Exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability – that is how genius is often defined. I am sure we have all encountered people who fit this description whether it be in mathematics, science, sports, humanities or the arts. There are a myriad of areas in which a person can demonstrate such exceptional ability, but most true geniuses show high achievement in only a single kind of activity. There are exceptions, of course. Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Benjamin Franklin, to name a few. Thinkers such as these were true phenoms who possessed unique qualities and talents that made them especially valuable to the society in which they lived. While most of us will never be likened to one the world’s great thinkers, there is no question that all talent can be appreciated as “forms of genius”. In schools, we often have glimpses into this reality with our students.
This year, we introduced an exciting pilot project called “Genius Hour” with some of our Middle School students. In September, our Director of Student Learning, Alana Hepworth, launched a “classroom movement” whose goal was to allow students to experience deep learning by exploring projects that match their own passions. During the year, for a set period of time each week, teacher facilitators have encouraged creativity in the classroom by letting students pursue a topic of special personal interest.
Our “Genius Hour” applied many of the same principles in the classroom as those found in a creative corporate environment. The result was weeks of research, exploration, thinking and experimentation prior to the creation and sharing of a culminating product. Common deadlines were limited and creativity was encouraged. The projects undertaken have had a sense of purpose and required an openness to the principles of design, inquiry, creation and socialization. While limited in time each week, students have had the opportunity for deep, personal learning.
These personal “passion projects” have ranged from website creation and stop-action animation to the design and construction of sports equipment, writing and knitting! Each reflects the interests and talents of students who bring unique perspectives to the classroom. Some projects have been kinesthetic, some analytical, some contemplative, some tactile, and others adventurous! While none are found on a traditional school syllabus, each project has promoted creativity and engagement.
Everyone has an idea about what true genius looks like. Many call to mind people like Albert Einstein or Marie Curie, both of whom are excellent examples. However, other “forms of genius” can be found germinating in a variety of people. Why not in our own students? If their interests are cultivated and their creativity fueled, might not they demonstrate their own “forms of genius” in unexpected ways?
Although “Genius Hour” has only been a small part of each week this year, we have learned that what Steve Jobs said is actually true: “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.”
I think that makes a whole lot of sense – and most life-long learners would agree!
Ric Anderson, Head of School