Category Archives: innovative education

10 Reasons to Try Genius Hour This School Year

My good friend AJ Juliani is about to start a Genius Hour Master Course.  His passion for this topic and his ability to share his enthusiasm has made a significant difference with so many educators.

As this is a paid course, you can sign up here, and he is also offering a 20% discount if you use the following code to sign up:


Below is a blog that is reposted from his blog and is great for those schools already using Genius Hour, or those looking to dive in.  Check out his post below and you will see just a sample of what will be shared.

Originally posted at

If you haven’t heard of Genius Hour or 20% time in the classroom, the premise is simple: Give your students 20% of their class time (or an hour each week) to learn what they want. These projects allow students to choose the content and still acquire/master skills and hit academic starts.

I’ve written extensively about Genius Hour and 20% Time, but wanted to share a list of the 10 reasons you should consider Genius Hour in your classroom (for those of you on the fence) and why you will not regret making that choice!

Getting Started With Genius Hour via @ajjuliani

1. You will join a great community of learners

When I first did the Genius Hour project with my students I didn’t have a community of teachers or learners. Within months that changed as a number of great teachers before and after me started to share their stories online. The largest active group is the Genius Hour teachers (inspired by Daniel Pink) who have #geniushour chats, a big resource at, and a great Genius Hour wiki. Get involved and see what others have done!

2. You will allow students to go into depth with a topic that inspires them

One of the major issues we face in schools today is covering a wide breadth of information, instead of allowing students to get a real depth of knowledge. Students using Genius Hour and 20% time are able to delve into subject matter that means something to them, often times taking their free time at home to learn more. Isn’t this something we should be promoting at all levels?

3. There is so much positive peer pressure

When students in my school have their Shark Tank pitch day, they get to share with the entire class what they are working on. Publicly announcing what they are trying to accomplish makes the goal real. Students get to see what their peers are working on and want to make sure their project stands up to the rest of the class. Regardless of a grade being attached to the project, this makes for students going the extra mile.

4. It relieves students of the “game of school”

Too often our students complete assignments for the grade. They go through the motions to receive an external pat on the back (or bump on their transcript).  Genius Hour and 20% time take away the “game of school” and brings back the love of learning for learning’s sake.

5. It’s fun!

Randy Pausch famously said, “If you think you can’t learn and have fun at the same time. Then I don’t think you have a good understanding of either.”Without a doubt it is the best time of the week. Student feedback is not only positive, but also transparent. This work often carries back to their homes where parents/guardians share their passion for learning beyond the school walls.

Note: I am hosting a FREE Webinar next week, ¨Getting Started With Genius Hour: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Structuring Genius Hour (and my 5 Best Strategies for Engagement)¨Sign up here. 

6. Your class will be covering all types of common core standards

It doesn’t matter if you teach elementary, middle, or high school. The Genius hour and 20% time projects cover multiple common cores standards. We’ve had teachers propose this type of learning to their administration backed by awesome research. Remember, the community will help if you are fighting a battle to get Genius Hour or 20% time started at your school.

7. It’s differentiation at its best

Students are working at their level, and as teachers we should be helping to challenge each one of our learners at their best pace and ability. Because each project differs, students are not bogged down by following the same steps as their classmates. The entire class is learning, but it is truly differentiated.

8. You learn by what you do, not by what you hear

Experiential and challenge based learning puts the mastery back into the student’s hands. We provide guidance and pushes along the way, but they are the ones “doing” and “making”. Confucius put it perfectly: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Let your students make and they will understand and thank you for the opportunity.

9. It is a perfect way to model life-long learning

I did Genius Hour with my students and took it upon myself to learn how to code and make an app from scratch. I failed to make that app. But my experience learning how to program left me with a whole new perspective, and was a teachable moment about what we call failure. There is no real way to fail a project in which “learning” is the end-goal.

10. Your students will never forget what it felt like to create

Have you seen Caine’s arcade? It started out as a little idea and now Caine has inspired hundreds of other kids his age to create something unique. When you create a product, it becomes part of who you are, and there is a “care” involved that we just never see with multiple-choice tests. What would you want for your child?

This is the most important time to be in education. It is the most important time to care about education. It is the most important time to impact a different type of education.

Now, more than any other time in the past 100 years, education seems on the verge of a paradigm shift. You see, for the past century, most of the educational change has been doing old things in new ways. Today, we are beginning to see educators, educational institutions and educational companies do new things in new ways.

My challenge to you as a teacher is to allow your students the choice to learn what they want. That’s what Genius Hour and 20% time is all about, and that is why it is so successful.

Again, if you’re interested in this great opportunity, you can sign up for AJ’s course here.


Opportunity Knocking on Your Door

Think about this scenario that I faced less than seven years ago.

I received a call on a Friday afternoon and was told that I would have an interview for a principalship on Monday and all I would need to do was bring my portfolio to the interview.

My response? “No problem!”

So after about a 90 second freak out about not having a portfolio, I decided to get to work and put together my first portfolio. After about 20 hours of work to put it together digitally (not on the web), I finally got to the interview (exhausted) and we had a great conversation, as the person who was hiring looked at my portfolio for perhaps five minutes off and on during the interview. Needless to say, I ended up getting the position but wow, what a process.

If you really think about it, and I said to you, “Your dream job is available and the deadline for your application is tomorrow so please bring a resume and portfolio,” you could probably put that together the night before. It might not be great, but it is definitely doable.

Now, what about this scenario?

“Your dream job is available and I am going to need a resume but I will also be Googling all candidates to see what they share online.”

How would you fair?

Would people be able to see your learning and the things that you have done in your position? Even if you had a common name, could you send them a link to find more information?

This difference from scenario one to scenario two is that one can be done in an evening, but “googling” someone often shows a considerable amount of time and effort, as well as vision.

It is not about creating an “online persona,” but I always suggest that if people share their learning online, their footprint will take care of itself.

Maybe you have your dream job as an educator. Maybe you are insanely happy with your position currently in education. That’s awesome. But what about our students? In a world that googles people for everything from work, to university, to even dating, are we helping to set up our students for success?

One educator told me a story of how one of his students did not get into the school of her choice based on her grades alone, so she contacted the university and asked them to look at her work online. Seeing what she had done online was the determining factor to get into the school. People are more than their “grades.”

And to note, the “college degree” required idea is changing for many organizations. In an article I shared this morning, Penguin Random House says, “job applicants will no longer be required to have a university degree.”  The article went on about why they were changing their policies:

Neil Morrison, human resources director, says they want talented staff “regardless of background.”

“This is the starting point for our concerted action to make publishing far, far more inclusive than it has been to date,” says Mr Morrison.

“We believe this is critical to our future – to publish the best books that appeal to readers everywhere, we need to have people from different backgrounds with different perspectives and a workforce that truly reflects today’s society.”

It means that having a degree will no longer be a minimum threshold or “filter” for any job the firm offers.

“While graduates remain welcome to apply for jobs, not having been through higher education will no longer preclude anyone from joining,” says a statement from the publisher.

Penguin is the latest company to change its recruitment strategy so that there is less emphasis on academic qualifications.

It follows concerns that requiring a degree and recruiting from particular universities was producing too narrow a range of staff.

The world is changing…are we changing with it?

But is it just about getting a job, or being in a space where opportunities find you? A resume is something you often share when you are asked, yet an online presence is a space where opportunity knocks on YOUR door. It’s really interesting to see many people I know have opportunities come their way because of what they share online. This is not about leaving your job, but about creating options for ourselves and our students.

Don’t we want our students to have as many doors opened as possible? Or do we close them ourselves by ignoring this shift in our world?

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Learners Are the Driver

The following image was created by Alberta Education several years ago:

Alberta Education Competency Wheel

Although it is no longer used, I still find the image to be a very powerful visual for what learning can look like in schools.  The ideas are not necessarily separated from one another, and are all intertwined in some way, which is what learning really looks like. The “3 E’s” (Ethical Citizen, Entrepreneurial Spirit, and Engaged Thinker) are the bigger goals, but they also show what is important to get to those bigger ideas.

I am sure that people can look at this and pick it apart, and create something better (which I actually think is a good thing since we shouldn’t just accept it without the component of critical thinking), but there are two things that are very compelling to me when I look at the above image.

The first thing is that the learner is in the centre of the circle. This is really crucial and it actually intertwines the importance of both innovation and best practice.  The reason I say that is sometimes what we know and have adopted as “best practice” works for many of our students, but sometimes it doesn’t. If the learner is truly in the centre of learning, we will have to sometimes go with what we know, or else create something different for that student (why I advocate for the importance of having “The Innovator’s Mindset“). There has been no time in history where any one thing has worked for all of our students. If it did, we would all be doing it.  In the book, I adapt the well known quote from Michael Fullan, “Learning is the driver, technology is the accelerator”, to “Learners are the driver, and technology is the accelerator.” Learners should be at the centre of what we do.

The second thing that I really love about this graphic is that it focuses on the “basics” of literacy and numeracy as core skills, but goes beyond them as well.  This constant struggle between “the basics” and “innovation” is not realistic, and this graphic sums that up nicely. You need both.  One of my favourite quotes that I have heard from Dr. Yong Zhao was “reading and writing should be the floor, not the ceiling”.  This image focuses on going beyond the basics (while still saying they are extremely crucial), which is what we should want for our students.

I have shared this image with others and I think it is a great conversation piece for staff.  Some things to think about:

  1. How are we focusing on the learner at the centre of our decisions?
  2. How are we going “beyond” the basics while still ensuring that we are meeting the expectations that we are required to do in our work?
  3. What would we change? What would we add? What would we subtract? Why?

Hopefully this can help further some conversations.  What would your questions be?