By Josh Sigler
WABASH COUNTY, Ind. – The concept of Genius Hour got its start with Google.
The company allows its engineers to spend 20 percent of their time working on pet projects, with the philosophy being that if people work on something they’re interested in, productivity will go up.
Sixth grade students at Sharp Creek Elementary have taken up the concept, and Thursday, March 8, showed off their finished products to judges made up of retired teachers and Metropolitan School District of Wabash County administrators.
“So much of a student’s day they’re told what they have to do and what subjects they have to learn,” sixth grade teacher and Genius Hour coordinator Pam Campbell said. “So, when you get to choose something that you really want to do, and get to self-direct your own learning, we think students are motivated. We think this was a great learning experience for them.”
The sixth grade students got their feet wet with the idea in the first semester. Students worked on their respective projects on their own, and presented their work to their homeroom classes.
“In the second semester, we started working on this after Christmas vacation, Campbell explained. “They could work alone or with a partner. Genius hour is just about finding a passion, something that you want to learn about. And, it’s self-directed learning.
“So, the students chose their topic. They did research. And the final presentations were on Thursday. We were very lucky to have community members and some MSD employees come and listen to these presentations.”
The students had a rubric outlining the requirements for the project. They were required to create a presentation board with the highlights of their findings.
“It’s things like what was their driving question?” Campbell said “What did want to find the answer to? What type of research did they do to find the answer? Then they’re also judged on their oral presentation. Do they make eye contact with the judge? Those speaking/listening skills are pretty important.”
The topics for the projects were wide-ranging. Some students created a Lego catapult. Other designed their own dog lounge, a project so large it didn’t fit in the doors of the Sharp Creek Facility and had to remain outside.
A pair of students researched the evolution of the U.S. military, while others opted to create an anti-bullying project.
“It just depends on what topic they wanted to choose,” Campbell said. “It’s amazing what students can do sometimes when they’re left to their own devices. We only worked one hour a week on this, so a lot of it was done at home or outside the classroom. Until they completed their boards and actually started bringing in some of their projects, we had no idea what they would look like. … They were very creative. This was students on their own. So, it is pretty exciting.”
There was no overall winner, but children were graded on their projects individually.
“They also did things inside the classroom like you showed the notes you used or the website you used,” Campbell said. “We use a learning system called Edmodo, and we would ask a question every week. We used it as a blog and they would have to answer the question. They had to do a self-evaluation rubric. What did they learn? What would they change? We talked about it (Wednesday, March 7) that if it didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, that’s all right too because you learned from it.”