Genius Hour – Passion Time – if this is 20% What is the other 80%?

“It is a mode of learning that is peer-driven, but focused on gaining deep knowledge and expertise in specific areas of interest” (28).

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Denise Krebs

Every time I read this sentence I continue to come back to the idea of having set aside time to work on projects that enable student directed, deeper learning.  “Genius Hour” or Google’s 20% is a brilliant way to allow students to act upon their inquiries into deeper learning of the world around them – but how do we take 20% of an already busy schedule and give it over to student’s directed projects?


Well – I think we just have to.

Possibly a more interesting issue is that as educators perhaps we need to be better at allowing students to have a greater say in the ways we work our way through curriculum.  If 20% Genius Hour is the stuff kids want to learn, are we alienating the other 80% of curriculum – changing the perception of it in a negative way?  How might we bring a little more equity to this?  I am sure the purists of Genius Hour out there might read this and note that I am twisting the concept of this golden 20% of time to prove my point – but I am OK with that.

Perhaps the way into “Genius Hour” or depending where you are with this – a great take away from it – is that students want to learn in a variety of ways (a curriculum co-ordinator somewhere is staring at my words and mouthing – D-I-F-F-E-R-E-N-T-I-A-T-I-O-N).

This video gives a nice entry into Genius Hour – especially important are the outcomes and the sharing that must take place afterward.


I have been following the hashtag #geniushour for a while now.  Although I haven’t added to the conversation I have lurked professionally.  A recent tweet struck a chord as I was reading through the “Geeking Out” section of this week’s article.

Teachers and students learning together.    What a beautiful thing.

Is anyone out there in the COETAIL world using Genius Hour in the classroom? What subjects do you teach?  Are you using it as an after school club – in supplement to curriculum?  Do you assess work from this time?  Let me know.



14 thoughts on “Genius Hour – Passion Time – if this is 20% What is the other 80%?

  1. Is anyone out there in the COETAIL world using Genius Hour in the classroom?
    Yes, I am.

    What subjects do you teach? Elementary school, grade 4
    Are you using it as an after school club – in supplement to curriculum? I have added it into my timetable this year, after trialing it last year.

    Do you assess work from this time? Not officially, but I set out specific criteria in a rubric to guide them.

    Have a look

    Let me know if you have any questions


  2. Great post! This really caught my eye. We actually have a 5th grade teacher, Danieta, whose students just finished up with Genius Hour. Danieta just recently became a TEDed facilitator as well. Here’s her blog link (another Coetailer). I’m sure she would love to connect with another educator. I will also email her this blog post.

    Another link you might find interesting is on a website about personalized learning. The descriptors for personalized learning really fit into what you are saying about Genius Hour. Giving students choice and voice over their learning is so important. The challenge, as you stated, is defining how that looks in a classroom where finding any time let alone 20% seems impossible.


    1. Carlina – Thanks for your reply. I love the concept of “Genius hour” and as an Art educator I think there could be some incredible connections made between disciplines that might come out of this time. I read a bit about personalized learning from the site you sent. I really like the slide share and the table explaining the roles of the teacher and learner within personalized, differentiated, and individualization learning. Very clear!

      I really want my students to become more independent learners and I want them to leverage online sources of learning. I’ve been playing around with a concept of teaching and learning that sort of mimics the 80 – 20 concept. To set the scene (because I am not sure if this would work in many places) I teach Middle School Art which at our school is discipline based courses for 7th and 8th graders. What I ideally want to do with my class is create a scenario in which only 20% is teaching and 80% is doing/learning. Reading all these readings, following all the blogs has got my head in a spin and my views on edge. I think I was teaching too much and maybe forgetting to learn?


  3. Thanks for introducing me to #geniushour, I am instantly obsessed with the idea and really keen to find out how I can implement it. I teach HS Maths and I was recently put in touch with another HS Maths teacher, Jess, who is doing what he called Passion Projects in maths. (Actually, thanks to Clint Hamada , I had a thirty minute skype conversation with him last week!) Call them Passion Projects or Genius Hour, both are built on ideas of Intrinsic motivation, engaging for students, fun etc etc.

    I am really considering getting this going in my class but I wonder if I am limiting the idea if I make a condition that it is connected to maths? So, instead do I just give up 20% of my time and allow for genuine passions or is this something that would only work as an afterschool club in a high school setting? Or, perhaps even better, is that all teachers give up some other their precious time to allow for it which would create opportunity for students to see some inter-connectedness between their subjects…. Anyone see that happening at their school?


    1. Math Passion might be really interesting. I think depending of the grade level you are working with it might make sense to give it some direction. Perhaps an interesting idea would be to link up two different classes and have students work in passion groups. Sort of seeing the math in other things. Ohh – that sounds fun – just snowballing here…..the Math of the American Revolution?????? Could be the start of a nice infographic poster as well…


  4. I love the idea of Genius Hour, but you bring up a great point about the other 80%. Ultimately, the goal is 100% engagement 100% of the time. Do the nuts and bolts that none of us love fit into the 80%? Should we learn to love those nuts & bolts? What does Genius Hours look like in schools for a teaching faculty? How can we incorporate “no talk Thursdays” an offshoot of Genius Hour into schools?

    Great post that poses lots of thought-provoking questions!


    1. I like that it is “no talk Thursdays” very Middle Eastern. Well, the Thursday part at least……

      What Nuts and Bolts are you referring to in particular?

      Great question of what does it look like for a teaching faculty – I suppose long lunches and afternoon espresso breaks are not in the cards so I do wonder this myself. I think it should be….. teachers following a passion of their own. In international school settings the school is such a hub – its a gym, a bit of green grass, a pool, a playground, a library. I think that passion time should be spent pursuing passions for every member of the school community – faculty, parents, and students. Maybe too much? Not sure. Don’t we all need time for a little passion pursuit of something that piques our interest?


  5. Oh my head is spinning with ideas and thoughts. I love this idea now to just figure out how to bring it to school. The discussion is great too. I really feel overwhelmed by the amount of possibilities. I guess the key is to just find the one that sparks you the most and follow it. Thanks for provoking my thoughts once again Mr. McGrady!


  6. I like the passion time for the community as a whole. Perhaps begin by celebrating and showcasing passions and simply discussing passions. This modeling and culture-creating might permeate into the school and classroom cultures.


  7. I just started this in my class at the beginning of the year. It has been a huge learning experience for me as a teacher and for my students. Some students have taken it and are doing amazing. Others have said, “Just tell me what to do!” Helping them find their passion or try new things is risky. Then again, students go through the motions of school and then are hit with choosing a career at 18. I am still learning along the way. My next step is tell my students the topic we are studying the other 80% and have them develop the lesson. We will see how it goes. One thing for is for sure, I hope I am being a model for them to take risks and try something they have never tried before.


  8. I love the idea of Genius hour but who has that to spare when we only teach the students for 75 minutes once a week?! I would love to try it out with a class (or 2) maybe starting with a 10 minute slot at the end of the lesson for doodling design ideas based on their passions out of the art room. I think passion project is a better term and I think you and Jamie make a good point by starting with us – maybe as a teacher we could share our out of class passion and what we would do given one hour to freely create. Just find that spare hour in the day/week would you?!


  9. A fantastic post, Matt! It generates a lot of ideas and I think “Genius Hour” has a lot of exciting potential.

    I’m thinking about how it might work as an advisory project. Sometimes, it’s tricky to establish momentum in our advisory program because we often use the time for special celebrations and assemblies, but I’m wondering if “Genius Hour” might be a way to provide students with exploratory and experimentation time, while also building in a community component.


  10. I really feel that there is so much here – I have been working on a post about the same thing this week, and then found your post. So, hopefully I’ll be able to add a bit more once I’ve worked out my post (my ideas more clearly), but I found this great site For me I think it is this whole idea of starting something like this that will inevitably transfer itself into the other 80% of the classroom activities. Once you have this mindset, and the time for the students, it’s bound to resonate in the feeling of the classroom. It’s why Google does it because then when the workers are back to their normal tasks they have a different perspective due to their time working on something else, right? That’s my hope at least. It’s like this course – it’s about 20% of my week at the moment, and I’m loving the way I can think about and tinker with all these new ideas to create something for myself (okay this response is now a post in itself…sorry)


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