Lower School's Genius Hour

  • Fall 2016

    Every child is forced to go to school, it’s part of growing up. School is not always the most enjoyable thing in the world, but now Maclay Lower School students have something new to be excited about: Genius Hour.


    This year, the Maclay Lower School has embarked on this new, innovative program. During the last hour of every Friday, Lower School students work on their Genius Hour passion projects. Students are given complete freedom and resources to deeply explore topics they are passionate about, learn a new skill, or converse with fellow students and others in the community who share their passions.


    The project was developed by Maclay Lower School Dean of Students Mrs. Bentley Harris through a Faculty Excellence Grant. The idea is credited to Google, where employees are encouraged to spend twenty percent of their time working on a pet project, a project that their job description doesn’t cover. At Google, this produced amazing results such as Gmail.


    “Google is really the catalyst from where our idea has come from. Like Google, I’m really interested in teaching kids about critical thinking skills, perseverance, and multiple and creative approaches to solving problems. Although we don’t know the jobs our students will one day have, we do know the kind of skill set and mindset we can give them. We want to get them excited about learning more and not giving up when challenged,” said Harris.  Although the overall concept is the same, the projects vary greatly between the different ages.


    “The jumping off place looks a little different in every grade level,” said Harris. “In Kindergarten, for example, it might look like they’re going to dig into art. The teacher would then fill the room with different art mediums and supplies and let the kids create and explore the different things that excite them. It’s a little more narrowed down than in the fifth grade, for example. In the fifth grade, we had the students fill out a form to create a question about something that excited them that wasn’t a Google-able problem and then they can dig in themselves.”

    There are many different projects that the older students have begun. For instance, there are students making a battery from scratch, designing and building a skateboard, making a dog toy, writing a book, and so many more. There’s even a child who had a congenital heart defect who is putting together a heart model and information packet to help educate her peers on her condition.


    “It’s been really cool to watch the students. They’re all so engaged. However, there are many who have gotten frustrated as well. I had a kid come up and say ‘Ugh, you’re making me think too much’ Well that’s a good thing, that’s what we want. We want them to feel challenged,” said Harris.  From the small goal to learning more about what they are passionate about to the high goals of learning research skills, grit, and collaboration, there are many goals hoping to be achieved in the new project.


    “I don’t want the kids or teachers to feel restrained. This is a learning process, an evolution. The first week was spent building a culture of approaching problems from different ways and finding different passions they can be excited about. We really talked to the kids about taking ownership of this, not just doing what their best friend is doing. The adults are only here as guides or resources. An adult will not spoon-feed any of these students,” said Harris.

    Author and Maclay Alum Meagan Wilkins wrote this post while she was a senior at Maclay in the Direct Independent Studies Class for Communications