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Introducing Genius Hour at the Primary Level

01/01/2020 9:47 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)

Students are shown collaborating during Genius Hour.

Students in the second grade at St. James Academy (Maryland) are shown collaborating as they research topics during Genius Hour.


It’s 2:00 PM on a Friday afternoon. This is it - my last chance to instill even the tiniest piece of knowledge onto my students before the weekend. My lessons are planned, my materials are ready, and I’ve taken my rightful position at the front of the classroom. As I peer out among the crowd of eager young learners, wide-eyed and ready for knowledge – I wake up and realize - it was all a dream.So let’s try this again.

It’s 2:00 PM on a Friday when what I actually see is pure chaos involving squirmy second graders whose minds have wandered anywhere but within the four walls of this classroom. It is at this moment I know I need to find something new and exciting - something that will inspire innovation and creativity within my students. I take to the Internet for advice, and this is when I discover Genius Hour.

What is Genius Hour?

Businesses have been doing it for decades. Allowing employees to spend portions of their workday devoted to projects that they are passionate about and reaping the benefits of their creativity and innovation.In the 1940s, 3M general manager, William McKnight, encouraged his employees to spend 15% of their time on experimental projects of their choosing. From this practice, the Post-It Note was born. 

Fast forward to 2004, when Google’s founding duo, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, reported a similar workplace initiative called the 20% project, where programs such as Gmail and Google News have stemmed.

So what does Genius Hour look like in the primary classroom? For me, it is one hour per week where students are encouraged to explore their own passions. They ask questions, research the answers, and create a project to present at the end. It’s messy, loud, and still a little chaotic, but students are engaged in a way that I have never seen before.

4 Things I’ve Learned Since Starting Genius Hour 

  1. Take time to introduce Genius Hour, share examples, and set expectations. For many students, Genius Hour will be a completely new concept, so it is essential to take the time to set the scene properly. I like to begin by sharing my own passions first. This helps get the juices flowing for students. I also share examples of past projects to give students some visual inspiration for how to present their final project. Distinguishing the difference between researchable questions and those that can be easily answered is another essential skill to teach during this introduction process.
  2. Find credible and developmentally appropriate resources for student use.  Research can be difficult for students who are still learning to read but are not yet proficient in reading to learn. PebbleGo is a great place to start, with informational resources for kids and the option for read-aloud audio. There are also databases such as Kiddle, Schooltube, and Wonderopolis that are free to use. Talking to the school librarian is an excellent first step to learn about any database subscriptions your school might have.   

  3. Set students up for success by giving them tools for organization and structure. A teacher’s role during Genius Hour is that of a “guide on the side.” I’m there for support and to provide feedback when needed. Letting go can be difficult, but it is important to allow students to take ownership of themselves and their learning. We can still set our students up for success by providing supports that keep them organized. I like to set my students up with a research notebook or binder where they can brainstorm and take notes.

  4. Provide opportunities for students to present their projects to a broad audience. The ultimate goal of Genius Hour is for students to create and present some type of project displaying the results of their research. These projects can take on many different forms. It’s even better when students can share their ideas outside of the classroom, whether it be with another grade level, the school community, or globally. Teachers can use their websites or social media accounts to share student project as well as make global connections with other classes around the world.

To learn more about Genius Hour, check out some of the following sites.

Alison Glace ( ) is a second-grade teacher at St. James Academy in Monkton, MD. Connect with her on Instagram at


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