A student-led “Showcase of Learning” at Salt Spring Island’s Fulford School was the capstone of a months-long “Genius Hour” project — a skills-building learning experience that offered a lot of freedom for Grade 6 and 7 participants.
Fulford educators Geoff Fast and Samantha Creech set aside time twice each week for students to pursue their own interests, passions and curiosity through the self-directed project. “Genius Hour” is meant to give students time from their normal structured learning to explore things that interest them.
“We kind of joked that it was a ‘Genius 45 minutes’,” laughed Creech, “since we did 45-minute blocks.”
Each project started with students choosing an essential question that couldn’t be answered simply — on any topic at all, so long as it engaged them. And with little prompting, according to Creech, the students launched into learning the answers and designing a way to present them to their peers and families.
“You’re used to planning a lesson, delivering the lesson and having kids check in for understanding,” said Creech. “But once we modelled the process for them, they just took off.”
Students examined questions such as what role shrimp play in the Salish Sea ecosystem, or how many island families Jeff Bezos could support with his wealth, or what’s involved in maintaining a successful moss terrarium. Once they had answers, they chose how to deliver them — and again, according to Creech, they had a lot of leeway.
“Some felt they were better at public speaking, standing at the front and giving a speech,” said Creech. “Others made models, or did performances. I think it surprised them that there were so many ways learning could legitimately be shown — it doesn’t just have to be an essay or a report.”
Creech said part of the program aimed to instill the notion that learning doesn’t necessarily require someone directing them — and that there was inherent value in seeking understanding outside of formal educational structure.
“Hopefully it shows that learning is a lifelong process for them,” said Creech. “We don’t just graduate school and stop. You can keep pursuing things and be interested in new knowledge.”
What the students had to say . . .
Rex Strem, Grade 7
“I would say Genius Hour is a good project for the class because you can choose your own topic, so it can be something you’re passionate about that you get to share with the school.”
Maia Duquette, Grade 7
“I liked getting to learn on my own and choosing where we worked . . . I think people were really engaged in learning about my project.”
What is the benefit of Genius Hour? “It gives students a chance to see how learning individually works for them.”
Beatrice Lacarte, Grade 7
What was the value of Genius Hour for you? “I found the ability to learn by yourself without a guide and where you’re supposed to be opened up a lot of creativity.”
Cameron Kalf, Grade 6
“I really liked the research and learning part. It was fun to work on projects that could be about anything, and it felt like I had a lot more freedom with my time and choice of what I do in my time.”
“I think you learn a lot and learn how to present your ideas in your own words, and show what you learned and how important it is to you.”