Genius Time

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When I instituted Genius Time in my English 9 classes, I wasn't sure what to expect. I just liked the idea of kids learning for the sake of learning. I embraced the idea that kids would have choice, that they would decide where the learning led.

When we started back in March, I said very little about the project. I told them I wanted them to decide what they wanted to learn about.

"Can we work in groups?" they asked.

"Of course."

"You're not going to tell us what to do?"


"You don't care what we learn about?"

"Just that it interests you. I want it to be something you really, really want to learn about. I don't want you to pick something just because you think it will be easy."

So every Friday, after our 10 minute reading time (sacred time, never give up), they move on to their learning. Most of worked very hard. Of course, some have wasted time, some are doing what they think is the bare minimum to get by. Some changed topics several times. I expected that. They are, after all, 14 years old. I stuck with it and I believed in them. I didn't ask them to write reports or fill in time sheets. I just tried to talk to each group, each week to see where they were.

We will begin presenting our learning on Friday. So the recent questions from students have been of the "What should I put in my presentation?" variety.

I don't tell them.

I look them in the eye and ask, "What have you learned? Show me that."

Some get it. Some don't. But I'm still not telling them how to do it. And I'm sure I'll have a few Powerpoints because they can't think of anything else to do.


I have two girls who put a lyric dance together because they want to convince their dance teacher to let them do it next year. They are learning more than dancing (even though one of them posted on Facebook "Not much English going on here."). They are learning to think about how to convince someone to listen to their ideas.

I have a group that wanted to learn about movie making. So they read about it, wrote a script, and began filming.

One group of boys learned about the effects of teen drinking. They are making a movie also.

There's a boy who read and learned about Ouija boards. Then made his own.

Another boy had a grandfather who was a POW in WWII and was kept in a concentration camp. He's been reading about the camp and doing interviews with his grandfather (to me this is priceless).

And one of my "slacker" freshmen boys began researching aeronautical engineering. He went on to look at colleges that offer degrees in it and also the military. He is developing a plan of action for himself, although I don't think that's what he will tell the class about (doesn't want to give up that slacker image).

Other individuals or groups have studied types of cancer, schizophrenia, fixing bikes, running cross country and how to train for it, and ghosts. Things they wanted to learn about, presented in ways they want to use, with people they want to work with.

And you want to know what I've learned?

  • to sit back and let kids figure out their problem
  • to look students in the eye and wait for their answer
  • the power of questions as answers
  • that kids will take their learning seriously if it's what they want to learn about

I don't know how it will turn out. I won't grade it. I'm just going to sit back and enjoy.

Because I will know that we've all learned something.


  1. You've just described why our individual unit topics work, Deb. It's their choice, their passion. If they continued through their school years, just think what they'd accomplish, & the teachers can just go with the flow, teaching where needed. I loved hearing the descriptions of the varied ideas and projects-lots of learning going on there!

  2. I think your idea for genius time is invaluable learning for the kids and other teachers! Kids are innately curious and you're sowing seeds of lifelong learning. Cool!

  3. The more I read about genius time, the more I want to try it with my classes. I loved hearing about the variety of projects and ways of sharing learning. This is what education should be about.

    1. Kay, you should definitely try it with your kids next year. It is so worthwhile. This year I stayed available for them all the time. NExt year I may do my own genius time learning!

  4. Learning for the sake of learning, I love the opportunity you have given these students. Priceless!

  5. You have all learned a lot in the process, I would venture to say. Wonderful!

  6. What a great way to get the kids to learn about something that they really care about. I admire that you left them to answer their own questions. Can't wait for the next slice telling us how they presented their new knowledge.

  7. This is amazing, Deb! I've enjoyed reading your other posts about Genius Time, and it's fun to see how your students' projects are how coming to fruition. I really admire your bravery in trying this!

  8. I LOVE that you're letting them figure it out, Deb. What an incredible lesson this is for your students. You're making them college-ready!

  9. Your willingness to jump in and embark on this learning journey of your own is inspiring. I am so trying this next least with one very special class.

  10. Genius time sounds like such a great way to get kids to take the agency for learning into their own hands. Any tips on how to structure it so all kids are engaged/moving along in a process?

  11. Genius time sounds like such a great way to get kids to take the agency for learning into their own hands. Any tips on how to structure it so all kids are engaged/moving along in a process?

    1. I didn't do much with structure and organization this time around. I just turned them loose. I will do this again next year and have a bit more structure. There is a livebinder kept by Joy Kirr with LOTS of ideas.


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