Monthly Archives: July 2011

“Genius Hour”

I read an article this morning by Daniel Pink about having a “Genius Hour,” as a way to encourage new and creative thinking at a company. It was building upon Google’s 20% idea of giving employees time to just dream and experiment, time where they are focused on their job, but not on the day-to-day “What needs to get done.” It is time to come up with new solutions to problems and to test original ideas. Because of the constraints of the job, it wasn’t possible to come up with a 20% solution at the credit union that Pink profiled, so instead they developed a Genius Hour.

It got me thinking. What would that look like in schools? My initial thought was about how it would apply to teachers. What could happen if teachers just had time to dream, to think outside of their standard curriculum and ways of presenting material? Time is always the factor for teachers. Where will we find the time to rewrite the classroom materials and reorganize our own thinking? If there were time each week, time that wasn’t already claimed by planning, grading and meetings, what could we come up with, what would we dream?

Part of what I like about the Google model is that at the end of the 20% time, there is a sharing time to talk about what you had been thinking and to hear from others about their ideas. This sharing time is as important as the time alone to think and dream. In today’s world, we need to be learning together. Change is happening too quickly for us to isolate ourselves. We will simply not be able to keep pace. If, however, we share our new and crazy ideas with each other, listening with open minds to each other, we may well be able to collectively “raise all of our boats.” The time for isolation has passed. We need to learn together, taking time to think and then to share.

Then I started thinking about the students. What would it look like to give them a Genius Hour, to let them sit and think, experiment and explore? I wrote in an earlier post about the “An Hour of Silence,” a one-time experiment of giving my students an hour to be still and think. It was a great success, far more than I expected it to be, but what would happen if I gave them time like that on a regular basis. What could that look like?

Imagine getting to the end of a unit and having Genius Hour time, giving the students a chance to think about what they had learned. It might lead to creating something to demonstrate what they were taking away from the unit, or it might lead to a new interest or area that they want to study. I would imagine that initially, because of how we have taught them so far, that they would create the standard posters or maybe a skit. What fascinates me is to think about what might happen after that.

At that point, if I have given them a safe place to experiment, where grades and affirmation are constructive and positive, what might happen? What might they develop to show how they have learned, what mattered to them and what they can do with it? There would be no limits for them at that point. They could begin to dream and develop in new ways that were not limited by my imagination and creativity in developing new assessments. They could take it wherever they wanted. The process would develop empowered and energized students, who would be able to explain what they knew and how they had built upon their initial understanding.

I need to work on this one! Thank Heavens for summer to dream and plan!