By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor
Queensbury Middle School sixth grade social studies teacher Clare Brady is encouraging her students to become “geniuses.”
“I was inspired by Google, which has a ‘genius hour,’” Ms. Brady says.
Google employees are encouraged to take time during their week to pursue anything, whatever passions they choose. The goal is increased creativity.
“Some of the best ideas, like Google Maps, came from Genius Hour,” Ms. Brady says she learned about the initiative.
In Ms. Brady’s classroom, “Genius Hour” translates to one session of the school’s eight-day schedule when, she explains, “my students can follow their own deal, their own passions, their own ideas.”
What have they come up with?
In one class The Chronicle visited, one student aims to write a book about horoscopes, another wants to invent a sneaker with a built-in ankle brace to prevent injuries.
Other projects they shared: A club to encourage ‘upcycling,’ or reusing old clothing to make useful new items; a children’s book that teaches the lesson ‘everyone is a winner if you are trying your best’; an online origami tutorial to develop children’s eye-hand coordination; a mini-robot to clear out your bags after a sleepover or grocery shopping trip. One student is researching how to grow cacao trees more quickly, in order to save the rain forests.
Ms. Brady says she has more than 90 students in four classes participating.
The pilot project has amounted to a year-long, guided independent study, something students wouldn’t typically encounter at such a young age. “I’m lucky,” says Ms. Brady. “Because of what I teach, I’m not taken up with all the standardized testing, so I have time to do this.”
“It gives me eye-to-eye, what I call heart-to-heart time, with each student.”
Many start with a problem
Ms. Brady says some students’ starting points were problems they, a friend or a family member had encountered. She says, “We talked about, is there some kind pain or problem they want to solve?”
Others followed their interests in art, writing, sports or computer games.
Early in the year, the students presented their initial ideas and their classmates, gave feedback, Ms. Brady says, “like on Shark Tank” — the TV show — “with the other students asking questions, but in a positive way.”
She taught the students what she calls “BAK Talk” — an acronym for Brady’s Amazing Kids. Rather than shy away or be stymied by criticism, she said she teaches them “to defend your work and your ideas in a positive way.”
Early on, Ms. Brady says, “They also had to connect with a human resource, someone who had experience, who could help them.” One student wanting to do something with autism spoke with a nurse and guidance counselor. Others called friends of their parents, “whoever they could find, but a real person who is an expert.
“At the beginning, we discussed ideas,” Ms. Brady said. “We read countless story books and discussed innovators.
“We discussed how ideas, inventions or causes have grown from pain. We talked about the problem and the solution, and about how something you do can help others, can change the world.”
As the school year draws to a close, the students are working on their final projects. Each is to give a three-minute “Ted Talk,” inspired by the popular online video lectures, often by high-profile speakers, on “Ideas Worth Spreading,” especially about technology, entertainment and design.
In some cases, where it’s do-able, Ms. Brady’s students told The Chronicle they hope to also produce real-life final projects such as books or Websites.
Added to Qby. summer school
Ms. Brady said her own goal is “to create lifelong learners, and to teach skills like critical thinking and collaboration.”
It’s gone well enough that Queensbury will incorporate the “genius hour” concept into its Summer School program this year, and at least one other Queensbury Middle School teacher is incorporating the idea into her classroom as well, Ms. Brady said.
In their words: Ms. Brady’s kids
and ‘Genius Hour’
Clare Brady’s sixth-grade World Cultures students are enthusiastic advocates for the “Genius Hour” program she’s piloting this year. Here’s what some had to say about their experiences.
Siobhan Shannon: “Basically, Genius Hour is one hour every ‘A’ Day when we get to invent an idea we have out of our interests, to help people. Instead of just focusing on school and getting work done, it’s an hour when we can do what we want, and work on something we’re interested in.”
Chloe Daily: “It encourages people to pursue their own interests, mainly.”
Kevin Nicholson: “We can make a project to help the world or ourselves.”
Sam Rowley: “This is the only class where I’ve ever done something like this, not only doing something you love to do, but also helping others. It’s something special to look forward to. It has helped me in other classes, and outside school. Everything I do in other classes, I can use to help with Genius Hour. Outside of school, even when I have a free day, I’m working on Genius Hour, because I like doing it. It makes you think out of the box.”
Paitin Dickinson: “It gives us a certain amount of time to work on our passions.”
Miranda Burak: “A hard part is when people, maybe they overhear what you’re doing and say oh, that’s weird. But Genius Hour lets you have the strength to basically ‘back talk,’ and say ‘I can do this.’ It’s helped me through my ELA and science classes. It not only makes you think creatively, it helps you build up your confidence. You understand more, and Genius Hour doesn’t make you have stress.”
Robbie Mergel: “One hard thing is thinking about the money, how you would make this project work.”
Kayla Monroe: “Sometimes, when you are working on your project, it might turn out different than you expected.”
Steven Batcher: “It helps us outside school. When you grow up you can think back on this, and maybe if you had abandoned a project, you can come back to it.
Aiden Smith: “It helps me focus and makes me happy.”
Kathleen Dommaschk: “Instead of just being told to do this or do that in school, it shows us how to use our mind for something new. It makes me believe I can do anything if I believe in myself.”
— Cathy DeDe
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