How one school is using Genius Hour to create a kind community.

When was the last time you worked on a project of your own choosing? One of the current trending topics in education is Genius Hour, a project-based mindset sparked by programs offered to business employees from 3M and Google that provides dedicated work time for exploring passions and personal interests. Genius Hour, or Passion Project, allows students time to delve into the creative and critical-thinking process while researching and learning about new things. The projects vary from teacher to teacher and class to class, but most Passion Projects follow these five steps:

  1. Brainstorm: Create a list of topic ideas.
  2. Question: Narrow your ideas to one driving question you want answered or to one specific purpose.
  3. Research: Learn more about your topic.
  4. Create: Design and create a project to showcase the knowledge you learned.
  5. Share: Share your project with others.

This year, I am working in a collaborative partnership with a fourth-grade class where our students will create Passion Projects focused on kindness. The focus of “A Passion for Kindness” is simple: Students will create and implement a project of their choice that shows kindness for someone else, then share information about their project with others. That's it! We want our students to learn and grow academically but also to recognize the importance of creating a positive classroom culture to support risk-takers, innovative thinkers, and empathy-minded classmates.

Celebrate kindness while encouraging brainstorming.

Each week students will document random acts of kindness, either ones they see or participate in, using Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, or a composition notebook. Using trending Twitter hashtags such as #CelebrateMonday and #FlyHighFri as a guide, students will create their own list of celebratory moments. These acts of kindness will also be written on paper strips and stapled as circular links that can be joined together to make a Kindness Chain. We hope to wrap our room (and possibly our school!) with kindness by the end of the year. As a digital alternative, students can also share their kindness ideas on a classroom or school Padlet wall.

Not only does this exercise highlight kindness and build a kind community, it also acts as a unique type of brainstorming that helps generate ideas for students to explore. These ideas will guide students as they develop their own kindness project, which is based on the question, "If you were given $10, how could you show kindness in this world?" Students use Google Classroom and Google Docs to plan their project, thus allowing an opportunity for relevant and timely feedback with their writing, planning, and communicating.

Engage learners through creative concepts.

After projects are planned, students will use digital devices as well as "old school" tools, such as paper and markers, to capture their acts of kindness and document steps in the process. These steps, as well as a materials list and a statement of reflection, will be added to a final project display that students will create independently at school.

Celebrate kindness as a community!

In the spring, our class will hold a Kindness Fair where we invite students, teachers, parents, administrators, and other district and community stakeholders to celebrate with us as we share the kind acts we completed for others. We also plan to create a Google Sites website listing all the projects and sharing on popular social media sites to inspire other students all around the world.

While each student's Passion Project will be unique and individualized, the common thread of kindness for others is our backbone for student success. When students know they're in a safe environment conducive to learning, they thrive. Our hope is that these projects will allow students the opportunity to develop their passions on a deeper level, to discover the impact and relevance of their actions, and to realize that they truly have the power to make a difference in this world.

Tamara L.

Tamara Letter is a seasoned teacher with experience teaching all content areas in grades K-5. Since 1997, Tamara has traveled across the U.S. to share in diverse learning environments including Las Vegas, NV, Memphis, TN, Staunton, VA and Mechanicsville, VA. She is certified as a licensed PreK-12 administrator and has experience as a Differentiation Specialist. Tamara currently serves as an ITRT (Instructional Technology Resource Teacher), creating digital resources and providing instructional technology professional development for participants in district, state, and global venues.