WARREN, NJ - Imagine being assigned a project at school with but one prerequisite: You must feel unequivocally, unrelentingly passionate about the subject at hand.
That’s the idea behind “Genius Hour,” a pilot program at Mt. Horeb School during which fifth-graders are given one hour each week over the course of a month to work on so-called passion projects. Whether discovering the essence of an Almond Essence Cake, using mathematical calculations to perfect an ice skating Camel Spin or reworking a musical composition for a flawless violin/piano duet, Genius Hour challenges students to take charge of their learning.
“Genius Hour empowers students to take risks and to not be afraid to fail. At the same time, it reinforces that with the freedom to do what you want comes the responsibility to work hard and persevere,” said Grade 5 teacher Paul Duncan, who collaborates with fellow fifth-grade teachers Cristina Trump and Dawn Gauvin and a team of educators at Mt. Horeb to bring Genius Hour to their students.
Genius Hour was popularized by Google which allows its engineers to spend up to 20 percent of their time working on a pet project. According to the website geniushour.com, “the idea is very simple. Allow people to work on something that interests them and productivity will go up.”
Ten students presented their passion projects at the April 24 Board of Education meeting. In addition to the ice skater, the musicians and three bakers, there was an aeronautics enthusiast who built an airplane model, and two water-bottle-flipping researchers... one who explored this latest craze using traditional flipping methods (the human arm) and another who built a robotic arm to see if it could out-flip a human effort, challenging board members to a water bottle flipping contest.
There was also a student who set out to grow his favorite food--potatoes--but learned that the harvest-to-table growth period might be too lengthy for this particular project.
“I do have a potato to raffle,” said fifth-grader Ben Dubois to much laughter as he delivered the spud after drawing the name of board member David Brezee.
Superintendent Matthew Mingle is a fan. “The poise with which students presented their projects to the Board of Education and members of the public was exceptional.” says Mingle. “By giving students ownership over their learning, Mr. Duncan and his colleagues tapped into students’ deep- seated passions in a way that was a true joy to see come alive.”
Photo #2 - Mt. Horeb School 5th grade violinist Maya Yie prepares to present her “Genius Hour” project at the Board of Education meeting on April 24.
Photo #3 - Mt. Horeb 5th graders Maya Yie (L) and Ava Maloney perform a violin/piano duet as part of a “Genius Hour” presentation to Board of Education members at the April 24 meeting.
Photo #4 - Jordan Bash demonstrates his “Genius Hour” robotic arm project in a presentation before the Board of Education on April 24.