EDUC6103: Genius Hour Project

EDUC6103 Education for Sustainability & Entrepreneurship

A Genius Hour of Genius Hour At Montrose School

By Danielle Shrumm


The purpose of this Genius Hour project has been for me to go through the Genius Hour process using Design Thinking as a tool to plan a Genius Hour project for my grade 3/4 students at Montrose School. 

Background Information:

This is my fourth year teaching at Montrose School and my third year doing Genius Hour (GH) projects. Over the years we have made big and small changes to GH, yet the common theme is:

Doing. A. Genius. Hour. Project! 

We have learned many things along the way and our learning will not be over anytime soon!

This is how Genius Hour has progressed for us:

*First of al I should let you know that he “us” I refer to is my teacher partner, Helen at Montrose School (on my Grade 3/4 team)!

Year One: We feel like should do a GH project, but we have no idea what to do, so we decide to learn more about it and try next year

Year Two: We’ve done some reading, but there is a lot of information about GH, so we decide to just start and see how it goes!

Year Three: The kids loved doing a GH, but we had a big question for ourselves: How can we make GH better? *Note: This is the year that I started my class off with doing Genius Hour and then our Inquiry Support Teacher took over. I was given the opportunity to get our whole school’s Friluftsliv (Outdoor Education) program up and running. When I was out of the room one day of our six day school cycle, it made sense to leave my replacement (the Inquiry Support Teacher) something that he could build on from week to week. It also made sense for him to actually do a Genius Hour with a class instead of telling people how to do one without ever going through the process himself. The challenge was that I was disconnected from the process and felt that I wanted to be more hands on. The students were given a booklet to use as direction this year, but again we needed to evolve our expectations of GH and I knew that I needed to play more of a role in it.

Year Four: (This current year): Our plan as classroom teachers was to work with our Inquiry Support teacher, but he had other plans. Fast forward a few months and…still not started. This Genius Hour assignment has been a great motivator and opportunity to get things going! Working with my amazing teaching partner, we began the process of GH ourselves!

*One important addition is the suspension of schools due to Covid-19. This has created a change in how I have been able to implement and oversee the “test” phase of the Design Process, yet has still offered valuable information. Once we are back at school I will be able to try again teaching this process “in person”.

Genius Hour Process/Design Thinking:

Some of the major influences, for me as well as countless others, when it comes to Genius Hour and Design Thinking are John Spencer and A. J. Juliani. If you are unfamiliar with their work but interested in doing your own GH projects, PBL (Project Based Learning) strategies or Design Thinking then visiting the websites of these two authors is a great way to start!

We have definitely used resources, templates, videos, etc. from these two in order to help shape what we have created during this Genius Hour of a Genius Hour!

In fact, my favourite videos to share with parents and students to explain what Genius Hour is are:

My teaching partner Helen and I teach very similarly and we use a team teaching approach for most of what we teach. Her help during this process has been very valuable to me for this particular project, but our ability to work together to further our students’ learning is also incredibly powerful.

In a previous course (EDUC6109: Transformative Education: Teaching for Creativity) I did an assignment about Genius Hour and how I could do a ‘revamp’ of what I already do. We used this as a tool to help us plan our own GH project!

Image of the Design Process that I created in my previous course

D. Shrumm Teaching for Creativity Genius Hour

(PDF version of my previous assignment)


What matters to us is that our students are taught meaningful learning tools and strategies that they can use for a variety of subject matter and after instruction will be able to work on independently for things they are curious and passionate about.

Step 2: DEFINE-

Our students need a Genius Hour that uses the Design Thinking Process because it will teach them how to learn in ways that are important to them about material they are curious about.

Step 3: IDEATE-

  1. Find a prepackaged Genius Hour template and let the students work thought it
  2. Create a Genius Hour template from scratch
  3. Find Genius Hour resources and make tweaks to what our students need
  4. Let the students figure out what Genius Hour is and isn’t on their own
  5. Create a school wide “Genius Hour” fair (like a Science Fair)


We’ve decided to move forward with Idea #3. To do this we will ‘scour’ the resources out there and make the ‘tweaks’ we think make sense for our learners.

*More on our PROTOTYPE later!

Step 5: TEST-

The test phase has changed from what our original plans were. Once our prototype was complete we sent it off to our school division’s printshop and were going to spend the last two weeks of school before Spring Break to do a GH project with our students using our prototype and testing it out! However, due to unforeseen circumstances, our test phase has moved to being tested at home during our “virtual teaching and learning sessions”.

*More on my “new” version of the TEST later!


-In order to put together a GH project for our students, we searched for resources and also created our own. We felt that at this point, this IDEA from the IDEATE process was the best fit.

We worked on a lot of things at once!  In the end this is what we have come up with!

We used a template we had found from for the students to keep track of their Design Thinking Process.


We had our package back from the printshop and had our schedules ready for the last two weeks of school before Spring Break to test out our prototype. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 our plans needed to be shifted. With classes being suspended we needed to be able to send the project home. Each student was sent home with a paper copy of our GH package and were asked to wait for further instructions. I created resource for parents and students explaining what GH is (including videos, storybooks read on YouTube, etc.) called “Before You Begin Genius Hour” and an audio recording to match a photo of each page in the package. 

This is the video I sent to the students before I posted their GH assignment!

Genius Hour Before You Begin!

(PDF of a GH overview for the families)

Genius Hour Process

(PDF of some reminders of the order to do things in)

(Audio with image explaining the “Step by Step to Genius Hour”)

(Audio with image explaining the “Design Thinking for Students”)

(Audio with image explaining  “Ideate/Prototype”)

(Audio with image explaining the “Research Log”)

(Audio with image explaining the “Self Reflection”)


-Students still had a lot of questions and were unable to use their parents as their guide (still wanting my approval on everything)

-The Empathy and Define sections needed much more explanation. The students simply wanted to “jump in” and make something (they were treating this more like a Maker Space activity)

-Not many students were ready to participate in the GH project at this time. I think the families are feeling overwhelmed with working from home. I offered this as an optional project and it is my assumption that it’s too much for home (for now at least)

-This is a much easier process to do in person than it is online

-It makes me reconsider our approach in general. If the students are coming to us without ever spending much time doing Maker Space type projects or have had choice in what they learn, then they really just want to explore and discover on their own

-We are unsure at this point which tweaks we will need to make as we are not able to know exactly what has been used by our students


-An option for us may include starting the year with more “free” design thinking plans and work our way up to more of a structured plan

-Perhaps as a school we have a system that is more like a continuum approach so we can ensure students are getting this type of learning across all the grades. If this were to happen then we’d need to share this vision with our administrator and see what role the Inquiry Support Teacher could play

-More emphasis needs to be on empathy and how that can lead to a project, developing a guiding question and what role research plays in all of this

-Differentiating between GH, Design Thinking and Maker Space opportunities

-Creating different expectations for grade 3 and grade 4 students, or for students with varying needs (like a “beginner” and “more advanced”-wth this one being for the more advanced)

-Do whole class projects first so students understand the process and expectations better


-This process has been very valuable for myself and my colleague. We have come up with a process for our students that has the potential to work, with again some tweaks! 

-This has proved that we are open to giving things a try, even when we aren’t sure they will work. This is a good lesson to share with the students as it shows we are all learners and that learning is a process

-We’ll try again when we get back to school!


-There is so much potential to use sustainability as a focus in a Genius Hour and Design Thinking Process project. Incorporating sustainability is my goal in all that I teach and to me I think a GH project is a perfect avenue to embed sustainability in seamless and natural ways. I believe this is where the empathy piece can really come into action. I included a section on sustainability  in my “Before You Begin” page for students and families. Had I been teaching this process at school this is where I’d really stop and focus on what sustainability is and remind students why this is so important to us as humans. This is a step in the process as a whole that I feel cannot be left out.


I’d like to thank my colleague, Helen Mather-Oliver, for her support and collaboration during this process. 


Chris Kelser. (2013, September 6).  What is genius hour?-Introduction to genius hour in the classroom [Video File]. Retrieved from

John Spencer. (2017, March 9). What is genius hour? An overview of genius hour and 20% time in the classroom [Video File]. Retrieved from

John Spencer. (2017, August 25). You get to have your own genius hour (a video for students) [Video File]. Retrieved from

Makers Empire. Design thinking for students. Retrieved from

Spencer, J. & Juliani, A.J. (2017). Empower: What happened when students own their learning. IMpower.

Spencer, J. & Juliani, A.J. (2016). Launch: Using design thinking to boost creativity and bring out the maker in every student. San Diego, CA. Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.





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