MET:Passion Based Learning: Genius Hour

From UBC Wiki

What is Genius Hour?

"You are a GENIUS, and the world expects your contribution."-Angela Maiers

Genius Hour is considered a movement which gives students more choices to learn what they would like in the classroom. It provides opportunities for students to explore passions and it also promotes creativity (Kesler, 2013). In passion-based classrooms, the shift in learning moves from teacher to student-directed. Genius Hour’s origin has been influenced by Google and Daniel Pink’s book Drive. Google employees benefit from the 20 percent time program which allows its employees to use 20 percent of their work time to pursue projects which interest them (20 Time in Education). With this time, projects such as Gmail, AdSense, and Google News have been created. Daniel Pink ponders the question as to what drives us. He believes the future of our students will require collaboration and communicative skills where they will be asked to “create the next tool, not to push bureaucratic paper” (20 Time in Education). Being autonomous learners will help guide students to inquire, reflect and learn. In addition, a love for learning is a significant 21st century skill (Maiers, 2012).

Genius Hour engages students in open inquiry which is the most complex level of analysis and examination (Zion & Mendelovici, 2012). During this inquiry, which is initiated by passion, students design or select a question which they would like to explore. These types of activities demand questioning, critical and logical thinking, and reflection. Students who participate in an open inquiry project demonstrate ownership and responsibility for determining the purpose of the investigation (Zion & Mendelovici, 2012).

File:4 Cs of 21st Century Learning.png
4 Cs of 21st Century Learning: (Kolk, 2011)
File:Passion-Based Learning.gif
Passion-Based Learning :(Ramirez, 2013)
File:Always Passion.jpg
Always Passion: (Quotes Lover, 2014)

Following the footsteps of these philosophies, Genius Hour was created to allow students 60 minutes per session to work on new ideas or master skills. Students begin their passion projects by researching a topic they find intriguing which is then followed by research and creating a presentation which can be shared with the world. Like any innovative genius, students are not given specific deadlines and instead creativity is encouraged. Educators help facilitate the sessions and give detailed feedback to students along the way. Students are also encouraged to collaborate with their peers in order to support discourse and knowledge building communities.


Passion is an under-emphasized aspect of meaningful education (Azjd, 2011). Passion-based learning gives light to the fact that students are “more likely to learn if they are captivated, motivated and engaged with the curriculum or projects in hand” (Skillen, 2013, p.1). Educators who are passionate about their occupation bring an engaging and enthusiastic quality to their teaching. This passion brings curriculum to life and allows for students to view what an exciting learning environment looks like.

On the other hand, “passionless educators leave their students—perhaps safe, but bored and unengaged” (Azjd, 2011). Teaching with passion is a factor every educator believes is necessary; however, many teachers question its validity and applications to the real world (Maiers, 2011). Seth Godin (2012) believes we need to stop stealing the dreams of students and instead adopt a passion based learning approach which will “honor passion over obedience…and nurture genius over mastery” (Maiers, 2012).In order to create passionate, powerful learning experiences students should be given the opportunity to empower themselves and realize the importance of contributing to the world by living their genius (Maiers, 2012).

File:Student thinking at the beginning of Genius Hour.png
Student thinking at the beginning of Genius Hour: (Kukkee, 2013)

The power of passion is undeniable. In order to get students passionate about something, educators need to:

 * find out what each child is passionate about
 * be the type of educator who exudes passion for a topic and pass on that excitement with your students
 * introduce students to resources that help them exercise their passions
 * help students find others who share the same passion
 * connect students’ passions to real-world scenarios
 * trust that hard work follows naturally from passion
 * value all passions equally
 * let students take control
 * allow for students’ passions to develop and change
 * weave curriculum standards into passion-based learning
 * connect passions with intelligence, not talent
                                            (Teachthoughtstaff, 2013)

Genius Hour by Design

“Know when to memorize. Know when to mesmerize!” –Peter Skillen

Developing lifelong learners requires an understanding that students all learn differently. The challenge is to get students to acquire and retain this knowledge. From a constructivist perspective, one “would suggest that kids need to assimilate information into existing schema or indeed construct new schema to accommodate new information and ideas” (Skillen, 2013, p.1). Whereas, Vygotsky might suggest that this would happen best in a social setting (Skillen, 2013). In 21st century education, the talks about collaboration, problem-based, inquiry and passion learning all support the anti-memorization movement. According to Skillen (2013), when students are passionately engaged in their learning—“when they are mesmerized by their learning environment or activities—there are myriad responses in their brains making connections and building schema that simply would not occur without passion or emotion” (p. 3). When designing learning environments for passion based learning, it is important to remember that “mesmerization trumps memorization” (Skillen, 2013).

Genius Hour is centered on a wonder question or passion which students would like to explore. Similarly, the focus of a constructivist learning environment is the question, problem or project that students try to solve (Jonassen, 1999). Here as students are expected to become experts in their passion, constructivist learning environments also offer opportunities for learners to learn domain content versus problem solving skills alone (Jonassen, 1999). The expectation to share one’s contribution during Genius Hour shadows the knowledge-building tools of a constructivist learning environment . That is, learners are encouraged to work in collaboration with their peers to solve problems that may arise (Jonassen, 1999). If a child is deeply engaged in a task, there is a greater likelihood that essential understandings will be built and knowledge will be achieved.

Genius hour's constructivist design allows for authentic learning environments which can be motivating for students. Educators are learning how to structure student-directed activities like Genius Hour in order to transform their curricular approach. These types of projects call for a deeper level of thinking which the teacher can facilitate. With effective communication among the teacher and student, learning can be monitored and regulated. For instance, the teacher may demonstrate attributes of a good coach by providing hints, feedback, and encouraging reflection and collaboration (Jonassen, 1999).

How should education be designed to meet the needs of diverse learners in the 21st century? “The 21st century will require knowledge generation, not just information delivery, and schools will need to create a culture of inquiry” (What is 21st century education,2008, p. 3). Projects like Genius Hour meet the needs of our learners and curriculum design should focus on the learner. In the past a learner was a young person who went to school, studied subjects, received grades and graduated. Today we must see learners in a new context.

  • First – We must maintain student interest by helping them see how what they are learning prepares them for life in the real world.
  • Second – We must instill curiosity, which is fundamental to lifelong learning.
  • Third – We must be flexible in how we teach.
  • Fourth – We must excite learners to become even more resourceful so that they will continue to learn outside the formal school day.

(What is 21st century education, 2008).

As teachers get overwhelmed with new resources, activities and assessment tools it becomes difficult to keep up with the newest trend in teaching. Genius Hour and project based learning are programs administrators push educators to implement as they believed to transform education. A common theme which is surfacing while teaching these programs is the importance for students to receive the opportunity to be self-directors and initiators in their learning. In addition, educators feel relief to learn that it is not terrible if some parts of the curriculum are not covered due to the time required to teach these programs. The power of a passion driven classroom guide learning in a productive way.

Children are not given the benefit of the doubt (Papert, 1980). Papert argues that "many aspects of school… infantilize the child" and that there is a "conservative bias being built into the use of computers in education" (Papert, 1980, p.18). Similar environments to Genius Hour include the LOGO environment which allows for the child to be in charge of the computer and the Turtle platform allows children to become master epistemologists and reflect on their own thinking and learning (Papert, 1980). The concept of problem solving and acquiring programming skills are strategies which are relevant today in education. Teachers often teach anxious students who worry about being right versus wrong. Papert's discussion about programming opens up doors for children to utilize computers and become experts in manipulating and programming objects and thus lessen anxiety when completing tasks. This constructivist approach solidifies that learning can occur without curriculum. Genius Hour, or passion based learning, is an approach educators should try if they find value in being a constructivist teacher.

According to the principles of constructivism outlined by Brooks & Brooks (1999), Genius Hour allows for the principles of constructivism to be met.

Principles of Constructivism in Genius Hour
Principle 1: Posing problems of emerging relevance to students Genius Hour:Educators are excited to help students generate ideas and make predictions
Principle 2: Structuring learning around primary concepts Genius Hour: Together, students and teachers link relevant information and ideas together
Principle 3: Seeking and valuing students’ points of view Genius Hour: Students show their thinking and the educator can guide the student in the right way
Principle 4: Adapting curriculum to address students’ suppositions Genius Hour: Educators can bridge gap between what students already know and would like to learn
Principle 5: Assessing student learning in the context of teaching Genius Hour: Educators do not grade passion projects formally, assessment occurs through observations and student presentations

How to Implement Genius Hour in the Classroom

Introducing Genius Hour to the classroom requires educators to be passionate and driven. “A good coach motivates learners, analyzes their performances, provides feedback and advice on the performances and how to learn about how to perform, and provokes reflection on and articulation of what was learned” (Jonassen, 1999, p.232). To overcome barriers such as unmotivated students, it may be a good idea to add suspense and show lots of examples. The goal is to implement Genius Hour in education to create lifelong learners.

The most asked question which educators will wonder about is how will they introduce Genius Hour. As educators vary in their practices and approach, this process may look different in every classroom. For myself, I have followed the following sequence:

  • Generate ideas about passions and discuss what genius means
  • Help students narrow down ideas to one passion project and get teacher approval
  • Students collaborate with the teacher to reflect on what they are learning or having trouble with after each session
  • Let students create, innovate and explore!
  • Share projects with the class

The following videos may be shown to students when introducing Genius Hour.

What is Genius Hour? (Kesler, 2013)


An introduction to Genius Hour using PowToon software to introduce Genius Hour

The following Prezi explains the framework of Genius Hour. It may be used as an alternative option to introduce the concept to students.

Motivating Videos to Share with Students

A Pep Talk from Kid President to You (SoulPancake, 2013)

Obvious to You. Amazing to Others (Sivers, 2011)

Where Good Ideas Come From (RiverheadBooks, 2011)

Creativity Requires Time (Simplybest007, 2011)

Additional resources can be found at:

Genius Hour Blogs:

Sample Handouts

Since Genius Hour is implemented by many educators, there are a variety of resources available which can be used to help structure the activity. The following handouts were created by educators to assist students in generating ideas, reflecting and evaluating their own progress.

File:Genius Hour Generating Ideas.png
Generating Ideas: Rundes Room, 2013
File:Genius Hour Reflection Sheet.png
Reflection Sheet: Rundes Room, 2013


Examples of Genius Hour passions may include:

  • movie production
  • painting
  • taking apart computers
  • baking and decorating
  • research
  • music
  • building and creating

and much more...

Student Examples:

Pdf icon.png Student Created Ebook: (Bal, 2013)

Genius Hour-Passion Projects: (Thiessen, 2013)

Stop Motion Movie (McDonald, 2013)

Making a Cake (gk17100, 2014)

How to Make a Robot(gk17100, 2014)

Genius Hour for Students (Coustalin, 2017)

Stop Motion Artifact

Passion Based Learning: Genius Hour (Lillis, 2018)


20-Time in education inspire. Homepage: The history of 20-time. Retrieved from

AZJD (2011). 21st century educating, part I: Passion. Retrieved from

Godin, S. (2012). Stop stealing dreams: What is school for. Retrieved from

Kesler, C. (2013). What is genius hour?. Retrieved from

Maiers, A. (2011). Guidelines of passion based learning. Retrieved from

Maiers, A. (2012). The you matter manifesto. Retrieved from

Skillen, P. (2013). The science of passion based learning. Powerful learning practice: Professional learning for connected educators. Retrieved from

TeachThoughtStaff. (2013). 25 ways to promote passion-based learning in your classroom. Retrieved from

Zion, M. & Mendelovici, R. (2012). Moving from structured to open inquiry: Challenges and limits. Science Education International, 23(4), 383-399. Retrieved from


Bal, K. (2013). The Egg Carton. Retrieved from

(2014). Quotes Lover. Quote about passion. Retrieved from

Kolk, M. (2011). The 21st century classroom: Where the 3 R`s meet the 4 C`s. Diagram of 21st century learning skills. Retrieved from

Kukkee, R.A. (2013). Photo of contribution. Retrieved from

Piktochart. Image of passion project. Retrieved from

Ramirez, A. (2013). Passion based learning. Figure 1: passion for learning and 21st century challenges. Retrieved from


Gk17100 (2014). 1 Haleys genius hour cake 1[Video file]. Retrieved from

Gk17100 (2014). IMG 0609 [Video file]. Retrieved from

Kesler, C. (2013, September 6). What is Genius Hour? [Video file]. Retrieved from

RiverheadBooks (2010, September 17). Where Good Ideas Come From [Video file]. Retrieved from

Simplybest007 (2011, November 19). Creativity requires TIME [Video file]. Retrieved from

Sivers, D. (2011, June 28). Obvious to you. Amazing to others [Video file]. Retrieved from

SoulPancake (2013). A pep talk from kid president to you [Video file]. Retrieved from

Thiessen, R. (2013, February 5). Genius Hour-Passion Projects [Video file]. Retrieved from

Further Readings

Brown, J.S. (2005). New learning environments for the 21st century: Exploring the edge. Retrieved from

Edelson, D.C., Gordin, D.N., & Pea, R.D. (1999). Addressing the challenges of inquiry based learning through technology and curriculum design. The journal of the learning sciences, 8(3), 391-450. Retrieved from

Gallagher, S.A. Problem based learning. Retrieved from

Gherardi, S., Nicolini, D., & Strati, A. (2007). The passion for knowing. Sage, 14(3), 315-329. Retrieved from

Healy, M. (2005). Linking research and teaching: Exploring disciplinary spaces and the role of inquiry based learning. Reshaping the University: New relationships between research, scholarship and teaching, 1-14. Retrieved from

Lampert, N. (2013). Inquiry and critical thinking in an elementary art program. Art education, 66(6), 6-11. Retrieved from

Meyer, D. (2012). Designing design challenges: Getting the details right using engineering problems to enact inquiry learning. Retrieved from

Whitworth, B.A., Maeng, J.L., & Bell, R. (2013). Teacher`s toolkit: Differentiating inquiry. Science scope, 37(2), 10-17. Retrieved from