Genius Hour Letter to Parents

Dear Parents and Gardiens:

I would like to let you know a little bit about one of the unusual projects we'll be taking on this year in Information Technology 9/10 and 11/12. It is called Genius hour and this video will explain it a bit more to you.


My job is to help students discover their passion for learning and the undiscovered talents that they don't know they have.  Every Monday our time will be spent on uncovering and discovering information the student will choose to learn related to the subject matter of the computer science field that they have selected as an elective.  They will create their own project of interest (Genius Project) and self-teach yourself (with some guidance from the teacher) every Monday, until they reach the goal that they have selected for themselves.  This is a major project-based learning assignment that spans the entire school term and encourages students to pursue a creative interest that they would otherwise not experince in the course.  

Before I get into the details of the project, I want to explain why we’re asking students to participate in this activity. For over 22 years a trend in education has been gaining momentum that suggests the role of the teacher ought to shift away from an industrial model where the teacher stands in the front of the classroom to dispense knowledge through lectures, and the students sit to consume the information. Instead eachers should play a role of “guide on the side”, helping students learn in the areas they wish to learn.   In this role, the students play a much more active role in how the content and knowledge is acquired. In this model, teachers provide resources, ask questions, and suggest projects for students to explore their content. While I use differenciation in my classroom, letting students learn in the field of computer education they are interested in,  the Genius Hour Project is one place where I will be the “guide on the side.” Put simply, this is a student-centered project rather than a teacher-centered project that will happen every Friday with students investigating any area of inquiry in computer science they wish to persue.

Another crucial element in designing this project is the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About what Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. You can get an insite to this book by watching this twenty minute video in which Daniel Pink argues for providing employees more autonomy in business. The book explains why the same principles apply to education.  Watch the video to understand more. 



How does the 20% Project Work?


At the beginning of the school term, students will begin brainstorming ideas for a project proposal. Students may work alone, or in small teams, no larger than three students. While brainstorming, I will encourage students to make the project “Product Focused”, having something to show for their efforts. At the end of the term I want them to have made something that is a completed product. It could be a physical product like a computer, a newspaper, a magazine, or a program as in a new app.  It could be large like an online course teaching someone else how to create an app or adigital project like a short film or video game. Or it can be small, like a portrait of the family, that will be given to the family for Christmas.  My point here is that I want to quickly move from the idea phase of this project to the producing phase.


Once the team or individual has an idea of what project they want to pursue, then begins the  writing of the proposal. This is how the team will “pitch” the project to me and the rest of the class stating what they will do. In this proposal, students will answer questions to help them fully complemtate where they are going with their idea. 

  • What is your project?

  • What is your driving question that you are investigating or learning?

  • Who will work with you on this project?

  • Who is the audience / user base / client base for this project?

  • Why is this project worthwhile?

  • What do you expect to learn from this project?  Name a number of areas of learning?

  • What PRODUCT will you have to show at the end of the year to visitors who come to learn from you?

  • What sort of expenses will be involved in your project and how will you cover them?

  • What sort of equipment will you need and where will you get it?

  • What is your timeline for completing (or launching) your project? 

  • List many of your tasks you will need to complete that month and indicate which tasks were done or not.

The student(s) can have one project or two or three small ones, depending on his/her/their interests.


The Blog

Each Tuesday for 15 minutes every member of every team is required to write a public blog post where students discuss their progress. They write about:

  • What happened over the past week,

  • How it made them feel (yes I want a feeling and why you felt that way).

  • What they learned, what challenges they faced,

  • How they can overcome these challenges

  • What failed (if anything) and why this happened.

  • What taskes they have to consider for the next week, and what they need to learn and

  • What they anticipate in the future.

Each blog post must be at least 100 words written in Standard American English and contain a related image that is posted without infringing on anyone's copyright (you can take your own pictures and put them in your blog, so you'll need a Flickr account or Paintbucket accout as well). That is why they get 15 minutes at the start of Tuesday's class to complete this.  There is a list of blog entries to answer on the left hand side under the title "Blog of Reflection"  These questions are there to help the student reflect on their learning and to help them go through the process of critical thinking.


I would like to see each team or individual find an adult mentor who can help guide and inspire it. I am not the only adult out there that knows computers.  I hope parents will play a role in finding an appropriate mentor for this project. The mentor will serve to offer advice, provide informal leadership, and follow the progress blogs.


Genuis/20% Days

Throughout the school term, students will have one day a cycle to work on their projects. If students need to be off-campus to work on their projects, they are welcome to do that on weekends or afternoons and use the scheduled 20%Genius time as a productive tutorial period, meeting period, or writing period.

The Final Presentation

At the end of the term, each team will give a five-minute presentation to students, teachers, and community members where they will show off their work. This will be carefully written, choreographed, and rehearsed to produce the best presentation they’ve ever given. These TED-style presentations will be delivered and recorded in the Theater or my classroom (depending on the booking). Here is a two minute video of highlights from Kevin Brookhouser's English class' presentations.  Below it are the presentations of Valerie Lee's class at Fraser Heights Secondary in Surrey BC. 




Many students and parents understandably ask me about how I’m going to grade the 20% Genius hour project. I try to de-emphasize the grade because extrinsic motivators like grades tend to discourage the innovation and creativity I’m looking for in this project. Read Drive for more on this. I want them to be inspired by the project itself, not by the grade they’re going to get on it.


That said, I am going to assess students on the algorithmic (objective) elements of the project. A significant portion (20%) of their grade will be dependent on the following elements with rubrics.

  • The Proposal (Is the proposal on-time, and does it address the required questions appropriately?)

  • The Blogs (Does the post meet the required length, address the required topic, and submitted on-time? Do you post regularly? Does your post show learning?)

  • The Product/Prototype or something to show (Did you successfully move from idea phase to production phase, and do you have something to show at the end of the year? Even if it is not a product that works.).

  • Productivity (Are you spending your 20% Genius time actively and passionately working on your project? If not, we need to quickly adjust the project so you are working on something that is intrinsically motivating (after 30 days). This is less objective, but if I see students not being productive, I will intervene.)

  • Final Presentation (Does your presentation meet all of the required elements?)


What if my project is a failure?

In this class there is a place for perfection.  Quizzes and the production of a product (web site, Photoshop file, Illustrator Poster, etc) come to mind. The Genuis 20% Project time is no such place.

The only truly failed project is the one that doesn’t get done. I want students to strive to show off a successful product at the end of the term, but I don’t want the quest for perfection to lead to an incomplete project. I want students to followce plastered on the wall of Facebook’s headquarters.


This policy doesn't work in all work-related environments. I wouldn't want to see this poster in the dentist's office or the parachute packing assembly line. But for creative projects where we're trying to innovate, I find this idea compelling. For more on this topic read  The Done Manifesto  at

If you feel that your project is going to be a failure, I want to hear about it. There is no such thing as a failure when you learn from it.  As Winston Churchill once said “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”   What did you learn from this failure?  If you learned something from it, does that qualify as a failure?  Watch Kathryn Schultz’s TED Talk: “On Being Wrong.”

Don’t strive for failure, but don’t be afraid of it either!  If you want to change your idea, or what you want to work on that's fine.  But the rule is you need to at least try it for a month.  As you've seen above, even if it fails, you'll still learn something.  You'll learn why it failed, and what you could of done different, and how to improve it the next time.  See this video to understand what I mean.  You need to try it for a month. 

Quotes from Matt Cutts.  

  • "The next 30 days are going to pass whether you like it or not, so why not think about something you have always wanted to try and give it a shot for the next 30 days?”

  • "Thirty days is just about the right amount of time to add a new habit or subtract a habit — like watching the news — from your life."

I am very excited about this new opportunity that the students will have this term and  I cannot wait to be amazed, surprised, and inspired by the innovative projects that my students will produce in the Genius/20% Project.  If you have any questions about anything, don’t hesitate to email me at PLEASE email me to tell me that you are aware of your child's learning in this manner. MY EMAIL ADDRES IS  I need to know that you are aware of this new manner of learning in my classroom.  Or you can print the attached file, sign it, and give it to your child to give to me.  Thank you for your time in this matter.



Nicole Painchaud

Information Technology Teacher.

North Surrey Secondary