Genius Hour and 20% Time

Student creativity and inquiry through exploration of their passions.

The search-engine giant, Google, allows it’s engineers to spend 20% of their time to work on any pet project that they want.  The idea is very simple: allow people to work on something that interests them, and productivity will go up.  This way of working has inspired innovative ideas in a range of companies that have lead to significant improvements to the way we live and work.  Sticky notes from 3M are one, the Google DriverLess Car another.

How would Genius Hour / 20% Time work in a school environment?

Student project ideas need to reflect their own interests or passions. These project ideas need to be realistic, but not necessarily achievable. Students can experience failure, in a supportive environment. And when they have experienced that failure, they are able to use reflection to plan for improvement.

Getting Started

  • Brainstorming a list of things that students are good at, excited about, or want more information on.
  • Driving Question: a question that enables deep thought, research.  An UnGoogleAble answer.  A question that takes time to answer.
  • Independent work: The role of the teacher is not to guide the student work, but to support the choices they make and enable the opportunities.  Initially students work individually, as they become more competent, collaborative projects can be introduced.
  • Incorporate expertise: you’re not going to know enough about everything to help your students, this is where an outside expert comes in.  Support students in making connections.
  • Authentic Audience: students need to present their work to an authentic audience.  How they do this is up to the individual, with teacher support to realise the opportunities.

 Teacher role

As the teacher in a Genius Hour environment, rethink your role to become facilitator. Provide the advice, support needed to have students develop their own thoughts and ideas into a viable project.

Allow students to make some mistakes.

Know what your students are working on, know their plan, know their intentions.  Facilitate their progress.

Student Role

Students use a range of 21st Century skills to create their Genius Hour project.  Using their passions as an initial guide, they become experts in something and produce new knowledge to share with their audience.  They don’t have to get it right the first time.  They wont complete it in a week or two, it takes time and deep learning to achieve.  Students provide the ideas and the resources.

The UnGoogleAble

The most important thing to is innovate.  Innovation on a grand scale, or innovation on a small scale.  An UnGoogleAble question is one that hasn’t been answered anywhere, every.  It’s a big thing to come up with the UnGoogleAble, and an even bigger thing to answer it successfully.

Links and Resources


Personalised Learning

What is Personalised Learning?

Personalised Learning offers a means of transforming the learning experience of every child.  It provides an education that is tailored to the needs, abilities, interests and aptitudes of every student.  As such, it is a challenge for schools and teachers, but it also a real opportunity to make a positive impact on young people’s learning and future.

Learning can be personalised within the context of the Curriculum as prescribed by the System, with students being able to develop their learning path in consultation with the teacher or the facilitator of learning.  Alternately it can provide a framework for students to pursue their interests through self directed study.

In whatever way that Personalised Learning manifests within a particular context there are several features that are consistent:

  • Student Centred
  • Self Regulation
  • Formative Assessment
  • Goal Setting
  • Reflection

Student Centred

A Student Centred Learning environment places the focus on the student and their needs and builds the accountability around this, rather than the accountability of the teacher to covering a prescribed curriculum.  Being student centred does not discount the requirement of the curriculum but implies greater flexibility in the path through the curriculum that is followed, they way the content is learnt, and they way that the knowledge is demonstrated or evidenced.

Self Regulation

Students self regulating their learning requires them to manage the process of learning.  To be an effective self regulator students need to know that they don’t know something in order to know it.  They develop goal setting skills and become more aware of the steps that are required to learn a new skill or content, and how best to present their new knowledge or skill.  Reflective thinking follows the learning process where students can analyse their actions and work and identify new learning paths to follow.  To be successful self regulators, students also need to be motivated to learn.

Formative Assessment

When students are able to analyse their assessment data and take greater levels of ownership they are more aware of their skills and knowledge in the curriculum area of the assessment.  Having a clear understanding of what they don’t know from their assessment allows the also to be able to set learning goals and develop learning pathways, because they know that they don’t know something.

Goal Setting

Many formats are available to students for setting goals for long, mid and short term purposes.  In a Personalised Learning setting, students will be setting many short term goals.  The format that the goals are written in is dependent on the level of self regulatory ability the student has.  The most suitable method for students setting goals regularly is to use a modified version of the S.M.A.R.T goal framework.

S – Specific.  Be clear about what you want to achieve.  These can be set from Learn To and Learn About statements that are derived from Content Descriptors of the relevant Domain of the Australian Curriculum.

A – Action.  How will you learn it?  What will you need to do to learn it?  What are the steps you will need to follow?  What resources will you need to access to help you learn?  How will you show evidence of what you have learnt?

T – Time.  How long will you give yourself to achieve this goal?  Sometimes goals need to be extended beyond the original amount of time specified.

O – Outcome. Students examine what they have learnt, how they learnt it, and what their next steps on the learning path are going to be.


The ability to reflect on the process of learning and what was learnt is an important skill for a self regulator.  This should be a simple recount of what they did, but a critical analysis.  Reflection is included in the SATO goals framework as the Outcome step.  Students can present evidence of learning with their reflection.


The Personal and Social Capability Domain of the Australian Curriculum contains detailed progression points to aid in the development of students as self regulators.  Typically spread over a two year period they cover Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness and Social Management.

Teachers still have an accountability for teaching the content as prescribed in the Australian Curriculum and this can be achieved by monitoring student goals and providing learning opportunities for students.  Learning opportunities can be comprised of student choice activities put in place by the teacher, student directed activities where the student designs the learning to reach a desired outcome and explicit teaching in small group and whole group workshop sessions.

Particular content can be delivered to students through the management of software services such as Reading Eggs, LiteracyPlanet and Mathletics.  Tasks can be assigned that match student goals and students can independently choose tasks that contribute to them reaching their goal.

Using Technology to Personalise Learning

Personalised learning does not rely on the use of technology, but it does expand the opportunities in both delivering of content and the construction and communication of outcomes and evidence of learning.

Content delivery is achieved by making specific playlists, or collections of resources available to students.  These can be custom created by teachers and placed in accessible locations to students, or they can be created within a Learning Management System where students can access.

Students are not limited to exclusively using technology to create evidence of their learning, but by harnessing technology, they are able to publish their work to an authentic and wider audience than may be possible by using non digital methods.  A variety of web2.0 applications allow students to do this.

Student portfolios provide a platform for demonstrating their understanding and achievements.  Where students are working at a wide range of levels and on varied tasks, portfolios are important for tracking student engagement with learning.  The creation and curating of these portfolios is again not limited to being digital, but the use of digital methods opens up new possibilities and opportunities.

Reflection and Goal Setting

Reflection and Goal Setting are important skills for students to have to be able to self regulate, take responsibility and and have independence in their learning.  It is equally important that their teachers are able to model the process of reflection, identifying learning needs, setting goals and working to achieve their goals.



Engaging in reflection is an essential part of learning.  It allows the learner to analyse the process of learning, and the product of their learning.  Additionally, it allows the learner to identify areas where they may need to make further improvements for continual learning.  Reflective thinking needs to be taught, and planned for in a student’s course of study.  Being to able to reflect and analyse their learning is an important requisite for critical thinking.

Reflection on learning requires honesty from the learner and a commitment to continual improvement.  Reflection can be based on feedback that has been provided, and is most effective when it is written and recorded in a permanent location that can be referred back to.

Effective learners are those that are able to use the knowledge generated by reflection and metacognitive process to self regulate their learning, have awareness of their thinking and are able to move towards new and reformulated goals.

A simple framework for reflection could be:

Description of what happened.

Feelings associated with the learning.

Evaluation of the learning, was it positive or negative.

Analysis and making sense of the learning.

Conclusions and what else could I have done.

Action Plan and what the learner can do next. 


Goal Setting

Goal setting provides students with further opportunities to self regulate their learning.  To be able to set relevant and realistic goals, the learner first needs to be able to reflect, and in the Socratic way, they have to know that they don’t know, in order for them to know.  This can be applied in a cyclical fashion, to create a continual process of learning and improvement.  Goal setting provides opportunities for students to self evaluate, discuss their learning aims, and to formulate strategies for learning.

SMART is a well known framework for goal setting.  Modifying the framework to make it simpler for students has been highly successful.

Specific – What do you want to achieve?

Action – How are you going to do it?

Time – How long will it take you?

Outcome –  How are you going to show what you have learnt?

Year 2 Literacy and Numeracy Resources

The following are some content descriptors from AUSvels Level 2, and some links for online games to assist students to develop skills against the content descriptors.

Some Numeracy
Investigate number sequences, initially those increasing and decreasing by twos, threes, fives and ten from any starting point, then moving to other sequences. (ACMNA026)
Caterpillar ordering

Recognise and represent multiplication as repeated addition, groups and arrays (ACMNA031)
Hit the Button

Some Literacy
Understand how to use digraphs, long vowels, blends and silent letters to spell words, and use morphemes and syllabification to break up simple words and use visual memory to write irregular words (ACELA1471)

Understand how texts are made cohesive through resources, for example word associations, synonyms, and antonyms (ACELA1464)
Synonyms and Antonyms

Context specific

Personalised Learning can manifest itself in many different forms.  The way it manifests is entirely dependent on the requirements of the context and by which level the context is student centric.

In a teacher centric context, personalisation is difficult to realise, as the teacher is not willing to give away the control of the learning process to the students.

In a student centric context, the students are able to determine the learning path that they follow, and is supported by the students knowledge of their own achievement and future requirements for learning.


I cobbled these thoughts together after reading comments made on a blog post here about Rupert Murdoch describing education as not changing much over 50 years, in which he is reasonably correct.  The content may have changed slightly, but the method of delivery is the same.  How is that useful for a 21st Century Learner, or a 21st Century Teacher?

“Think four walls, door, tables and chairs, whiteboard/blackboard at the front with a teacher standing in front delivering content.  I think that’s what Murdoch meant.  And if you walk into any number of classrooms this very day, that is what you will see, unless you read this post on a Saturday or Sunday.
A modern classroom should provide flexibility, in spaces and furniture.  Students shouldn’t be constrained to the rows of tables facing the front as was the Industrial / Mechanical age model.  21st Century education is an opportunity for flexibility, personalisatoin of learning and development of competencies that will help students be self sufficient learners.
Personalised learning is targetted at specific student needs, based on formative assessment (assessment for learning) which identifies the learning needs.  Learning paths are developed to meet each students needs.  It does not need to be technology driven, but ICT is a key enabler.”

The video shows the setting in which I work with the flexible furniture that the students use.  While not everyone has access to such fine resources, everyone has the option to shift from teacher centric models of education to student centric education.

Competencies For Learning

At my school, we are developing a set of competencies that will assist our students to become capable 21st Century students that have a set of skills that will enable them to work effectively in a range of situations.  Our competencies are taken from the Partnership for 21st Century skills. (

The 4 C’s:

  • Creativity
  • Communication
  •  Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking


In  Changing Education Paradigms,  Sir Ken Robinson says that by design, schools stifle the creativity of students, by boxing them into a ‘one size fits all’ method of education.  Out students come to school creative, but leave after being moulded to the be the same as many others.  We need to allow students to show their creativity and to think for themselves.  To help them to create innovative solutions to problems that they will face as they grow older and contribute to society.


As the world becomes smaller and globalisation takes hold, our students need to be able to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds.  Effectively communicating in different situations and for different purposes will be vital for success in the 21st Century.


Working with others to achieve a goal will be necessary for success in the 21st Century.  The people our students work with may not be in the same office, or even the same building, but could be in another part of the world, working on the same project in a different time zone.  Forming relationships, and recognizing the strengths, weaknesses and abilities of other group members and capitalizing on those for the benefit of the group.

Critical Thinking

Students have an incredible amount of information available to them at the tips of their fingers through ‘net connected devices.  However, sometimes this information may not be accurate, and could easily be out of date by the time the students get to it.  Developing the ability in our students to reason, deduce, evaluate and reflect on the information that is available to them will enable them to make informed decisions about what it useful or not.

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