In this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the work of Chris Hiltz, Eleri Morgan, Tania Ovens, and Sarah Forsyth, who embarked on a Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) at Fisher Park/Summit Alternative School in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. (OCDSB)
At Fisher Park/Summit Alternative School, Chris Hiltz and his colleagues Eleri Morgan, Tania Ovens, and Sarah Forsyth, formed a professional learning network with the desire to explore what Genius Hour might look like in their classrooms. Their hope was that by introducing the idea of Genius Hour, students would develop their 21st Century competencies such as critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, communication, innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship, self-aware and self-directed learning and global citizenship.
The idea of Genius Hour stemmed from a practice used by Google and other organizations, that allows their employees to spend 20% of their work time on a project that is meaningful to them. This practice peaked the interest of educators, as it encouraged students to engage in authentic research, driven by the passions of students.
When the team of educators at Fisher Park PS began their journey of Genius Hour, there were many unknowns. Together they navigated how to implement Genius Hour, discovered resources they could use, and identified the support the students would need in order to be successful. The project became a true collaborative effort for everyone. Students were given maximum autonomy to work in various locations and with different “advisors”, not necessarily their own classroom teacher, who would help them through the inquiry process. These advisors ensured that resources were available, students were problem solving and maintained progress. The focus of the project was not on the content of the curriculum, but rather the skillsets that students would gain from exploring topics that engaged and interested them.
Says Sarah Forsyth, “One of our main goals was to see the students who don't always experience success in school come to the forefront and show us what they're good at, and experience success.”
In one instance, a student who was non-verbal until the age of 7 years old, found a voice when developing her mannequin project, highlighting fashion from every decade of the 20th Century. In the end, through her own passion and self-direction, she presented and communicated her project to 4 different classes. Another student who wanted to learn how to code, decided that, “I’m not going to make a video game that I want to play. I’m going to make a video game that my 4 year old neighbour wants to play.” From that passion he interviewed his young neighbour, began coding a game by continuously modifying the game through feedback from his neighbour, and eventually developed a video game relevant to a specific audience. This project developed many of his 21st century competencies including, problem-solving, innovation and creativity, learning to learn, collaboration and communication.
Chris Hiltz remarks that, "The students get a much better sense of themselves as learners. They become more reflective and use metacognition when they are doing their projects." The educators, says Tania Ovens, also gain more perspective of the students because, “the projects allow teachers to know the kids a little bit more, and know them on a personal level, allowing students to show us what they're really interested in.”
Watch Maryn Pegan's original lyrics and music for her Genius Hour Video at Summit Alternative above in the right panel of the page.
Genius Hour at Fisher Park PS started off with 4 teachers and 4 classes, but eventually gained momentum in the school, bringing in other classroom teachers, as well as subject specific classes. This caught the interest of other leaders in OCDSB, and eventually 30 educators from across the district also got involved. A website has since been created as a resource for educators interested in Genius Hour, and how to implement it.
“At the heart of Genius Hour”, says Chris, “is about recognizing that every student is a genius on the inside. If given the opportunity, that genius will allow itself to emerge, and students will be able to do this on their own.”