Genius Hour: Time for "passion projects" and self-directed learning

Genius Hour provides the time and space for student-led research and demonstrations of thinking, designing, and making.

Genius Hour is a concept that has informed teaching and learning at Catlin Gabel for years, and a recent student presentation provided an opportunity for the wider community to see the results up close. Student-led research and demonstrations of thinking, designing, and making were on display in the Lower Library in “The Genius Hour Exhibition.”

During the exhibition, students were on hand to explain the research and creative decisions that went into the creation of their Genius Hour projects. Presentations incorporated laptops and tablets, mechanical components, artwork, and artifacts.

Genius Hour stems from a practice at Google, where employees are allowed to use 20% of their work week to explore projects of their choosing, as long as it benefits the company. The practice is also called “20% Time” or “Passion Projects.”

In the classroom setting, students begin with a question they are curious about that requires research, followed by some form of sharing of what they have learned. All 5th grade students participate in Genius Hour projects each Friday afternoon, led by teachers Keli Gump and Robbyn Leventhal. Students’ “Capstone Projects,” presented by fifth-graders at the end of the school year, are also the result of Genius Hour research and creative time built into the currciulum.

In his Upper School Spanish class, teacher Enrique Escalona also provides students with Genius Hour class time to pursue individual, subject-related projects. Two students used Genius Hour time in this class to establish a partnership with chess educators in Spanish-speaking Equatorial New Guinea, leading to the launch of that country’s first national chess tournament in 2019.

See the Genius Hour Exhibition photo gallery


Related Resources

  • To learn about the 5th grade Capstone Projects, read this Caller magazine article.
  • To hear 5th grade teachers discuss the Capstone projects, listen to a two-part Elevate podcast (Part One / Part Two).
  • Hear Enrique Escalona explain how he uses Genius Hour in his Upper School Spanish class in this Elevate podcast.
  • Listen to an Elevate podcast with two Upper School students who traveled to Equatorial New Guinea to support a chess project that grew out of their Genius Hour work in Enrique’s class.