Tagged: Project-based learning

The Voices of Genius Hour Geniuses

As documented in my previous post, Escaping Education’s Cave of Apathy With Genius Hour, my World Literature and Composition classes have committed one hour per week to explore our individual passions. We launched our mission with a challenge to attack the destructive apathy that spreads throughout a high school—especially following the first semester of a school year. During our most recent genius hour, I created a simple Google form to collect feedback from my students. Their responses to seven weeks of genius hours are overwhelmingly positive. Student voices are considerably more powerful than reading an educator’s observations, so I have decided not to write this post. Instead, I am going to let my junior geniuses do the work (despite the anxiety of the ACT test looming at the end of their chaotic week).


I think that genius hour is awesome, it’s a nice break and escape of the regular school schedule of just sitting in class and continuously learning about subjects you have no say in partaking. It’s great to be able to choose what you want to learn about and research.

I really enjoy this time!

I think this is a great idea.

I enjoy genius hour.

Genius hour is awesome.

Enough said…but there’s more.



Genius hour gives us a fun hour to help explore what we want to explore. The trouble with today is that there are never enough hours in the day, and by having this hour once a week gives us a little time to get to find what we really want. Genius hour is very helpful once a week.

I think it’s a great idea. It gives me time to do the things I love to do, even when I don’t have the time on my own, and to even increase my skill in what I love to do.

I like genius hour a lot. I think it gives students the ability to work on their projects for this class. I also think that more teachers should start doing this because sports nowadays seem to take up more and more of our time outside of school. It seems to me like all teachers would suggest/require a minimum of 30+ minutes of work on that subject every night. Some classes prefer even more than that! With golf currently lasting until around 6:00 every night, I have found myself all of a sudden staying up until around midnight and sometimes beyond. I can understand why teachers would like us to work hard on all 6 or 7 subjects every night, but there are times where that is not physically possible. I really respect genius hour and I am proud to say that I use it to its fullest extent.



I really enjoy Genius Hour and I think it really helps me relax about the stressors in life and it lets me do what I want and look up things that interest me and make me happy in life, which is a pleasure that I don’t get very often.

I really appreciate Genius Hour. Not only do I have valuable time to research something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but it is relaxing and stress relieving as well.

It is relaxing and calming. It’s nice to have some time to ourselves during the school day.

I really enjoy Genius hour. Good way to end the week in a more relaxed, independent way, researching topics of interest.



I really like genius hour, as it gives us a chance to learn about something that we never had a chance to in any other class.  It gives us complete freedom over learning about what really interests us.

I think this is a great opportunity for us to learn about something we are interested in. It is also nice to be able to learn about what I want.

I think it’s nice to finally learn about something I want to learn about.

I have enjoyed Genius Hour and I like working on my own and doing my own thing. I can work at my own pace doing what I want to accomplish for my blog.

I really enjoy doing genius hour because it gives us a chance to do what we are interested in and finding ways to help around the community and future generations.

I think it is a good “project” to do. It gives us the ability to do what we want and be free and if people don’t take advantage of that freedom it is a very successful activity. 

I’ve really enjoyed and looked forward the class period each week where I get to explore something that interests me. It is a nice break from school and all the pressure to do what is expected/required of us. It can get so tiresome being forced to do things that don’t interest me at all.

I love it!! I look forward to having time to study things I want instead of being told what I have to study like every other class.



I very much enjoy the independent learning opportunity. It is very interesting and inspiring.

I enjoy having an hour to myself to research topics that spark my interest.

I feel that this has helped me improve my overall knowledge.

I think it’s amazing to learn about musicians and bands because music is a very important piece of my life.

It is fun to go through Tumbler and build a fan base!  I really enjoy the website, even though GHS has decided to block it, I am getting around that by going through my Data Plan even though it takes up a lot of data…  I am willing to sacrifice that to further this project!

Personally, I think this is what everyone needs. A lot of people I feel are looking to focus on what they want to do in the future career wise. Also, giving kids the option to study, explore, practice, and work on what THEY find interest in can show their work potential. My overall opinion on Genius Hour is it’s genius. I think this was a great idea and maybe see it as evolving into something bigger for kids to further explore their future career or an interest of some sort. I suppose my view of it is from the career and future aspect of Genius Hour but none the less, it’s a fantastic idea.



Genius hour is a genius idea.

Thank you for the opportunity to do this!

I loved the idea. It gave everyone an incentive to study something they truly care about in class periods. I wish we did this more often because I think students would enjoy school more often if we continually did things like this.


Kids These Days...

Kids These Days…

And there you have it. Kids these days…

  1. are creative, passionate, and worthy of respect
  2. share their inner genius when given time and opportunity
  3. continue to impress and inspire me


*Part 3 of my Genius Hour posts will address specific projects. Prepare for mind-blowing awesomeness.


Escaping Education’s Cave of Apathy with Genius Hour

Light from beyond the cave

Light from beyond the cave

“I’ve just given up. The pressure is too much. I need to feel numb in order to block the pain.” The haunting silence was suffocating as the air escaped the classroom.

Ever wonder what’s on the mind of a seventeen-year-old high school student? Ask one. Then listen. If enough trust has been established within a classroom community, juniors will share. But be warned.  Prepare for a dose of reality the adult world tends to overlook or ignore.

Arguably the most significant question I have ever asked a class was a simple, spontaneous journal prompt earlier this year: What are the top ten sources of stress in your life?

The common responses included: grades, constant homework, high school drama, the upcoming ACT test, expectations of AP courses, prom, need money, pressure from parents, job responsibilities, time management, friends, stereotypes, college searching, being judged, extra-curricular activities, and lack of time. There is not enough time to balance everything—including sleep.

Third quarter is ideal for this conversation. The class has likely conquered the challenges of first semester and everyone’s voice has emerged. This is when I facilitate a thematic unit focused on “the quest for personal fulfillment,” which promotes highly reflective thought in World Literature and Composition. We begin the unit with a study and analysis of our individual learning styles—particularly, how our learning styles impact our educational experience.


Plato's Allegory of the Cave

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

The literary study opens with Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” one of my favorite literary pieces (thus the reference to Form of the Good, the title of my blog site). As we read and share insights about the dialogue, I urge students to release any preconceived notions about their mindset and approach learning from a new perspective for a glimpse of enlightenment. The guiding questions include: “What are some ‘caves’ in your life in which you might be or feel ‘imprisoned?’ How might you be liberated from the restrictive limits of the cave?”

Choose paths wisely

Choose paths wisely

How can we expect students to invest in our class for 50 minutes before a bell signals another mindless transition in their day—a day in which they must also face the stress of a job, expectations of parents, social pressure from peers, and the workload of each class, including advanced placement courses? Add the anxiety of time restraints, lack of sleep, and grades, and the picture becomes clearer. Adolescents are caught in a race to adulthood, where external forces rush their emotional maturity, but offer little choice in the process.

Kids these days...

Kids these days…

We might complain about students’ apathy and their lack of engagement (How can they not care about anything?), but it is not to be taken personally (they assure me). My students recognize the efforts of their teachers—passionate educators—and the attempts to create exciting lessons and fun class activities.

Fun with Play-toh

Fun with Play-toh

Classroom learning is simply not a priority in their busy day. According to my juniors:

We have experienced years of seeing no success, no reward for our efforts, and are not held accountable—especially on standardized tests. Why even try? In class, we are commanded to be quiet and learn. Then told to talk to others and learn. [The voice of teachers] loses effect over time. We need down time that is not dictated…and not be preached at by hypocritical adults. So, it is just easier to go through the motions with a sense of numb…it’s easier when I feel numb.

Powerful words. They trusted I would listen and I did. The next day, I greeted class with this prompt.

The birth of genius hour

The birth of genius hour

Genius hour was officially launched in Room A15.


I have since monitored progress and collected feedback from students. I will post student projects and the positive response to genius hour soon.


PBL: World Perspectives’ MAP of Authentic Learning

World Religion Wall

Project-Based Learning, the key to learn with a purpose

Learn with a purpose–for the sake of knowledge, reflection, and individual growth. Take ownership of your learning by thinking, questioning, and exploring beyond the hour we spend together in the classroom. My students receive this message daily. Some figure it out and thrive in my classes; others simply hear the words, go about their business, and continue to ask how many points an assignment is worth. I’m sure several turn up the volume on their iPod and tune me out before I start talking.

English: This image outlines the basic path of...

English: This image outlines the basic path of the monomyth, or “Hero’s Journey”. Non copyrighted, free work. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In order to earn English credit, all juniors are required to take World Literature and Composition. The course is structured thematically around the stages of the hero’s journey in which we receive a call, cross a threshold separating us from the known world, face the trials and tests of initiation, transform our thinking and understanding of life, and return to our world enlightened, poised to impact others.

I am fortunate to teach at a comprehensive high school which takes pride in its reputation of offering opportunities for every student. Students take AP courses and generally perform well on standardized tests. They go on to have college and career success. There is a comfortable–almost secure–definition of appropriate, acceptable, and normal we choose to abide by and conform to. We claim to be tolerant, open-minded, and even accepting of differences; but this is where our flaws are exposed. While the majority of our students are considerate and respectful, many are apathetic or unintentionally offensive. The only plausible explanation is that we have always done it this way, as if to justify our good intentions–our way of life.

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sa...

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509, showing Plato (left) and Aristotle (right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But Plato acknowledges our flawed perception–that which we choose to overlook or ignore–and challenges us to question reality. What are the images cast in shadows on the cave wall? What exists beyond our known world? Many of us have no knowledge or understanding of life outside the cave, but are we to blame? Can we trust those claiming to be enlightened: the Form of the Good?

Too much talk…not enough action

This is the rationale I shared with students in my two junior classes before proposing their final exam:

The title of this course is World Perspectives. We spend months studying cultural themes and human behaviors; we analyze the archetypal journey and reflect on our metaphorical quests for personal understanding; we study religions of the world, while claiming to appreciate and respect diversity…yet, we do not transform beyond knowledge level–comprehension is assessed, but action is rarely taken. Therefore, little change occurs in our life patterns.

Gustave Doré's illustration to Dante's Inferno...

Gustave Doré’s illustration to Dante’s Inferno. Plate I: Canto I, Opening lines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Epic heroes model strategies for overcoming struggle. Siddhartha shares the secrets of his enlightenment–that teachers can relay information and provide knowledge about life, but they can not teach experience. We walk the allegorical path beside Dante through the Dark Wood of Error into the depths of our conscience with only a guide to point us toward spiritual salvation. We even analyze our flaws–no one wants to end up like Oedipus, right? So what have we learned? Do I provide authentic opportunities and real guidance or am I a hypocrite preparing to give another meaningless final exam? How does our 11th grade study of world literature impact our perspectives?

THE RETURN: Completing the Journey

*After surviving the trials and tests of the journey, we must return–transformed–to everyday life with greater wisdom

*We discover our gift and may become a great leader; we are spiritually enlightened

*We must contribute to our society (possibly renewing or even saving it)

*Like Gilgamesh, we must leave something behind–a MAP for others to follow (an acronym for My Awesome Project or My Action Plan…I couldn’t pick one title, so we refer to our PBL quest as MAPMAP…creative, I know)

Essential Question: “As you complete this year’s journey, how will you use your knowledge to impact life on a personal, societal, and global scale?”

Use the following steps as an initial guide:

1) Establish a concept of the “Others” based on the psychology of human perception

2) Identify discrimination, prejudice, bias of those considered “Others.” We generated the following list:

{disability, religion, race/ethnicity, gender, height, weight, sexual orientation, age, education, social class, social theories/politics, nationality, appearance, language, labels/stereotypes}

3) Select one topic to further explore

4) Narrow your plan to include a summary of the issues, challenges, investigations, scenarios, or problems

5) Frame an essential question to guide your actions (MAP your journey!)

6) Establish your purpose and audience

7) Commit to a goal: How far are you willing to take your learning according to Bloom’s pyramid? What action will you take?

C = Comprehension level: learn about the topic, collect information, knowledge (share with teacher, continuing a comfortable pattern)

B = Application level: teach others, urge others to join your cause (share with the class, the requirements of a typical class project)

A = Creation level: take action, publish, utilize technology, transform yourself, impact others (share with the greater community, crossing the threshold into an unknown world)

Here is a sample of guiding questions my students will explore throughout the final quarter of the school year:

*How can we create a more open-minded and accepting society?

*How does clothing and style influence the treatment of individuals?

*What would the world be like without the conflict created by religious separation?

*How can adolescents use social media to positively impact others?

*Accepting the fact that discrimination is a natural part of high school, how can adolescents survive the bullying and harassment they will face due to their appearance?

*Why do our appearances lead to ridicule and what can I do to raise awareness?

*In what ways can we prevent our peers from harming themselves both physically and mentally?

*How can I change standardized testing to measure everyone’s unique talents? (we had a quality discussion about Caliban while studying The Tempest)

*How can I create awareness about human rights to an online audience? (already a member of Amnesty International looking to have a greater voice)

*How can I make students aware of hurtful words made in school that people are unaware of?

*What can be done to support gay members of our school?

*Is it possible to create a community that will not reject ideas or judge others based on age?

*How can lyrical messages in music be used to inspire individuals to preserve freedoms, fight injustice, and put an end to discrimination?

I am impressed by the variety and depth of their questions and the number of students accepting the challenge to venture well beyond their comfort level. Normally, students would be coasting to the end; I could predict everyone’s final scores if given a written exam, paper, or presentation. Contrary to typical exam performances, students will close this year at their academic peak, with mostly A’s in the grade book.

So what’s in it for me? I am excited to watch my students transform, separate from their known world, and make something of their learning. I want students to have lasting evidence of their education. Next year as seniors, they will have something substantial to write about when applying to college or interviewing for a job. I am proud to share the impact of their discoveries with anyone willing to listen. Real creativity and problem solving is taking place without limitation, unrestricted by standards or curriculum. Autonomy has no answer key. My students, in turn, observe their teacher in the role of a learner challenging traditional lessons; at this point in the school year, I have renewed motivation and a quest to complete.

My Awesome Project…My Action Plan