Perplexed by Passion: Planning for a Better #GeniusHour

Tuesday, January 17, 20175:54 PM

Just last week, a tenth grade student turned to me and said, “Do we ever get to do anything creative this year?” While I’d certainly challenge his assertion about creation and creativity in our class, I knew what he was asking--when are we going to do something more than read, analyze, and argumentative writing? While argument is the core of our English 10 class, I’ve had similar thoughts lately--it’s time to bring my students’ genius to the forefront.

Last year, I wrote so much about #GeniusHour, sharing our plans, projects, questions, and more. You can find these articles and resources here or see some of last year’s projects at

I shared lots of thoughts about my students’ work and challenges, and was impressed with their investigations. I have no doubt that #GeniusHour was a great use of our class time. But I couldn’t help but wonder, should it be more specific to English? And if so, how? I truly think all students should be empowered to pursue their passions within our schools and classes, but this year face an extra challenge called Capstone. Capstone, which has been in the works for years, provides students with the opportunity to pursue their passions and interests while giving back to their community and the world. Think of it as passion projects crossed with a high-school level dissertation.

The Capstone Dilemma

For our tenth graders, Capstone is working--and that’s wonderful. My coaching title is actually Capstone Technology Coach, and I primarily support the vision and infrastructure for this program. In their freshman year, students pursue mini-lessons in English and Social Studies to develop research skills. As sophomores, they take a Capstone 2 class where they dive into the research process and figure out what they are passionate about. They prepare a research proposal, annotated bibliography, and action research plan. Then as upperclassmen, they will actually conduct research, study the results, write a research paper, and present their findings.

At least, eventually. We are in year two of the real rollout, meaning that my current sophomores are the first class that will complete the Capstone projects. And their Capstone 2 class, taught by two of my good friends, is going very well. We share many of these students, and I see the development of their skills improve more and more. The class has been a great complement to mine as I better know what to expert about their skills and can push them to do more in English.

But if Capstone is like a passion project, then what do we do with #GeniusHour?

The #GeniusHour Question

In many ways, my school thrives on providing students with high-level opportunities of inquiry. Our science research program is huge and Capstone is off to a great start. Is it really fair to ask students to complete another project with such crossover? On the other hand, is it fair to take away this opportunity?

Last year, a few students expressed these concerns, feeling like they had to do two projects. It’s too early in our program to really understand how I could better support their projects--and too early in their work, too. Instead, I think I need to find ways to continue to push my students to explore passions through research, blogging, writing, and creation that really provide new opportunities. I just don’t know what that looks like.

Right now, one possibility is focusing #GeniusHour through an English lens of literature or storytelling. Another idea is to take on a collaborative project as a class--perhaps to investigate and redesign our learning spaces. Even better, I'm going to talk with my students and ask for their input. I’m going to give this all more thought in the coming weeks; I’d like to again start #GeniusHour at the end of the month. Until then, I want to find the balance to make our work innovative, meaningful, and interesting for my students to build on the great work they’re already doing. I’m asking for your help in ideas to adapt or refocus our #GeniusHour work--help me do better for my students.

How have you adapted #GeniusHour or Passion Projects to meet your needs or subject areas? Please share in the comments or on Twitter @MrSchoenbart.

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  1. Adam - I LOVE this post. I admire that you shared issues and questions you're trying to tackle. One great resource for you would be Erin Olson. She used to teach HS English in Iowa. She had a project that was started using these directions: "Read. Be inspired. Do something inspiring." Students read (I believe she had a list of AWESOME titles), and they acted upon what they read. They had so many inspiring ideas and were able to take the time to act on them. Connect with Erin for more info - @eolsonteacher - and good luck figuring it out!

    1. Thanks so much, Joy! Love the feedback and appreciate your comments. I like the simplicity of that and will definitely connect with Erin. I'd love to see the list. Right now, I'm very torn on the idea of a service/inspire type project or more of a content-based/literary focus. Either way, I'll continue to write about it here!

  2. Hi Adam,
    There are two English teachers at my high school who are doing a great job with their English class passion projects. It all started with the question, "How might we inspire students to take more ownership of their learning?"
    The process for the entire project is cyclical and is a little like the writing process itself. Phase 1 is inspiration, phase 2 is ideation, phase 3 is implementation, and phase 4 is reflection.
    They call it the Un-Project. Here is a link to a little commercial about it
    If you are interested in specifics, message me on Twitter @tlenker, and I can put you in touch with them.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! I will take a look at the video and let you know if I have questions. On Wednesday, I plan to discuss these ideas with my students to help them develop whatever our project becomes.