I have been listening for a while to a growing number of teachers who, when discussing ‘Genius Hour’, express that they feel uncomfortable with using the word ‘genius’ in a school setting. They believe that labeling students as ‘geniuses’ puts an undue pressure on them and a ‘genius hour’ could be misconstrued as ‘time for the smart kids’ rather than an educational initiative available to all learners. After conducting a genius hour in my classroom for the last several months, I must politely disagree. Genius hour is all about taking back the definition of a genius. Why is the term ‘genius’ now synonymous with ‘geek’ and ‘gifted’. Ask someone to draw a genius and you will probably get a bespectacled older man or a pimply-faced teenaged boy sitting in front of a computer. Why has our definition of a genius become so narrow over time?
If you go back in history and delve into the lives of celebrated geniuses such as Einstein, Michelangelo, Mozart, Beethoven…… What you find are highly curious individuals who loved to experiment and often failed. They looked at the world through a different lens and didn’t worry about conforming to societal norms. They broke new ground with discoveries, inventions or works of art. They noticed things that other people thought were irrelevant.
While studying different aspects of life, one thing that all geniuses have in common is the abundance of creative intelligence. While geniuses tend to be exceptionally intelligent, they also use imagination and creativity to invent, discover or create something new. They break new ground rather than simply remembering or reciting existing information. This link between creativity and genius is the reason that we must keep the genius in ‘Genius Hour’.
Children need to understand that a genius isn’t just born, but developed over time. They need to learn that intelligence comes in many forms. Howard Gardner spoke of the theory of multiple intelligences where he including Linguistic, Logical-mathematic, Musical, Bodily-kinesthetic, Spatial, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal intelligences.
Giving students opportunities to experiment, tinker, collaborate, communicate and think critically about topics that interest them is crucial to developing creativity. We know from George Land’s research on creativity that non-creative behavior is learned-unfortunately often at school. In land’s study, 5 year olds scored 98% on a creativity test designed for NASA while 10 year olds scored 30%, 15 year olds scored 12% and adults scored a dismal 2% on the same test.
We also know from other studies that creativity can be increased given the right circumstances. We can learn to be creative by experimenting, exploring, questioning assumptions, using imagination and synthesizing information. Research has shown that in creativity, quantity equals quality. The longer the list of ideas, the higher the quality the final solution. Quite often, the highest quality ideas appear at the end of the list.
Children need to be given opportunities to develop their creativity, to play with crazy ideas and to contemplate what ifs. By implementing a Genius Hour in our classrooms, students learn to appreciate and cultivate original ideas and come to understand that a genius could be the little girl with the ponytail researching a 5,000 year old mummy, the gregarious boys trying to program a Sphero, the soft-spoken and shy student building a skyscraper out of Lego, or the curly haired girl wanting to learn about 3D printing.
The genius in Genius Hour is that we are breaking open stereotypes as to what constitutes brilliance and encouraging all our students to develop a growth mindset. If children believe they can be geniuses, and can open their minds to the possibility, to try things and fail, to persevere in the face of challenges, then their future is only constrained by the beauty of their dreams. Genius Hour provides the space and time for these dreams to flourish.
As Albert Einstein once said “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”