Genius Hour lets students choose what they learn in school

Around the world and in Regina, teachers are letting students take the reins when it comes to their own education.

Teachers give students a few hours each week to work on "passion projects"

Around the world and in Regina, teachers are letting students take the reins when it comes to their own education.

Aaron Warner's Grade 8 class at Douglas Park Elementary School is one of these classes. It's a model called Genius Hour. He gives his students about two hours a week to work on what he calls passion projects. 

"I think giving the students an opportunity to choose what they want to learn really focuses and puts a spotlight on the fact that questions are the root of learning," said Warner.

The projects his students have chosen included learning skills with yo-yos, balloon animals, the guitar, and learning what soda does to your body.

Kcref Misling chose to spend his Genius Hour time learning a new song on the guitar. He did it all with self-directed learning, whether it was through watching YouTube videos, or searching for the chords on the internet. He was nervous before presenting to the class, but those feelings quickly changed to those of accomplishment. 

"It was great because I really wanted to play the guitar at school, show my talent and stuff, and I did it today," he said.

Music is Misling's passion, and he plans to keep pursuing it outside of class.
Kcref Misling plays a song he learned for his Genius Hour project. (Tiffany Cassidy)

"That's my goal for my life, play the guitar, and try to learn more like sing and stuff."

Meanwhile, Misling's classmate, Courtney Piluk, has made her Genius Hour project from last semester her current hobby. She learned how to decorate cakes, and is now taking cake orders from family, friends, and teachers. She had three cakes to make this month, and people pay her for her work. She's enjoyed the freedom of pursuing her own interests.

"Learning how to independently learn is going to help us for high school and university," she said. 

The model for Genius Hour is roughly based on the Google model of 20 per cent time. Google would let employees spend 20 per cent of their time on personal passion projects that the company would then own. 

Warner anticipates a lot of changes to the job market in the near future. He says the jobs that will be available to his students by the time they graduate could be drastically different than the jobs that are available now. It's difficult to prepare children for a future that is unclear, which is why Warner says it's important to give them the skills to learn on their own. 

"Perseverance and resilience and problem-solving skills," he said. "Those are the focuses and these are the skills that we want to practice in our class. Because these are the skills that are going to make them successful as they move forward in their education, whatever it might look like."

Meanwhile, Warner is collaborating with teachers from around the city who are doing Genius Hour with students as young as Grade 1.