I have been doing 20% Time (AKA Genius Hour) projects for about three years. As with many of my lessons, it often takes me a few iterations of an activity to get it to fit well with me and my classes. I wanted to share two activities and practices that seem to help my students first determine what it is they want to do for their projects and also help them maintain focus throughout the long time frame of the project. I would like to thank Nancy McDowell (@CGCoach), Chelsea Fleming (@fleming_mrs), John Spencer (@spencerideas) and Troy Cockrum (@tcockrum) for all their help and guidance.
My introduction to the idea of 20% Time came from Troy Cockrum when I attend the first GAFE conference in Indiana in 2014. What is Genius Hour? In its simplest terms, a 20% Time project is a project where students are allowed to work on something or learn something they are interested in. I was interested in starting this concept with my own students and Troy shared many examples his students have done in the past. When I started doing projects with my own students, what I found was there were two main challenges for my students: #1 They found it hard to determine what they were really interested in and what to do about it. #2 Students found it hard to maintain focus on the same topic over the entire project timeline.
After several years, and with help from instruction coaches Nancy McDowell and Chelsea Fleming, here is the process I have students follow to help them identify their topics and develop their driving question. Students begin with a question brainstorm on anything. The questions can be “big” or “small”. They only need to write down three questions on topic(s) they are interested in. After writing down their three questions, students watch 3 Questions That Could Change the World video from Kid President. After watching, student answer the three questions:
- What are you not okay with?
- What do you have?
- What can we do about it?
Answering these three questions helps to narrow their own questions. They will then share this out with their table or table partner and get feedback. John Spencer describes these steps as the first steps of The Launch Cycle. I share these steps with my students so they can begin to see the direction we are going with our time.
To help keep track of my students progress, I use Google forms. Basically, Google forms allows me to easily keep an eye on what kids are doing and make sure I provide a reflection component at each step along the process. A shown in this YouTube video Google forms allows students to maintain a process log and also provides me a “living” spreadsheet of each class period and student. This helps ensure that students are accountable for their progress and I can help address specific needs each of them might have if they fall behind.
I have found that following the Launch Cycle and using this framework to help narrow students ideas, my students are much better at developing effective driving questions.