Sunday, November 24, 2013

Passion Projects in the Classroom

Last week I was scouring the internet for some more inquiry ideas for my classroom when I came across Genius Hour.  One word ... hooked.  And inspired.  And motivated.  (I was never good at limiting my words).  ;)  Sufficed to say, I KNEW it was going to happen in my classroom.

In a nutshell, Genius Hour is something that happens in your classroom for one hour a week.  During this time, students research and complete an inquiry project based on their passions - really digging deep into what motivates them.  The actual inquiry question does not have to be tied to the curriculum expectations because so much of what they will do does fit the curriculum ... and more ... so much more.  They will be learning research skills, refining their organizational skills, reading nonfiction articles, developing questions, writing, preparing a project, and presenting.  And best of all ... they will be engaged.

So, I got started immediately.  I started researching it more in depth (check out the genius hour link in the first paragraph to get you started with so many FANTASTIC ideas and resources).  I started making up resources to use in my classroom, and I started planting little seeds of excitement within the classroom.  I told my students I had a big secret for them ... one that would be revealed on Friday ... and one that would change our classroom ... one that would change every student.  Boy, were they hooked.  The second they came into the school on Friday they asked when they were going to find out the secret.

Our Genius Hour will take place every Friday in our classroom, during our Language Arts block.  I set up this space on our blackboard (who uses blackboards anymore?) to act as our bulletin board launching pad during our passion projects.  I set it up during their break, so it was up when they came back into the classroom.  When it was time, I told them all was about to be revealed.  I gave each student a sticky note and asked them to close their eyes and think about something they were really passionate about.  Something that they would do forever if they could.  I then had them write that thing on the sticky note and put it up on our bulletin board.

I then showed them the "Pep Talk" video by Kid President.  LOVE it.  It fits so perfectly with our classroom motto this year - "Be More Awesome".

I asked them how they thought this video ties into their passions and we had a short discussion about it.  I then showed them this video (found on Genius Hour).  It's actually geared to teachers, so I wouldn't use it in a classroom with younger students, but it worked well with my students, and it told them exactly what to expect during Genius Hour.

I then handed out a second sticky note and asked them to "refine" their passion a bit.  Alter it so that it was something they could create an inquiry project on - something they could create a question about and complete research on (we have already completed inquiry projects in science this year, so this concept wasn't new to them).  I also reminded them that this was just a brainstorm phase, and they weren't tied to what they wrote down on the sticky note.  When they were finished, I had them put these sticky notes up on our bulletin board, too.

I handed out a duotang and notebook to each student to keep track of their sheets and notes during the project (bright yellow, of course).  I then gave them their brainstorm sheet and asked them to answer the questions.  On the back of the sheet they were to brainstorm ideas they were passionate about, and projects they could complete based on these passions.  This one below is one of my favourites because this is a young man who is quite difficult to engage ... and he was so excited about this he drew out a full diagram in only a few moments.

After a few moments of brainstorming, I allowed them some group time to discuss the ideas they were thinking about.  My class LOVES to talk, so I've found if I build that time in for them, we are all a lot happier.  We then filled out a reflection sheet I made for the end of each Genius Hour.  Because I wanted to keep the sheet the same for each Genius Hour through the session, some of the questions didn't apply this time, but will in our upcoming genius hour blocks.  I've uploaded a copy of the handouts I used, and the bulletin board letters I made to google docs.  You can grab them by clicking HERE.  I left the day of the week and project timeline blank so you could add in your days / timeline.  Note:  this is a PDF file, so it isn't editable.  If it doesn't quite work for you, you are more than welcome to use some of these ideas and create something that does work for you.  Although I like to share ideas and activities I've done in the classroom, I'm a HUGE advocate of doing what works for your classroom - you know your students the best, and know what drives them, so please change things around if you feel your students need it, or add in your own genius ideas to inspire your students.  :)

For homework, I asked my students to talk to their families about our Passion Projects and come back with two ideas they could work with.  Over the week, I will talk to the students and approve ideas so that we can get started on our projects during our next Genius Hour next Friday.

If you haven't heard about Genius Hour, please check out the link I gave at the beginning ... I promise you - you will be motivated.  My students are SO excited, to say the very least.  One of my students asked me at the end of class if he could decorate his folder.  Of course I told him he could.  When I came back from break, I found out that he had done this on his break.  A success, I'd say.  When I was dismissing the bus lines at the end of the day, one of my "less motivated" students looked and me and said with a smile, "I think I'm going to like Fridays now".  Well ... enough said.

Happy Sunday!


  1. I learned about Genius Hour during professional development at the beginning of this school year and thought I'd work it in with my homeroom during our reading block, but then I decided I was going to tackle the first project with both of my 4th grade classes and use the first one as a stand alone project. We actually started it last week. Our first time out the door, we're spending more than an hour on it, but I think their research will be completed by Tuesday or the beginning of the week after Thanksgiving. Then they'll work on putting their products together, and finally presenting to the class. The kids are totally engaged and loving it!! I look forward to hearing how it goes with your kiddos!
    Are We There Yet?

  2. Now I am super motivated, and I haven't clicked on any links! Off to research now.....


  3. I teach a pull-out GT program for our district and this is basically all I do. I love it, the kids love it. It is so awesome to see this in the regular ed classroom:) We are working on a project called pursuit of passion.


  4. THis is GreAt. I have the Passion Driven ClaSSroom. SInce I do nOt have a classroom this year. I am On Assignment. I love hearIng about this. I Had Planned to do it onCe a week for an Hour bEcause tHat is what woulD fit in my schedule. LOVE it Great way to get started and The Videos are great inspirations

  5. I really like this idea and going to give it a look see...Can you tell me how you got your melonhead into your signature? Thanks!

  6. What an awesome idea! Thanks for the video links and the PDF document. I love the idea of a self-motivated project - I think my students would really benefit from it. I'm off to research and see if I could modify this for my classroom. Thanks!

    Joy in the Journey

  7. Jen,
    Your endless talent and energy amaze me! Thanks for the sparks of motivation that I so need this year:) I will be checking more into this for my kiddos:) Thank you for all you do to share your gifts with other:) Have a blessed Thanksgiving:)

    4th Grade Frolics

  8. I, like Stephanie, am super motivated too! I am about to dig in and go research! My kids could totally use a pick me up right before the holidays, and Kid President is kind of a celebrity in our room! There is never enough time for inquiry, and things of this nature, but there should be! Thanks for the fabulous idea!!

    Young Teacher Love Blog

  9. I absolutely LOVE this idea! I teach 7th and 8th grade Language Arts and I could totally see my students eating this up. They're all on such different levels and have to many different interests and passions. Just curious if you've thought about how you're going to grade the projects? Or if you're going to grade them at all on the projects or their progress/research? I noticed on he said he didn't grade them. I could see some administrators and/or parents asking that question so...thanks in advance for your answer! Keep us up to date on your class's progress :)

  10. What grade do you teach? I teach third and am excited about getting it going in my classroom :) on the hunt for some resources more geared towards my students...or time to start creating!!

  11. I love this idea too! I'm wondering how long will you allow the students to research their projects before you have them begin to put them together? I think this would be a great project to add before the holidays too! I would like to do a shorter research time though. I mean I'm okay with the hour a week, but I'd love to research and have their presentations done before Christmas break. What are you thinking about time frames right now?

  12. Hi Jen,

    Thanks for this wonderful idea! I have already told my students I have a big surprise for them coming up. I can't wait to start this with them. I recently came across one of your blog posts on guided reading, where the kids are working together on reading a book. I love how you have a whole class focus as well as a sub focus for each group. I was wondering if you could tell me how you introduce those both to your groups and other examples of things you work on. Thanks!

  13. Thanks for the wonderful comments and links to my genius hour website. If you ever have any questions hit me up on Twitter @iamkesler or leave a comment on any of the posts on Thanks for sharing the message!

    Sounds like you're well on the way to an awesome genius hour.

  14. Hi Jen,
    I am so excited to start Genius Hour after the winter break! I teach at an IB (international baccalaureate) school in south Florida. We embrace the inquiry method so it will be a perfect fit. I've downloaded the google doc, but I am fixated on the sign that says "What's Your Passion?". Can you tell me where I can download it? I love your blog and follow you on TPT!

  15. How have I missed this post? I added the resource on this page to this tab in the #GeniusHour LiveBinder: & I also added this blog post onto the middle school teacher tab (I can't find anywhere - even in the comments - what grade you teach). Thank you so much for sharing!

  16. I love love LOVE this idea! I am starting in a Grade 6 classroom in January and want to bring this excitement to my new class! I'm also fixated on the sign you have up "What's Your Passion?" and would love to be able to print that off for my new centre. Are you able to offer that one for us too? Thank you so much for sharing all of your brilliant ideas!

  17. Wow! This looks great :) Thanks for sharing! I have never heard of this. I can't wait to look more into it and hopefully incorporate the project with my students! What a great way to engage students and allow them to take ownership of their learning :)

  18. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this idea!! I am researching it and getting ready to tweak it for my class! I teach 3rd and 4th grade gifted and know they would greatly enjoy and benefit from this! Have to find a flow and how to get it into my schedule, with all the district and state mandates and test prep they want us to do I am not sure how I will get it in there, but know I have too! This will teach / reinforce so many skills that they need and all done through their interest! PERFECT!!! Going to implement this after spring break! Thank you for sharing and inspiring me! =)


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