Developing Genius: Reflecting on Choice, Passion, and #GeniusHour

Developing Genius: Reflecting on Choice, Passion, and #GeniusHour

It’s been about two weeks since I introduced #GeniusHour in my English 10 classes this year, and I’ve already seen some results worth writing about. The work is still in the hypothetical stages; we haven’t delivered pitches, created proposals, or even published a blog post yet, but I still have a few big take aways from the work. Find my reintroduction to passion projects in my recent article, From #20Time to #GeniusHour: Rethinking Passion Projects, and all of last year’s posts in my series, 1st Time #20Time.

This year, we started by discussing the value of education, how modern education has changed, and responding to TED Talk excerpts and Kid President. Students discussed in class, posted on our Google Community, and began to develop their blog posts when we found out that Blogger was blocked for students on our network. While we waited a few days for Blogger to be opened, students continued to think, write, and collaborate with passion, freedom, and choice.

Find the slide deck that got us started below--I’m really proud of this one so far.

Education Matters

Through these days of debate and analysis, I realized that my students have a lot to say about the state of American education, standardized testing, and the Common Core. While their ideas were sometimes the rants of frustrated teens, they were often insightful and accurate. Their criticisms and praises of our school, culture, and system were really interesting. Questioning education at its core wasn’t exactly my goal for the week but it led to them to the need to change the way we think, write, learn, and create in schools. They questioned and sometimes embraced transformational 21st century change, setting us up for a successful process.

Students responding to quotes about education from Sir Ken Robinson.

Scaffolding Succeeds

The coaching half of my job deals directly with a new program called Capstone, which will be built into all four years of high school for my students. Throughout Capstone, students will develop research skills, write, produce, and create in a mini-dissertation-like process, leading to a cumulative product. The core of this is clearly inspired by passion-based learning, and this year my tenth graders are enrolled in a Capstone class.

Many dislike the class and most are frustrated by it--they are the guinea pigs to a new program with increased rigor and new skills--but whether they’ll admit it or not, the scaffolding the course provides made my students stronger. We spent less time discussing arguments, on research skills, and questioning passion because of the work my students had already done outside of my course. I hope to see the skills they have before my class continue to change as the Capstone cohorts move forward.

Choice Works

Choice, with time to think and process, is already leading to interesting and promising results. Students had two full class periods to brainstorm and begin their first blog posts. They all used this time differently. While some were able to write and develop these ideas quickly and effectively, many needed time to process.

Some students sent me e-mails and made extra help appointments. Others looked at projects from from past students. A few spent their time reading my blog and asking me questions about the writing, conferences, and more. They were completely trying to make fun of me, but it led to a great conversation about my own education, doctoral studies, and ideas about technology. With time to develop their ideas and voice, without the pressure of a standardized format or midterm exam, the ideas flourished.

Students Became Teachers

And here’s the coolest part for me. As I type this, I sit in our Hudson Pride elective, where my friend and colleague has decided to also teach with passion projects. Since we have many students in common, my English 10 students are teaching #GeniusHour to their classmates with my slide deck and resources.

Instead of responding to my questions about passion, learning, and creation, they are now the ones facilitating the discussion and leading others. In just a few short days, my students have become teachers and even though they might not know it yet, have already started to show some genius and do something awesome.

Next Steps

Today, my students will Tweet with #SchoenTell and #GeniusHour to share their ideas and plans-in-progress. Later this week, we will begin to research and start to develop proposals. I’ll continue to chronicle our passion, thought, and genius right here. Stay tuned.

How do you incorporate passion, choice, and student voice in your classroom? Share your experiences with #GeniusHour or #20Time in the comments or on Twitter.

cross posted at

Adam Schoenbart is a high school English teacher, Google Education Trainer, and EdD candidate in Educational Leadership. He teaches grades 10-12 in a 1:1 Chromebook classroom at Ossining High School in Westchester County, NY and received the 2014 LHRIC Teacher Pioneer Award for innovative uses of technology that change teaching and learning. Read more at The SchoenBlog and connect on Twitter @MrSchoenbart.