Keyboards & Cookie Dough: How Genius Hour Transformed my Classroom Dynamic

If you have stumbled upon this blog post because of the #geniushour hashtag and you are seeking information on how to begin Genius Hour time in your own classroom, I’m not sure you’ve found the right space.  If you are seeking, however, a place for a teacher to get real with you about implementing #geniushour for the very first time…stay tuned.  This is your post.

Genius Hour and/or 20% time has been floating around on my Twitter feed for awhile and I’ve added several great resources to my PLN.  I started here with Chris Kesler’s information on introducing this hour per week to your students.  Great resources.  I even wore my #KyEdChat shirt on #geniushour day for added dramatic effect.  I never tire of hashtags.



I was so excited about this and introducing this time to them that much of my prep consisted of me hoping that my excitement would be contagious.  I mean, who doesn’t want an HOUR a week to learn about WHATEVER THEY WANT!?

Apparently…plenty.  I’ll get to that in a second.

Day 1:  Introduction and brainstorming.

Let me share some ideas that were generated throughout the day.  The excitement wascontagious to several of my students. (Thank goodness!) 

Students who loved to fish wanted to make some type of underwater camera out of crap you had laying around your house.  Their theory was that people who couldn’t afford the fancy boats could watch their tutorial video and not be at a disadvantage when fishing with the “big (or rich) dogs.”  Genius, right?

A kid who was way more in love with his drum set that any type of school work wanted to create a song using some complicated piece of equipment that I couldn’t even describe to you right now.  Somethings were completely above my head.  And that’s okay.  And the fact that it is okay for the student to exceed the teacher is one of the many things I love about #geniushour.

Another student painted her nails … all the time.  She was really into nail designing and art.  Tutorials on how to do it.  This may not seem very original or creative, but it is.  She had never edited video before or even recorded something to publish.  Therein lies the beauty of the project.

Student who had suffered with self-harm due to bullying and had friends who suffered the same wanted to create a school-wide campaign to raise awareness for these issues and to spread positive “vibes.”  I mean can we even argue with the genius in that?

I had this one student who had his technology anxiety tattooed on every visible part of his body. It becomes apparent every day as he walks into class. He hated (HATED) #geniushour and didn’t feel the need to keep that tidbit of info inside his head. He wanted me to tell him what to do. He wanted me to hover over him and do the project myself, with him clicking buttons. After the first genius hour, we accomplished zippity do dah.

Another group of boys wanted to design their own potato chip………okayyyyyy. I told them at the beginning of this, I probably wasn’t going to straight up deny a project (unless it was illegal or harmful to myself, them or others). You should have heard the way the student pitched this idea to me: “imagine you’re walking down the chip aisle at the grocery store. You really want some chips but nothing is striking your fancy…then you see ….” You get the idea. How can you say no to that?

I had a lot of students who stared at the google page for an entire hour because they’ve never been given the freedom to learn something they want to learn about. It shocked them to a point of confusion.

Day 2:  Let the work begin

One of the reasons I chose to let them have the freedom to “create” such outlandish ideas (chips, underwater fish camera) is because I wanted them to work through the process themselves. I wanted them to figure out that …yeahhhhh maybe this wasn’t the most realistic. That, in my opinion, is an extremely valuable learning experience. I’m a firm believer in problem solving when learning new technology.

I reminded them #geniushour was coming up with a super cool meme I created and posted to our class Instagram page.


Day 2 brought more frustrations for some and for others…pure passion, joy and excitement that literally gave me goosebumps!

My fish-camera-kiddos rethought their idea after working through some details and are now designing a fishing fly (or some contraption to help them catch a certain kind of fish…).

My drum set boy couldn’t figure out that complicated thing that I can’t even describe in my blog post and improvised by creating a cadence (I guess?) on Garage Band so that he can produce, edit and publish his original work.

Throughout the second week of class, my girl who wants to raise awareness for those that self-harm and end bullying began posting inspirational blog posts that were so great, I had to screen shot and share on my IG.


I had a student come up to me during 7th period and say “Hey my mom just texted me and she’s driving her van around to the door.  Can I go get my keyboard?”  Um.  Sure.  She literally set up a studio in my iPad lab.  She and her partner had written an awesome song on week 1 #geniushour and were ready to begin writing the music.  Really?!  After hearing chords and singing the whole class, she ran up to me with a few minutes left in the period with so much excitement because she had figured out the melody.  And it sounded amazing.  I mean – seriously amazing.  I almost posted a snippet to my IG to brag on them, but I think this is going to be too good so I have to keep everyone waiting in suspense.

My student who hates technology (and sometimes, I feel, like he hates me in general) and I had a heart-to-heart.  After spending about 30 minutes, frustrated as usual, I went over to him, pulled up a chair and broke-it-down for him.  It’s important to me for my students to realize that I want them to learn something.  Hello, I don’t care about grades right now.


I told him if he wanted to learn to code, I don’t care if it takes him every single #geniushour day to answer 10 questions on CodeCademy as long as he is trying, problem-solving and learning.  His response?  Will I get a bad grade?  (**Face palm**)  Noooooooo.  We cracked some jokes and I got up and left and he smiled…sort of.  Five minutes later, he walked back up to me and said, “Hey, so what if I want to try to create a turkey call?  Can I work with ——”  HOLD THE PHONE.  Um -YES!  This moment, right here folks, is one of my favorite moments of the year.  Number 1, I learned something he was into so NOW I can relate to him personally.  Number 2, he asked to WORK ON SOMETHING.  Number 3, it is a FOR REAL genius project.  YES!  I literally did a danced, jumped around and told him he was going to create a Turkey Dynasty.  I saw the pride in his face and I felt like weeping with joy.

I sat in the floor with some kids during one period and we brainstormed camera angles and lighting and how to create an intense, dramatic effect for their PSA.

I encouraged one group and their Starbursts candy bar creation idea to move forward with their idea.  What if they created something really awesome that no one at Starburst Candy had ever thought of?  WHAT IF they made a commercial for their idea and tweeted Starburst and they SAW their idea and LOVED it?!  When I said those things to them, they responded with…”Could we really do that?”  Um….YES.


I have several students who are just confused with the whole process.  I have some country-living kids who want to make things that they cannot bring to school (broad heads, bows and arrows, guns) and we’ve had to do a little more brainstorming than other groups.  I have groups that think looking for a recipe online is a genius project.  Some kids are struggling with the “research” rule and think that acceptable research is finding an answer in their first search, with their first hit on WikiHow.

What I’ve learned with these students is that they are trying.  No, they don’t quite get it just yet.  But they ARE trying.  Genius hour has allowed me the opportunity to get to know the students on a deeper level and connect with them personally.  Seeing their interests, their talents, their struggles have allowed me to differentiate my instruction in order to help them learn more and on a deeper level.

I cannot wait to see where #geniushour takes the Tech Ed students at EHMS.  All I can is…stay tuned because GREAT things are coming.

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