Be the change, Innovation Day, Student-centered

What’s So Genius about Genius Hour?

Our very first genius hour – a glorious mess erupted!

I hope you have heard of genius hour or 20% time before and that this will be just an extra post to highlight its amazingness.  However, if you haven’t or are not quite sure how to do a genius hour, please read and hopefully be inspired to do it with your students.

Genius hour first started popping up in my life a few years ago as I was implementing Innovation Day in my classroom.  Luckily some really smart people whom I admire took it upon themselves to even create a wiki detailing how to do it, sharing resources, and answering questions about it.

Essentially, genius hour in my room is an hour in which the students get to learn and create something under a certain umbrella topic all within one hour.  (Actually this year it has been within 40 minutes, but still…)  Genius hour can be applied to any subject area but science and social studies lend themselves particularly well to it in my room.


  • Discussion is your key.  Explain to the students that they will be  in charge of creating something within an hour and what it will be relating to.  We have been studying early Native American in social studies, so our first genius hour was asking the students to learn and create something about the Eastern Woodlands Indians.  Students can create something by themselves or with a partner, I discourage more than 2 kids working together because it always seems to leave one child to not do much.
  • Show examples.  I give the students examples of what they could create (a model, poster, presentation etc) as I give them background knowledge needed.  They take notes of ideas as we go through the lesson and I then help out those who have no idea.
  • Focus on time and effort.  The students may think an hour is a lot, it is not, and I try to stress this with them.  They will not have time to create a perfect thing necessarily and that is totally ok.  The point here is for them to learn something that I have not covered and create something to show their learning.
  • Talk about supplies.  I tell them what I can supply (paper, tape, glue etc) and then point out that they should not break their parents’ bank account getting cool supplies.
  • Check in with everyone.  I make sure everyone has a clue before they leave my classroom.  I also post about it on our website so that parents have a clue as well.
  • Remind!  Whenever a genius hour is coming our way, I remind the students often.  There are no surprises of when they need their things by and when it will take place.


  • Stay out of the way.  The genius of genius hour is truly that this is student-directed and student-created.  So we need to stay out of the way.  I check in with kids, compliment, and sometimes push a little, but I do not interfere or offer up solutions unless it is an emergency.  This is vital to build student responsibility and problem-solving.
  • Time manage.  I shout out time left throughout the hour.  It helps students get on track.
  • Be a helper.  If students need something printed and picked p, I offer to do it, or if they need an extra emergency supply due to an idea not working out I try to help.  But other than that, again, stay out of the way.


  • Present.  It is important that all children present what they have created but when you have a big class like I do, this can take a long time, so behold: the gallery walk presentation.  Half of the class sets up their creation (this often happens the following day) around the room and then another child stands in front of them.  I set the timer for 1 minute – 2 if we have the time – and then the students present.  When the timer goes off, the listening student moves to the next presentation.  My students learn to get to the point and share only their best pieces of information and we can get through everyone within 30 minutes.
  • Self-reflect.  I also think it is important for the students to have a chance to self-reflect on how it went and what they need to change.  I have adapted this Google form from the wiki to fit my needs.
  • Don’t grade.  This is just me so if you want to grade, ok, but I don’t, because I don’t want students to be afraid to take risks.  Grades tend to hinder risk taking so I instead look at things like how they worked together, time management, whether they pushed themselves or made something super simple etc and then store that way for future assessment.
  • Reflect as a class.  I love hearing overall ideas, feedback, and suggestions.  What have they learned as a class,  how is this benefiting them, why should we do it again.  Let the students lead the discussion and take stock of their ideas.
  • Publish.  I always take pictures during the day and presentations, I want parents to see what we have been creating so get those out to the word.

Random Thins:

  • What if a child fails completely?  I don’t think a child can ever completely fail unless they refuse to participate, in which case, they get to work on something else in the office.  (Which  I have never had happen).  But a child may have tried to do something way too time consuming or chosen something that they finished within 5 minutes.  While I try to prevent this from happening through pre-discussions, it still sometimes does, and that is ok.  I always then speak to the child about what they would change, how it would work next time, and then have them present their ideas for that too.  Embrace the failure and learn from it.
  • What if a child brings in a completed project and has nothing to work on?  Then they get to make something else, sometimes this happens as well no matter how well we have communicated the intent to parents and students.  I then ask them to make something on the fly.
  • What if  our first genus hour sucks?  My first one is always a glorious mess with some great successes and epic failures.  I tell the students that may happen and that this is the best way to learn how to do it.  Honestly, running through it the first time is the best way to learn how to do it right.
  • How many should I do?  As many as you want.  We do them throughout the year under various topics, some people have it once a week, others don’t.  Make it work for you and your schedule but do have a few in a short amount of time so students can learn from them quickly.
  • How do I convince others it is worth the time?  Show them the learning!  I am always impressed with the variety of projects created and how students get excited about the learning, we are still covering the curriculum but in a more authentic and meaningful manner, so showcase that.
  • More questions?  Please leave a comment or email me at p (at) globalreadaloud (dot) com – I would love to help.

To see more pictures from our genius hours’ go to our website 

I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this fall from PLPress.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Be the change, Innovation Day

Innovation Day From a Student’s Perspective

I love Innovation Day – it is one of my absolute favorite days of the year.  So after we had our 5th grade Innovation Day two weeks ago I asked my students to blog about.  I don’t think I have ever had a more eloquent response than the one Megan posted.

The Best Day of My Whole School Career

The best day of my whole school career would be, without a doubt, Innovation Day.  Innovation Day is a day that you get to learn about and create anything.  Sounds like a lot of fun right?  It is, trust me.  But you can’t just have recess for the whole day, or read for the whole day, you have to do something that you will be able to learn about. And you can’t just research the whole, entire day.  You have to create something to show your learning.  
Now that we have gone over the rules, I will tell you what I did.

I interviewed the librarian of our school, music teacher, gym teacher, four regular teachers, five kids, and one 4-K classroom.  Those interviews took up most of the morning.  My mom put my hair up in a bun to make it professional, and I wore business woman looking clothes.  To make it even more professional looking I offered them  a Gatorade or water.  I also made business cards.  After I was done interviewing the subjects, I gave them a king sized Hersey’s bar.  That took up most of the morning. So then I had 2 hours and 45 minutes.  So I put my learning into graphs for the regular teaches, and for the specials teachers and 4-K classroom  I made a poster saying what I learned from them.  Then I made the posters all pretty with highlighters and things like that.  If I was an actual school designer the next thing that I would have done is take that information and incorporated it into my school design, so that I could make the optimal school.  
THAT WAS THE BEST DAY OF MY WHOLE SCHOOL CAREER!!!!!!!!!!! If you do not have Innovation Day at school, and you are a teacher or princapal or student or somebody that has some kind of relationship with school, please make sure that your school has that day.  Because THAT WAS THE BEST DAY OF MY WHOLE SCHOOL CAREER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  And I guarantee that a lot of the kids will feel the same way.        
challenge, hopes, Innovation Day, Student-centered

What Is Innovation Day and Why Should You Care?

On May 7th, I was lucky enough to witness almost seventy 5th grade students take full control of their learning, their time, their outcomes, and their work ethic.  How you may ask?  By having them all partake in Innovation Day, my second annual one.  For those who do not know Innovation Day is the school version of FedEx Day (although they want to rename it); a day where students get to choose what they want to learn about as long as they create something to deliver.  These creations are varied as can be seen by the different pictures in our video, but the one thing they all have in common is passion.

You see Innovation Day is all about passionate self-directed learning.  I do not dictate what the students have to do or what topic they study.  I do not give them output restrictions.  I do not grade it.  I do not guide them.  What I do though is help them find a way to create, I guide them through discussion and preparation before the day and then on the day I step aside, fully confident that they can indeed achieve without me.  And that is truly what is hardest about Innovation day; getting out of the way.  not offering your help, not showing students how to do something or research something, but trusting their abilities and talents to navigate through every obstacle.  Of course, I am there in the room with them, but I mainly film their progress and then stay in my own corner.  In fact, most students are so focused on what they are trying to create that they have little time or desire to speak to me.

So why should you take the Innovation day challenge, because it is a challenge indeed!  You should take it because the trust you hand over to your students is palpable.  Because students realize that they can direct their own learning.  Because students get excited about learning and see that many things can be accomplished at school.  Because students get to show off their interests and their skills in new ways.  Because this may just inspire you to do this more often, perhaps as a genius hour?  Because this allows students to prove to you that they can manage their own time, that they can get things done within a deadline, that they do have a great work ethic; all things we tend to use homework for.  Because my students voted Innovation Day their second most favorite thing of the whol e year and that says a lot.

So how do you get started?  Well, here is my planning sheet  I have students fill out a couple weeks prior.  Here is the first post I ever wrote about it.  Here is the post I wrote after my first one where I was totally blown away.  Here are Josh Stumpenhorsts’ resources that I have used.  And finally here are two videos to show you the results.  One is of the day, the other is created on Innovation Day by Jacob who decided to do stop motion and by golly figured it out on his own.  And that truly is what it is all about.  So this year or next take the Innovation day challenge; give your students a whole day to direct their own learning and let them astound you.  You will not be disappointed.

being me, Innovation Day, questions

Can Older Teacher Still Be Innovators?

This morning when I looked in the mirror I saw a new wrinkle.  Right there inching along on my forehead, something I swore was not there before.  I look younger than I am and yet the signs of time will cover my face slowly but certainly.  It makes me wonder when will people think that I am outdated?  That my teaching no longer is fresh or new?  When will parents request the other teacher simply because they seem to have more energy?

Teachers seem to have a shorter shelf life these days.  Like our glory days of innovation are numbered and one can only have so many new ideas, and only when in their prime years.  Yet, I see teacher much older than me generate ideas that I could never even fathom.  Come up with lessons that students talk about years later.  And yet the credit goes to the young, the fresh, the energetic but only if they look it.

Can an idea still be fresh if thought of by an older mind?  Will the general consensus continue to be that new must come from the young, the innovative, the ones that are most tapped in?  Can we change the stigma of the aging teacher and how their ideas lose merit with the years of use?  Or is this simply a product of my aging imagination that wonders whether I will be old and my ideas will lose their luster?  Are teachers judged more on their ideas than their age?  Can innovation be embraced when it comes from someone older than you or must it always be packaged as coming from the next generation?

authentic learning, being a teacher, creativity, Innovation Day, Student-centered

4th Grade do Innovation Day

Once again my students astounded me.  Given the opportunity for a full day to just create and inovate, they showed me that if we truly trust our students, they will be able to manage their time, create an exciting product, and have fun while doing it.  On Monday we did our very first Innovation Day, an idea being integrated in other schools around the globe but originating from companies who call it FedEx Day.

The idea is simple: the students get to pick a project to work on for a full day and it has to be done within that day.  the requirements were minimal:  They have to learn something, they have to produce something, and they have to be able to present it the following day.  We decided as a class too that it would be best if no more than 2 students worked together.

Two weeks prior to the day students were given a brainstorming sheet, supplied by Josh Stumpenhorst and modified for 4th grade.  Immediately the excitement grew.  “A whole day where we get to decide?  That’s not what you do in school!”  Some students knew right away what they wanted to study such as Aidan and Erik who were keen to build and research a Celtic castle due to their heritage.  Other students changed their minds almost overcome with the idea that they could do anything they wanted to.  After some conversation even the most excited were able to choose.  They had to outline their process more detailed as the day grew closer and we spoke of how they would proceed Monday morning, finally,  they were ready.

Monday morning I was as excited as my students: would they be able to pull it off? Watching them walking super fast down the hallway told me they were as anxious to get started as I was.  Indeed, right after announcements we jumped into it.  The room quickly erupted in noise and paper, which can be seen right away in our video.  I stepped out of the way and let them work.  As the teacher, the hardest bit of this day was to truly get out of their way!  Instead of me solving problems, they were solving their own, using all of the resources that we have discussed throughout the year.  It was incredible to watch them work together and other own.  Throughout the day students would show me their progress, parents would pop in as well as other teachers.  I live tweeted the event and even some videos.  The kids were so into it they asked to skip recess and lunch.  As the clock wound down and students started mellowing out; I knew that this was a must do event!

So what did we learn, well, students created:

  • A huge cardboard model of Big Ben
  • A painting of the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Scrapbooks from kindergarten to 4th grade
  • Snowflakes and their patterns
  • A Celtic Fortress
  • A board Game called Advance
  • A dream house out of Lego’
  • A model of the Washington Monument
  • A model of the The Pentagon
  • A model of the The Capitol
  • A T-Rex
  • A commercial for Fleels (flats that can be converted into high heels)
  • A model of D-Day
  • A model of Apollo 11
  • A clay model of Big Ben
  • Glogsters on favorite basketball players
  • A paper zoo
  • And many research papers

And what did I learn?

  • That staying out of the way is a great thing.
  • That trusting your students to create will result in magical things happening.
  • That students will use the resources they are taught to use.
  • That innovation and creativity is alive and thriving, the problem solving that occurred in my room that day was just incredible.
  • And that some students do need help when picking a project to ensure it is enough for the whole day, although that was remedied by adding research components to it.

As the year comes to a close and these incredible 4th graders look more and more like 5th graders, I am thankful that we had this opportunity to learn together.  The students showed me how much they are capable of, how much learning can transform them, and how school should indeed be fun.

My students made a video trying to convince other teachers to do Innovation Day, I think they say it best.