About Kristeen Shabram

Kristeen Shabram is a middle Business & Technology teacher at Westside Middle School in Omaha, NE. She is currently serving as one of the K-8 Representatives on the CSTA Board.

Using Genius Time/Passion Projects to Encourage Exploration of Computer Science

Genius Hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom. It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school. The Genius Hour movement has been around for years and has been used by some of the world’s leading innovative companies. One of those companies, Google, allowed their engineers to spend 20% of their time to work on any project that they’re passionate about. The philosophy behind this movement is that when people are given the opportunity to work on something of personal interest, productivity goes up. Well, they were right. Since Google’s implementation of Genius Hour, fifty percent of their projects, including Gmail and Google News, have been created during this exploration time. Who would have thought that allowing employees the freedom to explore their own interests during work time would contribute to the company’s success?

Since its inception, Genius Hour has made its way into the world of education and is transforming the way students learn and take ownership of their learning. There have been many educators leading the way with Genius Hour in their classrooms and most of their inspiration has come from Angela Maiers and Amy Sandoval’s book The Passion-Driven Classroom: A Framework for Teaching & Learning. Recently, I have become inspired by this Genius Hour movement as well, and I have started to explore how I could apply it in my own classroom. More specifically, I have thought about how could I use Genius Hour to encourage my students to further explore the field of Computer Science. There are so many areas of study in Computer Science and I often find myself just providing a brief summary for my students to spark their interest. But what if I could ignite that spark, and then provide an opportunity for my students to keep the flame going?

Recently, my school district made a commitment to personalized learning for all students and invested in personalized learning coaches that will help with implementation in the classroom. When it comes to personalized learning in the classroom, no single thing is more powerful than Genius Hour. One of the coaches loaned me Andi McNair’s book Genius Hour: Passion Projects that Ignite Innovation and Student Inquiry. After reading this book, I definitely feel prepared to ignite that spark and implement a Computer Science Genius Hour in my classroom. McNair say, “Genius Hour provides students with opportunities to discover what it means to think for themselves, to really pursue something that is meaningful to them.” She also goes on to say that, “It’s time to realize that in our classrooms sit the world changers, inventors, and innovators of tomorrow. Our students are the future.”

This school year, I have decided to embark on a Computer Science Genius Hour Journey with my students. I am so excited to give my students the opportunity to further research Computer Science as a field, explore related topics, and potentially collaborate with outside experts in the field. Ultimately, I want to encourage my students to make a personal connection with Computer Science. Through those personal connections, my hope is that they discover their own passion in computer science and find ways to impact their world through their discoveries.

If you’ve implemented Genius Hour in your Computer Science classroom, I would like to hear from you. If you’re interested in taking this journey, below are some additional resources that I have found to be helpful:

  • AJ Juliani’s “The Research Behind Genius Hour” provided insight on connecting standards to inquiry-based learning. http://ajjuliani.com/research/
  • Chris Kesler’s Science Blog provides “10 Reasons to do Genius Hour with your Students” – https://www.keslerscience.com/what-is-genius-hour/
  • Chris Kesler and AJ Juliani’s website (http://geniushour.com), provides a free webinar called “Getting Started With Genius Hour: The Step-by-Step Guide to Structuring Genius Hour.” They also offer a Genius Hour Master Course, which is a comprehensive course that walks you step-by-step through Genius Hour and how to implement it in the classroom.
  • Westside Community Schools Personalized Learning website (http://westsidepersonalized.com) provides a wealth of resources, as well as podcasts that highlight how teachers in my school district are implementing personalized learning.
  • Westside Community Schools EY (Gifted) Website (http://ey.westside66.org). Follow the “Enrichment” tab to “Passion Projects” to find templates and suggestions for Passion Projects

Kristeen Shabram
K-8 representative