Project-based homework doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation, it is often seen as having a heavy workload for teachers, being a way for Students to slack off for ages and then produce something that was clearly rushed. However, the Genius Hour set up means that students are focused and engaged, and it is not adding to teachers already heavy workload.
The idea behind Genius Hour was, selfishly, to reduce my own workload and marking initially however as the program developed and formed, I began to realise that this was a great opportunity to get students to go beyond the traditional curriculum and explore topics that are of interest to them as well as develop a love of learning. The project would also help to develop some of the study skills that we look for in Key Stage 4 and 5 such as critical research skills, time management, teamwork, resilience and problem solving without the students really knowing that they are doing it.
I really wanted this program to be something the students could enjoy doing and although I knew they would need some guidance, I wanted to give as much freedom as I could so that the students had control over their projects. Many of the limitations that were put in place were put in place due to the restrictions on the space we used for the fair, for example the size of the projects couldn’t be any bigger than 2 exam desks, there would be no access to plugs or Wi-Fi during the fair and no guarantee they would be placed against a wall. However, I believe that these restrictions helped the students to develop the problem-solving skills and critical thinking as they would have to take this into consideration when planning their project.
At Wymondham College the Genius Hour Program is for the year 7 and 8 students, with year 7 completing 2 fairs (problem Solving and Personal interest) and year 8 completing 1(Problem Solving or Personal Interest). We run the programme through the PSHE (year 8) and Heads of House (year 7) lessons. The students are given an introduction lesson where they are told and reminded about the program and what they are required to do as well as giving inspiration for ideas by sharing some of the previous projects. In the lesson the students get to discuss which projects were successful and why, so they are clear on the expectations.
The projects can be completed individually or as part of a group of no more than 4 students. The groups do not have to be in the same houses or in the same PSHE class, but again the students need to think about how they are going to work with the others in their group if they are in a different houses or are a mix or boarders and day students. Although these issues are discussed with the class, the final decision stays with the students.
After deciding on the topic of their project the students fill in a registration form which informs me of what their project is on, which award group they would like to be included in, how many tables they will require and if they are a group or a solo project. Ideally once these forms are handed in and I collate them that would be it, however, as is ever the case there are changes that take place between registration and the fairs. If the project changes after registration it is the student’s responsibility to inform me of the change at least 48 hours before the fair. If they do not do this, they may not have a table to set up their project on, or the judging sheet will be incorrect meaning they will no longer be eligible for an award.
The Fair itself is quite straight forward, although the lead up to it can be stressful as you are dealing with 180 year 7’s or year 8’s who don’t always remember you are not psychic! The fair takes place on Saturday morning during Period 3 which allows parents the opportunity to attend and see what the students have been working on. As this is straight after break also allows slightly more time for the students to set up and be ready for the judging to take place.
Using the registration forms I group the projects according to the award groups which are based around subjects:
- Social Sciences
- Drama, Music and Dance
- Media and Film
- Food Technology
This also helps with the judging, as the teachers who would be teaching that year group during period 3 act as judges, with each given around 10 projects to judge, in either one or two categories. They determine which ones should be given the award for that subject and if any deserve a special mention. They also help to decide which project is the best on show along with any other staff who are able to attend.
After the fair I take in the judges forms and email the parents of each student whose project has received an award or a special mention and add 25 house points to the system. Once the badges have arrived and the certificates are printed, they are handed out by the Head Teacher along with a Head Teachers award.