The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 55 Transcript
Jennifer Gonzalez, host
GONZALEZ: Okay, I’m going to assume that most of you already know what Genius Hour is. If you don’t, then props to you for sticking with a podcast on a topic you know nothing about. Very briefly, Genius Hour is a teaching practice that has absolutely exploded in popularity over the last couple of years. It’s where the teacher sets aside a certain amount of time every week or every day—maybe one class period per week or one hour per day in an all-day classroom setting—for students to learn about whatever they want.
To someone who hasn’t learned much about it, that can sound like a scary prospect, and teachers who are thinking about trying it have a lot of questions. So I invited my friend A.J. Juliani to come onto the show to answer those questions. A.J. is the Director of Technology and Innovation for Centennial School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He did his first Genius Hour project back when he was an 11th grade English teacher, and since then has supported many other teachers as they implement Genius Hour in their own classrooms. He was actually a guest on episode 5 of this podcast, where we talked about 20 percent time, which is basically another name for Genius Hour.
Now A.J. has created a full online course, the Genius Hour Master Course, where he walks teachers step-by-step through the implementation process. The teachers who are already enrolled are seeing incredible results with their students, so I wanted to share some of A.J.’s wisdom with you and maybe get you one step closer to trying Genius Hour in your own classroom.
Before I start, two things. First, I’d like to thank Kiddom for sponsoring this episode. Kiddom is a free platform that helps you personalize learning for every student. A lot of teachers love the idea of ‘personalized learning,’ but without the right tools, it’s still just a buzzword. With Kiddom, teachers gain access to an unlimited library of standards-aligned content, coupled with beautiful, actionable reports to see exactly which standards need more work and which students need more help. To learn more, visit cultofpedagogy.com/kiddom.
I also want to thank you for the reviews you’ve left for this podcast on iTunes. These reviews really help bring new listeners to the show, and I read every one of them. If you’re enjoying this podcast and haven’t left a review yet, I’d love it if you’d take a few minutes, head over to iTunes and tell me what you think. Thank you.
Okay, here we go: Your top 10 Genius Hour questions answered.
GONZALEZ: Hi, A.J.
JULIANI: Hey, Jenn. How are you doing?
GONZALEZ: I’m great. I’m really excited to talk about Genius Hour today. You are my very first repeat podcast guest. You were on episode five.
JULIANI: Is that so?
GONZALEZ: I know. That’s awesome. And we were kind of talking about this two years ago when I had you on. We were talking about 20 percent time, and so now you’ve kind of more fully gotten yourself into the concept of Genius Hour. So the reason I’m having you on is because you’ve gotten so embedded in the Genius Hour world that you actually now have a full online course teaching teachers how to do Genius Hour. So in a little while we’re going to get into the details of the course. Why don’t we just start by you just telling me a little bit about your Genius Hour journey. How is it that you know so much about Genius Hour now, and what work have you been doing with it?
JULIANI: Yeah, so, I don’t ever claim to be an expert on any of these type of things. I’m just a learner, and I’ve spent a lot of time learning about it and doing it in K-12. I was a high school English teacher, and in 2011 did a project that kind of blew up. It was a very big project called the 20 percent project, like Google, in my classroom. And the basic was, the premise where Google gives their employees 20 percent of their time to work on something they’re passionate about and they’re interested in. I did that with my high school English students. When I put that project out to the world, and it just exploded with so many people asking questions. What I found out was that there was this kind of sixth, seventh, eighth grade and elementary school community that had just started doing something called Genius Hour. And Genius Hour and 20 percent time are pretty much the same thing. You’re giving time to students to choose their content and get the skills and master the skills based on their own content that they’re interested in and passionate about. And so as we started talking back and forth, I got four of those folks that were really early on in the Genius Hour community to write a blog post on my blog called the Genius Hour Manifesto. And that went viral, right? And so over the past six years, I’ve really kind of embedded the Genius Hour community in what I do and kind of connected the 20 percent time to that, because it’s very much the same learning that’s going on. I wrote a book about Genius Hour and 20 percent time. I present and speak on it around the country, around the world. And this course just kind of came out of that need and kind of out of that community of people that were really looking at what Genius Hour and 20 percent time were.
GONZALEZ: Awesome. And so you’ve now worked with … apart from you doing your own classroom work, you’ve now helped a lot of other teachers implement this in their own classrooms.
JULIANI: Yeah. I think, you know, one of the first things that happened is at my school district that I was working at as a teacher, we wrote it into our curriculum, and I think it was one of the first times people wrote it into their curriculum. Then I started working with principals from other schools, elementary schools, Gator Run down in Florida, where they put it together for their entire elementary school. Another elementary school here in Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania, that was third through fifth grade, every single teacher doing Genius Hour. Working with middle schools to put it in, so K-12, working with leaders and teachers of what Genius Hour looks like in second grade versus what it looks like in seventh grade versus what it looks like in 11th grade, and all the nuances that are involved with that. And so yeah, I’ve just been really lucky to work with so many different people that are trying this out. And a lot of people in this country and around the world have taken to Genius Hour because they see how excited and passionate their students get about learning and actually making things in the classroom.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, nice. And now that you’ve got this online community of teachers that are taking your course. How many people do you have enrolled in the course right now?
JULIANI: So right now we just went over a thousand people.
JULIANI: So we actually have just about 1,058 people enrolled in the course. And we have an awesome private Facebook group where people are just sharing all kinds of things that worked, all kinds of things that don’t work, asking questions of each other, and so the community is just growing. And these people that are in the course, these teachers, are invested, and there’s principals, and there’s technology staff developers, there’s all different types of people K-12 that are involved in the course. And so the discussions have just been really engaging with people that are starting to do it in their classroom right now. We’re just starting to see what’s happening as people are rolling out Genius Hour.
GONZALEZ: Awesome, awesome. Okay, so what we’re going to do in this quick interview is we are going to just talk about people’s Top 10 questions about Genius Hour. And we’re just going to kind of run through them. Before we start, I’m just going to let people who are listening know that if they end up not making it all the way to the end of the episode, and they just want to learn more about this course, they can go to cultofpedagogy.com/geniushour, and I’ll have lots of information there about how you can sign up for the course. Okay. We kind of did the first question, which is, What is Genius Hour, and is it different from 20 percent time?
JULIANI: Yeah. I don’t think there’s a difference, just in the term and maybe how much time you’re spending, right? But Genius Hour and 20 percent time are both forms of inquiry-based learning, where students are curious and interested and passionate about something, and they use that inquiry to drive their learning, right? So there’s lots of terms. Genius Hour and 20 percent time are probably the terms people are using right now the most in terms of the branding of inquiry-based learning, but that’s really what both are at its heart.
GONZALEZ: Got it, got it. And this is students choosing something they’re interested in, and then they spend a defined length of time, basically, researching that and coming up with some kind of a product at the end to show what they’ve learned.
JULIANI: Yeah, and the thing that’s a kind of the key is you have to have that passion piece, you have to have that time piece, but you also have to have the purpose, so that you’re not just learning but also making something along the way. Think about those Google engineers. They’re not just passionate about building Google Earth, which came out of a 20 percent project at Google, but they also have the purpose to build a product out of it. So that’s kind of the piece that drives the making and creating.
GONZALEZ: Well let’s get a little bit more into that. We have a list of questions here in a Google Doc, and I just moved No. 3 up to No. 2, because we’re getting a little bit into the structure of it right now. So I think a lot of times when teachers first hear about it, they say, “Oh gosh, I could never do that. I couldn’t just let my students ‘do whatever they want.’ It would just be too chaotic.”
GONZALEZ: So how is it that teachers actually can structure it?
JULIANI: So the analogy I tend to give people all the time is the difference between a ferry and a bridge, all right? So if you’re wanting to get across in New York, get across the Hudson River, right? You can hop on a ferry, drive your car onto the ferry or walk on the ferry, and the ferry’s going to take you across the river there. You know, lots of times in the classroom as teachers, we are the ferry, right? We are driving our students’ learning, we’re taking them where we want them to go. But a bridge can also allow people to drive their own car, take their own path, choose their own time and get to the same destination. But a bridge is highly structured. So I think oftentimes when people hear about Genius Hour or 20 percent time, their initial thought is, “So, what, do I just kick back my feet and let the kids just learn whatever I want? What do I do as a teacher? Isn’t that going to be chaos?” Right? That’s the No. 1 question I get from people all the time.
GONZALEZ: Sure, yeah.
JULIANI: But I think it’s actually … even though students get to choose, and they have the freedom of choice, the structure of the project is very, very much structured and put together. And I think it has to be in order for students to actually have the ability to get to the final end result. So the way to structure it, that most people structure it, and it differs based on second grade or 12th grade, but first you’re going to set an amount of time for students, whether that’s an hour a week or 20 percent of the time on Friday. Whatever works in your classroom, in your school, with your curriculum, I think dictates how much time, right? At that point in time, you present the students the project as they get to choose what they want to learn, and they have to create a product on what they’re learning, right? They have to put that learning into action. Students then take, you know, one or two of those periods to really dig down into what they want to learn. A lot of times we do this March Madness bracket, where we have students kind of fill out a bracket of all their interests and likes and things that they do on the weekend, and things that they do after school. And then they start eliminating them, just like you would in the March Madness tournament, right?
JULIANI: Until they get down to a topic that they actually have a passion for and a purpose for. Then students go into the pitch phase of Genius Hour. So now they have to present what they’re going to learn and what they’re going to make to their class. This is typically done in a kind of short “Shark Tank”-type pitch, right? We all want to be Mark Cuban, or at least I do.
GONZALEZ: I do too.
JULIANI: We get to be somebody from the “Shark Tank” for a class period. Each student either puts together four slides or they have four pieces of paper or four posters that they hold up, and it’s 30 seconds to a minute long, and basically what they tell their peers in the class is, No. 1: What they’re going to make, what they’re going to learn. No. 2: Why they’re going to learn it. Why they want to learn it. Why they want to make what they’re going to make. No. 3: How they’re going to go about doing it, kind of a brief schedule of how they’re going to get there. And No. 4: What would be a success in their mind? And that fourth one’s really important, right? Because it’s them choosing what success is going to look like. Positive peer pressure fills the room after you have that going on during the pitch.
GONZALEZ: Nice. When you say, “What they’re going to make,” can you give me an example of the kinds of products that they end up with?
JULIANI: Sure. So a typical one is you have students all the time, especially elementary, middle school, that are super interested in learning about video games, right?
JULIANI: Or they’re really into “Minecraft,” or something along those lines. But they have to connect that with a purpose. So now students are creating video games specifically on a purpose of something they’re interested in, right? You have students creating “Minecraft” worlds that represent the school or their community or a football stadium that they’re after, right? They’re almost kind of like being the architect of that world. Other times you have students that say, “Hey, I want to learn how to make a video game, but my product is I’m going to create YouTube tutorials for other students that want to learn how to make a video game too.” So products can be them making a game, or they could be them making tutorials, or it could be them making a model of something. The products can be a lot of different things just with that kind of passion for video games, if that makes sense.
GONZALEZ: Got it. Yes, yes, absolutely. Okay.
JULIANI: So after the pitch, we go into the learning phase, right? So here’s the inquiry piece. Jenn, it’s researching, it’s learning, and it’s documenting what you’re learning. So kids might go to the library and research some things, or they may pull out technology and research. The teacher really facilitates where they’re going to research and kind of get information. They could be watching videos. They could be talking to people who are experts. They could be reading books or articles. So research doesn’t have to be typing something into a database. There’s lots of different ways students can research the world. Even our younger students that are K-1, 2 and don’t even know how to read, there are still ways for them to research.
GONZALEZ: Got it.
JULIANI: After the learning phase, the research phase, you want to have them sharing, right? So as the students get older, you want to have them documenting in their journal, sharing on a blog, doing videos and sharing them on YouTube, doing a podcast, because they want to share out what they’re doing with the world. You don’t want to keep this hidden. You want to actually put it out there. And while they’re sharing, then they’re getting comments from other students, and kind of building that classroom community to the place where they finally start making, right? So you don’t want to spend too much time in the research phase, because you really want to get into the making, creating, designing phase and start building your project into a reality. For many students, this is where they get a little bit fearful, right? They’re scared that they’re going to fail. They’re scared it’s not going to turn out well. And so what I suggest and what a lot of teachers do is actually put up what we call “epic failure” boards. So you put a failure board up in your room, and as the teacher, you share out when you fail, and you get kids, every time they come in the class for Genius Hour, putting up on there, “Hey, here’s how I failed on my project this week.” And you’re celebrating those failures as steps toward success. After the students have made and kind of designed and built, even if it’s just a prototype, then you get them ready for a presentation. And the presentation is the second-to-last step. And you present in lots of different ways. You know, I’ve seen classrooms that are sixth-grade through 12th-grade do TED-style talks where they live stream students doing three- to five-minute presentations. I’ve seen K-5 classrooms do kind of that gallery walk museum, wax museum, inviting parents in, community members, and putting it out there. And then after the presentation, you have to take time to show the world what you made, what you did, and also reflect. What went well? What did you learn? What do you want to keep on learning? How’s this going to keep growing? And also just, what were your thoughts on the process throughout Genius Hour? And so that’s the structure, the general structure. Obviously tweaks along the way can be made. But as you can see, it’s pretty detailed in what the process actually looks like.
GONZALEZ: So they have this final project. They’ve got the final project, I’m assuming has a grade to it. How do you grade their work? Do you grade them throughout the time, or just the end product? How do you actually grade them?
JULIANI: So in the Genius Hour community, this has been a big discussion, right? I think a lot of people, like me when I first started out, I did Genius Hour and 20 percent time with my students when I first started out, because I didn’t like the way my 11th-grade students were focused solely on grades, right? Every time I would hand out a project, “Hey, Mr. J, how much is the work? Can I see the rubric? What if I hand it in a day late?” These are all the types of things we get as teachers all the time.
JULIANI: So I did not grade my students, and that was kind of a big experiment. But when we wrote it into the curriculum and when Genius Hour teachers have done it around the country, they work in a real school where you have to give real grades, right? So there’s nice to have like this pie-in-the-sky, “you don’t need to grade it,” but let’s be real: You probably need to grade it, depending on your situation. So there’s two ways to do it. One, which is the way I don’t recommend, is to grade the final product. You know, just like you would have a rubric for the final product, but typically what we’ve seen from teachers is that doesn’t really work, and students rush through the process. So the recommended way of grading Genius Hour is actually to grade the process. Grade what I kind of just shared with you in how they work through the process. There’s a rubric that has kind of caught fire. I shared it on my blog a number of years ago. It’s in the book. It’s a fantastic rubric. It’s called the GRIT rubric. It’s an acronym, and it stands for guts, resiliency, integrity, tenacity. And what the GRIT rubric does is it allows you to grade the process of students each and every time they come in or overall on, basically, are they having guts in the process? Are they actually taking on a challenge? Are they having integrity? Are they not cutting corners? Are they following through? Are they having the, you know, tenacity to go after something big? And are they having the resiliency if things don’t go well to bounce back? The GRIT rubric is fantastic. It’s been modified in the course. I share an elementary version, a middle school version and a high school version. It was created by the San Francisco College Track, which is an organization out in San Francisco that used this process-based rubric to help thousands of students graduate from high school that typically had not done that before. So it’s been used in Genius Hour and 20 percent time, and it’s kind of the way that I recommend grading the process instead of just the final product.
GONZALEZ: Nice. Okay, and that’s something that’s included in the course, is this GRIT rubric.
GONZALEZ: Okay. So let’s get a little bit into just sort of the practicalities of it. I know another concern teachers have is just how to actually make time. They’ll say, “I’ve got so much content to cover.” And I’ve actually got two questions. I think they go together. The fourth one is, How do I find time for Genius Hour in an already-packed schedule? And, I’m afraid I’ll fall behind on my regular curriculum. Can Genius Hour meet my required standards? I think the answer is kind of in both of those.
JULIANI: Yes. So I think that this is one that you have to really talk about and plan out before you start, right? It seems to be the biggest hurdle for most people, which is, you know, “I have this scripted curriculum where I’m supposed to do boom, boom, boom all in a row and follow this scope in sequence,” right? And then also teachers kind of saying, “How do I meet the standards?” So the first thing I’ll talk about is the already-packed schedule. For me, as an English teacher, reading, writing teacher, Genius Hour connected perfectly with the push for more nonfiction reading, right? We’ve seen that push around the country, around the world to have more nonfiction reading, and what Genius Hour is is inquiry where students are reading and accessing texts that are nonfiction. And so for me, I fit it in my curriculum by really focusing on that nonfiction angle and the research piece. Does that make sense?
GONZALEZ: Yes, absolutely.
JULIANI: Now I also chose to do it every Friday, and, you know, my students kind of knew that if we got to work and really did what we were supposed to do Monday through Thursday, Genius Hour wasn’t just a respite, but it was also a time for them to just have a lot of fun learning, right? And so it almost ended up being something that they really look forward to, and we started flying through the curriculum faster, because students were excited to get to that Friday time of doing Genius Hour.
JULIANI: In other schools and other places that I’ve seen, they’ve fit it into all different types of things. There was one elementary school that really couldn’t fit it into their typical elementary school day, until the librarian said, “Hey, I’m going to do it during my library block.” And so now kids were doing it because library connected to research, connected to reading, and it fit right in there. I had a middle school science teacher that did Genius Hour and really kind of shared how they did it, and they tied it to the lab work that they do, where they research something and they create something in kind of the STEM subjects, and so they connected it there. So I think it’s first just finding those pieces in your curriculum that overlap with inquiry, and students actually kind of choosing and doing, making, creating, and kind of seeing where it could fit in there, because it’s going to be different for everyone. In terms of the standards, this project hits so many of the common core and other types of standards. I mean there is, when you look at the standards, and I’ll send you a link too, Jenn, I hit over 27 standards that we list out. Everything from standards that connect to reading and researching, standards that connect to analyzing and applying. Standards that connect to writing and presenting. Standards that connect to creating and evaluating. And then you have standards for mathematical practice, ones like construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. Another standard for model of mathematics. So you’re hitting a lot of these standards in the project, because of the process that I just shared with you. And it’s really about you kind of choosing when would this fit. The final piece I’ll give is that a lot of folks in the past two or three years have chosen to do Genius Hour projects in their class right around the time of state testing. Okay? So you have students that are doing the state testing, and typically schools say, “Hey, parents. We’re not going to send homework home.” But the kids come in, they take a test for three hours, and then they have the rest of the school day. And so Genius Hour fits perfectly during that kind of state testing window of a way for students to learn and have fun and actually be thoroughly engaged in school during that window of time that traditionally is just not that fun for kids.
GONZALEZ: Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah. And a lot of schools don’t want to give them regular content anyway too, just because it’s like they’re kind of drained.
GONZALEZ: It seems like it would work really well for that end of post testing time at the end of the year, which is kind of a dead zone anyway.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, nice.
JULIANI: Yeah, both those times are perfect, you know, kind of avenues to get Genius Hour in there.
GONZALEZ: All right. Okay. So two other questions that have to do now with sort of students and how the students are going to react. What if students want to study something weird or inappropriate?
JULIANI: So if they want to study something weird …
GONZALEZ: I guess by “weird,” I don’t know, that’s a weird term, but I don’t know. It’s one of things where I guess you know it if you see it, and you think, “This is never going to fly with anybody.”
JULIANI: Yeah. I think “inappropriate,” you have to, and I always said to teachers and I said to my own students, “This is still school,” right? So it has to be appropriate for school. And, you know, you’re going to have the rest of your life to kind of study whatever you want to, but in school, let’s choose something that is school-appropriate.
GONZALEZ: Got it.
JULIANI: I do think often though what teachers maybe kind of get scared at is a student wants to do something weird. I’ll give you an example. I had a student that wanted to learn how to clone carnivorous plants. Yes, you heard that correctly. So I knew nothing about carnivorous plants. I knew nothing about cloning. And so I had to bring in some of my fellow teachers and some other experts to even see, like, is this possible? Is there really kind of a way to do it? And so it was weird enough for me to consult with other professionals and my peers. And I think that’s … if you get a topic like that, and you’re kind of really uneasy about and not really sure about, talk to some other teachers, talk to some professionals and see. But if it’s inappropriate, nix it right away, and kind of just say, “Hey, this is still school. It’s got to be appropriate.”
GONZALEZ: Right. Okay. Now the other question regarding students is what if … I think a lot of teachers are concerned that students just aren’t going to use the freedom well. They’re just going to slack off, they’re not going to work during the time that they’re given. What do you do then?
JULIANI: Yeah, I mean I had a teacher I worked with that asked me a few weeks ago, “Hey, how do we deal with those students who aren’t doing anything with Genius Hour? I feel like I’ve helped and helped, but they don’t seem to care at all.” I wrote a big post on this a couple of years ago called “What to Do When Genius Hour Fails,” and I went into three specific steps to deal with this situation. Step No. 1 was talk with the student about life, not the project. So I think often we want to kind of just jump ahead and kind of force them down a path, but Genius Hour is as much about students finding what they’re passionate about as it is about them kind of finding themselves, right? Because they’re having this choice for the first time that they maybe haven’t had, and so it’s confusing for some kids, depending on where they are in terms of their growth and development. And so I would talk with a student about life. “Hey, what’s going on at home? How are things going?” Talk to them about their interests. Come to find out what they’re interested in. And then I would ask them for help, right? So if they’re not going to be able to work on a project, I’d start asking them for help. I’d ask them for help in the classroom maybe to help somebody else doing their research. Like, I would still put them to work, if that makes sense.
JULIANI: I wouldn’t just let them kind of sit there. I’d say, “Hey. If you’re not going to work on a project, let’s go help somebody else. Let’s see what John’s doing over here or see what Susie’s doing over here, and let’s go.” And that lets them know in just a nice and friendly way that, “Hey, I’m not giving you an F for this project, but you’re going to do something. You’re either going to do what you want to do, or you’re going to help somebody else.”
GONZALEZ: That’s a great idea.
JULIANI: And the third thing is I’d help them find a new purpose. Sometimes they get stuck on the passion part. They get stuck on, like, “I’m not really that interested in something.” And so now I’d start the opposite way, which is, “Let’s find a purpose. What have you ever wanted to make? What have you wanted to build?” You know, like, “What job do you want when you’re older?” And kind of start with a purpose. Like I would have a kid in one of my classes who wasn’t doing anything, and I found out that this student, on the side, made these T-shirts in the community when someone had passed away. So someone had passed away, and they’d make this airbrushed T-shirt, and they’d sell it kind of in the community. And I said to him, “Sam. You can make something and sell it for this project. You can make money with this project.” And he was hooked in, right? So I think it’s part of that building those relationships with students and taking the slow route instead of saying, “You must choose something to do next week.”
JULIANI: Like, let’s just focus on the kid, because if they’re not invested in this, there’s probably some other things going on, and it’s just really coming alongside of them as a guide and a real teacher and building that relationship first, then those other pieces start to fall down into place as you kind of work with them.
GONZALEZ: That’s great advice. Okay, so what if teachers are thinking about getting started on this? If they’re working in a school or a community where not a lot of people have heard of this, how would they go about convincing parents, administrators, colleagues that this is worth a try?
JULIANI: Yeah, so in the course I have a whole section of the course devoted to, like, “talking to your colleagues, talking to administrators,” and I went through this too. I would say, though, the more transparent you are about Genius Hour, the better it’s going to be, right? So when you start this, you want to tell your colleagues what you’re doing. They may not understand what you’re doing, so invite them in your classroom, invite them in to see it. Show them other Genius Hour presentations and work that students have done that’s online, and let them see like what the end result of this is. With your parents, send a letter home. Tell your parents about the Genius Hour project. Tell them what’s going on in your class. I remember I didn’t do this the first time, and I got a call from parents saying, “So, Mr. Juliani. Dan is telling me here that he just gets to do whatever he wants 20 percent of the time in your class.” And so I had to explain to the parent really what we’re doing and kind of the why behind it. So send a letter home.
GONZALEZ: Got it.
JULIANI: Invite them into the classroom. Perfect time to bring parents, community members, your principal into the classroom to help the students, right? Also, share your student blogs, give regular updates to your parents, to your colleagues, to your administrator, and then finally invite them into the presentations as well. Whatever type of presentation you’re doing, invite them in, bring them together, share it out with people, be as transparent as possible.
GONZALEZ: Okay. And if any of these people sort of boils it all down to why, why bother with this over what we’ve typically done? What would be your sort of No. 1 reason why this is all worth it?
JULIANI: Yeah. You can get into a lot of different angles, but I’m just going to get into one specific reason, which I think is the biggest reason. We have 14,000 hours with our students K-12. They spend 14,000. Most of them over 14,000 hours in school K-12. How many of those hours do we actually give kids a choice in what they learn and what they can do? It’s typically not many. When they leave our schools in 12th grade, every single hour of every day they’re faced with making their own choices. They choose what they want to eat, they choose what they want to learn, they choose what they want to do, college or work, or those different types of things. And quite honestly, we’re not preparing them for life after school if we’re not giving them choices while they’re in school. You know, how many adults do you know that just aren’t happy with their life, aren’t happy with their work and aren’t doing something they’re passionate about? Genius Hour lets kids explore what they’re interested in and passionate about, lets them still master and acquire skills, but also gives them that kind of life skill of being able to choose and navigate tough choices, of being able to project manage their own project and their own learning and what they’re doing, and really kind of forces them to take a stance on what they believe, what they’re interested in, and what they want to do. And so the more opportunities we can give kids to do that while they’re in school, the better they’re going to be prepared when they’re out of school.
GONZALEZ: Fantastic. Okay, two more quick questions. No. 9, will this work with younger students? If somebody has second-graders, first-graders, can they give this a try?
JULIANI: So, yes. I’ve worried about this when I first started as well, because remember I started with high school students. But over the years, I’ve seen people sharing with kindergarten, first-grade, second-grade students. A lot of times, you see students at that level that are just super excited about learning, right? My daughter’s in second grade. She’s excited every day when she comes home. They’re not worried about grades. They’re just ready to go. And so in K-1-2, it works really well. Now, the researching might look different. Maybe they’re not reading to research. Maybe they’re watching some presentations, they’re watching videos, they’re looking around the world, right? Their purposes may differ too. They may not want to build a video game or clone carnivorous plants. But their purposes may differ as well. I’ll kind of tell you where I see most of the elementary K-1-2 starting. There’s a great video, Caine’s Arcade. Have you seen that, Jenn?
JULIANI: All right. So out of Caine’s Arcade came this global cardboard challenge, where Caine created this entire arcade out of cardboard. He built the entire thing. And I see many K-1-2 teachers showing them the Caine’s Arcade video and starting Genius Hour with just cardboard and saying to them, “What are you interested in? What do you want to build?” And starting there, and having it be a short project. Then maybe later in the year, now saying, “Hey, remember when we did that cardboard project? Now you get to choose and make anything you want and learn anything you want,” and kind of scaffold it that way, right? So starting with that choice, starting with something as simple as cardboard, and then building out there. You know, the end products are going to look different. The presentations are going to look different. But the learning is going to be just as powerful in kindergarten, first and second grade.
GONZALEZ: In your community, you have a lot of elementary teachers who are already trying this in their own classrooms. So if somebody enters that community as part of your course, they’ll have a lot of people to bounce ideas off of?
JULIANI: Yeah, yeah. There’s a lot of teachers that are younger elementary. As I said, there’s principals of schools that I’ve done at K-5, 3-5. There’s two teachers that share all the time that are second-grade teachers that have done it, and then they moved to fourth grade. So there’s really good community support. There’s really good resources that also have kind of been tweaked for the younger kids. In the course, I have unit plans, some lesson plans, and it’s not, like, K-12 lesson plans. There’s elementary lesson plans, middle school, high school lesson plans, so it differs based on the level as well of kind of what those activities might be to get students going.
GONZALEZ: Got it. Okay, and so the final question before we start talking more about the details of your course, is if a teacher just wants to start, doesn’t really want to jump completely into the deep end, how would a teacher get started with Genius Hour?
JULIANI: So I think the No. 1 way you’d want to get started with Genius Hour is figure out when you’re going to have the time to do it, right? Because you can plan everything else, but if you don’t have the time to actually put it in, then you’re not going to be able to kind of get going. So figure out the time first. The next piece I would say is start with just a day or two. So start with an hour where students are just kind of going through this process really quickly. Like, what do you want to learn? Take a whole period just to learn something and tell everybody at the end of the period what you learned, why you wanted to learn it. Just kind of get that inquiry going in the classroom. It doesn’t have to be a full eight-week unit or anything like that. Start small, just start with a day or two, and bring inquiry and choice into your classroom, and Genius Hour can be that small. It doesn’t have to be a big, long project. And then also, go to my website, ajjuliani.com. I’ve plenty of resources up there on Genius Hour, and also point you in the direction of a lot of different communities and groups besides my course that you can get information from as well. So there’s a litany of resources out there and people out there that have done it, which makes it really powerful to kind of just jump in no matter the level, no matter your background or experience.
GONZALEZ: Awesome. So let’s just spend a couple of minutes talking about your course. It’s called the Genius Hour Master Course, right?
GONZALEZ: And this is an online course that is not a class like people would take at a university where they actually have to go anywhere or it’s on a specific timeframe. This is a self-paced online course.
JULIANI: Yes. Completely self-paced. You go at your own pace. You can do it in a matter of days or go over in a matter of weeks. You can use the resources as you’re doing Genius Hour with your students or before you’re doing it with your students.
GONZALEZ: Got it. And the format is videos and downloads, correct?
JULIANI: Yes. So there’s over 70 videos that walk you through step by step the Genius Hour process. And then along with each of those videos, you’re also going to have text explaining things, downloads, PowerPoints that you can share with your students. The Genius Hour journal is in there, which is a full-out interactive notebook that your students can take with Genius Hour on Day One and use throughout the entire process, as I kind of outlined here. There’s lesson plans for an eight-week unit. There’s a full unit plan that connects to the standards and PowerPoints that go along with that. There’s even, like, very specific Day One and Day Two lesson plans. So when you’re just starting and trying to pitch this to your students, there’s resources for that, what videos you can watch as a class, handouts for students to do it, passion and purpose Venn diagrams, that March Madness passion bracket that I talked about. All those different resources are included in here, plus the online community where you can be in a private Facebook group and really talk to people as you’re going through these different things.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, I think that’s a huge component of it, having that community, because sometimes you just want to ask somebody, “Has anybody ever tried this? What did you do when this happened?” And so having that available is huge. And also, from what I’m remembering when you first launched this a couple of months back, you sort of told everybody who was signing up that this course is going to evolve with you. So as you get feedback from your learners and teachers, you’re going to continue to develop and improve the course.
JULIANI: Yeah. So it’s just been building, right? You know, so we started it off with 50 videos. Now we have 70 videos. They keep on growing. We have really specific videos and processes now in terms of, like, figuring out, should it just be an individual or should it be partners? Can groups do it, right? I really focused three to four, you know, focused videos on just the shark tank, how to set up the shark tank, how to roll the shark tank out, and what you should do right after the shark tank. Double-entry journals. KWL charts. So there’s very kind of specific and focused lessons, and the modules take you just step by step throughout the process, and it continues to grow and it continues to build, and it really will over time.
GONZALEZ: So if people want to learn more about this, they should go to cultofpedagogy.com/geniushour, all one word. Anybody who is listening to this live, in other words, if you’re listening to this episode when it is published the first day, that would be Nov. 6, 2016, the course is actually opening today, and it’s going to be open for the next couple of days, actually until Nov. 13, correct? You’ve got it open for a week?
JULIANI: Yes. Yep, Nov. 6-Nov. 13.
GONZALEZ: And during that time, we’re going to be offering a substantial discount to people. I’m going to have a coupon code on that website that I gave you.
JULIANI: Yep. And the coupon code is going to take … the course is traditionally $149, and if they use that coupon code during that week, they’ll actually get the course down to $119.
GONZALEZ: Very nice. That’s a good time to jump in.
JULIANI: Which is fantastic. Yeah, good time to jump in. And it’s also, like I said, you know we have a thousand people that have taken that course. And some of the stories that people are sharing about what’s happened in their classroom are just inspirational and heartwarming. You know, I guess that’s the type of feedback that other teachers are looking for as well, right? We’ll share some of that feedback on that link that you sent to people, but this course for $119, I think is a huge deal, but also it’s going to keep growing, right? I keep on telling people, “This isn’t stopping anytime soon. There’s lots of people that are sharing their ideas, and we’re just building up that course more and more and being very specific, and very practical resources for everybody, no matter if you’re a kindergarten teacher or a 12th-grade teacher.”
GONZALEZ: Nice, yeah. And if somebody happens to be listening, I know some people listen to my podcast, and they go way, way back to the archives. If somebody’s listening to this way in the future, just go to that URL that I gave, cultofpedagogy.com/geniushour, and we will have updated information. There may be different dates, and the price structure might have changed. There might be a new discount there or whatever it is, but the course, once a person is in, they have lifetime access to those materials, correct?
JULIANI: Yes, that’s true. Yep.
GONZALEZ: Okay. Awesome. Anything else that you wanted to share?
JULIANI: You know, I think the thing about Genius Hour is as much as it impacts our students, it also really impacts us as teachers. I’ve never seen a better community-builder for my classroom. I’ve never seen a better way to learn about my students and build relationships with my students as I saw with Genius Hour. And so I think, yes it connects to academic achievement, and yes it connects to what students are going to be doing after school and their life, but it really connects to your classroom in that moment, that year and building bonds that last a long time. And I think that’s one of the most powerful features of this project and Genius Hour as a whole.
GONZALEZ: Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us, A.J. I’m so excited to hear more stories of teachers who are going to try this in their classroom in the upcoming year.
JULIANI: Yep. Thanks so much for having me on, Jenn, again, round two. It was awesome.
GONZALEZ: That’s right, that’s right. Thanks for being my first repeat guest.
JULIANI: That’s right. All right, thanks again.
To learn more about the Genius Hour Master course, go to cultofpedagogy.com/geniushour. For links to all the other resources mentioned in this episode, visit cultofpedagogy.com/pod and click on Episode 55. Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.