Genius Hour" will be included at the end of this blog.

Gallit is my buddy teacher and our classes often do projects together. The more time I spent with her and Hugh and see how engaged their students were during "Genius Hour", the more I contemplated trying it with my class. But I was plagued by thought like, "They have ideas, but they can't research them...they can't even read" and "how would they share their learning when they can't write sentences yet".  I am very fortunate to work with an amazing group of people who are always making me question my practice and push me to try new things. My co-workers are always encouraging me think outside the box and they never let me "get away with" excuses like the ones mentioned above. Many of our conversations end with "well, why can't you do this?" These conversations make my head spin, leaving me to come up with ways to modify things to the K level. As my principal Antonio Vendramin,  tweeted last week, "It's all about the What if... rather than the Ya, but..."

I am not one to back down from a challenge, so driving home one day thinking about how to make his happen - it hit me! We can use our buddies to help us with the "research" and we can use the Book Creator app on the iPads to create books about an animal that  interests them. I knew I would need more help, so I recruited our amazing teacher-librarian Anna Crosland and asked her if she wanted to be a part of this "experiment" with my K class. Anna jumped on board and the 3 of us (Anna, Gallit and I) developed a plan. This activity was done in April/May of last year.

1)  I would make a Sample eBook with my class. This took about 3 lessons. For this book, we used Penguins as that was the last animal we studied and we made a pages for habitat, food, enemies and 3 interesting facts. We took pictures and recorded the sentence using the Book Creator app.  Here is our class book.

2) Gallit had her class write and produce stories using Book Creator to share with my class as way of teaching them how to use the app.  My class LOVED "reading" the stories their big buddies made on the iPads. Here is a sample of a book written by our buddies!


3) I asked each student in my class to pick an animal that they wanted to know more about. I gave the list to Anna, and she pulled many books on each animal for us. We set aside a 45 minute block for the next 5 weeks where both classes would meet in the library to develop their books. The idea was that the big buddies were there to guide the little buddy through the research part and assist them with putting their books together. We came up with criteria for what information should be included in the eBook and that each page needed to have 3 components: 
  1. A photo taken by the little buddy.
  2. A sentence scribed by the big buddy.
  3. A voice recording by the little buddy talking about the page. 
I was a bit skeptical at first as to how well this project was going to work, but looking back on it now, EVERYONE  was on task and excited to be learning. The big buddies were so happy to "teach" their little buddies and the little buddies were so excited to be "researchers". There was no fooling around, no conversations that were off topic and everyone was learning something! All the doubts I had were erased when I saw how hard everyone was working and how upset they were that the work period was up! Here are some samples of finished work.

When this student started the year, she was just learning English and wasn't that comfortable speaking. Listen to how confident she sounds now talking about Cats.

Adaptations were made so that every student could participate. Here is a wonderful book from student with Autism, who has come so far since the start of the year. Here is a video of his Elephant book.

After working hard on our eBooks, we took the time to share each and every one of the books. The students were all so proud of how hard they worked and sharing their books was a highlight for everyone. What is the point of making a book, if only the teacher is ever going to see it? Having an authentic audience gave everyone a real purpose for completing the task to the best of their ability.

This is a project that I am going to do with my students again this Spring. I am so excited to give them ownership of their learning. After all, they should be learning about their passions, not mine!! With a bit of thinking outside the box, modifying for the needs of the students, anything is possible in a Kindergarten class - even a modified Genius Hour!!

For more information on Genius Hour, follow Gallit @gallit_z, Hugh @hughtheteacher and Denise @mrsdkrebs on Twitter. Also check out #geniushour chat on Twitter the first Wednesday of the month at 9pm EST  and the Genius Hour wiki. Gallit has also posted some articles on her blog about integrating technology and introducing Genius Hour


  1. I am so lucky to work with passionate and dedicated educators like you!
    Fabulous blog, Jodi.

  2. Love the buddy part. Great post about #geniushour in your class!

  3. Great read! I a thinking of starting genius hour in my kindergarten and when researching ideas found this article very helpful!