May 9, 2016
Students in Ms. Kristin Tufo’s science classes at St. Thomas More Catholic School spend 20% of their class time dedicated to “Genius Hour.” A riff on Google’s “Passion Time” employee initiative, Genius Hour allows the students to devote an hour each week to solving questions that are particularly interesting to them but not on the traditional syllabus.
Will a ball hit with a corked bat really go farther? What is the optimal temperature for learning? Do natural dyes from fruits and vegetables produce enough color to tie-dye shirts? And how about this one: what kind of worms were those in a new can of oatmeal that had been opened at home that morning?
“It has been so energizing to see what inspires and intrigues them – what interests them enough to put the work in to learn more and figure things out,” said Ms. Tufo.
Three guidelines apply: (1) there must be a driving question, (2) students must find their answers through research, experimentation or engineering and (3) students must share their findings with the class.
Tufo liked the idea of Genius Hour to support the school’s focus on STEM education – science, technology, engineering and math. “Genius Hour lets us foster curiosity in the students and allows them to take a leadership role in converting that curiosity to real learning for the whole class,” she said.
Eighth grader Greer Brechin wanted to see if she could build her own version of the popular hover board. She did it – complete with a motor from her dad’s leaf blower. “I love Genius Hour,” said Brechin.
That’s the whole idea, explains Tufo. The students are more committed to the “regular” curriculum during the week because they want to make sure they have enough time left for Genius Hour.
Seventh-grader Molly Dooney hopes high school has more student-directed time like Genius Hour. “I realized that even though we’re doing homework and classwork and learning concepts – it’s fun. I know you can’t do it all the time, but I really like that Ms. Tufo gives us time to choose for ourselves what is interesting. It makes me want to work harder.”
What about those worms in the oatmeal? “They turned into beetles,” said seventh-grader Gabby Sullivan. “I always would have wondered what they really were and what comes next if Ms. Tufo wouldn’t have encouraged me to figure it out for myself.”