Models | Southeast Junior High

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Iowa City, IA

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[av_testimonial_single src=” name=’Matt Degner’ subtitle=’Principal at Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, Iowa’ link=’http://’ linktext=”]
I was inspired to start Genius Hour after learning about other schools in Iowa and across the U.S. starting similar programs.

Genius Hour is a chance for students to create solutions to real-world issues that interest them and they are passionate about.

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Southeast Junior High (SEJH) in Iowa City, Iowa has revolutionized the way students spend time in school with the new Genius Hour program. All 724 students use homeroom time to develop innovative solutions to problems they are passionate about in the community. Genius Hour takes the idea of twenty-percent time, used by companies like Google, and scales it to the school environment. Students are given time to work on self-identified projects encouraging student innovation and potentially benefiting the community.


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How it Works

Every two weeks, all 724 students spend an hour of homeroom time working with teachers and peers to move their self-identified projects forward.  Students develop action plans, discuss implementation strategies, adjust their ideas to meet new challenges and needs, and ultimately implement their solution.

Students began by brainstorming their ideas and spent two sessions developing a design template. Students then developed an action plan in consultation with peers while identifying possible partners and resources. Next, students started taking action steps to implement their plan. These meetings with peers allow the students to continue tweaking their projects to address new obstacles students encounter.

At the end of the school year, students formally present their project to a panel of peers, parents, teachers, and involved community members.

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Increase student connectivity to school

Transforming out of traditional school structure, Genius Hour aims is to increase student connectivity by providing authentic tasks students are passionate about to engage them in their learning and provide the greatest opportunity for growth.

Increase innovative thinking

Genius Hour uses divergent thinking, which promotes students to consider different paths and possibilities. The program hopes to increase students’ abilities to weigh multiple options, identify barriers, develop solutions without a predetermined outcome, seek relevant information, formulate a plan, modify a plan based on new information, and present information to a diverse audience.

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Population Targeted

All students at South East Junior High in Iowa City, Iowa, are involved with this project.

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Customer Discovery

The team has been collecting feedback from staff, through face-to-face and email interactions, and with students through Google Survey. Using both teacher and student feedback, the team is striving to provide more guidance in structuring Genius Hour, as well as inspiration and motivation for generating student ideas.

In addition, staff are provided professional development time to discuss the status of Genius Hour.

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Key Partners

The key partners are primarily staff, students, parents, and community members who work in areas of interest to students’ projects.

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Successes to Date

Implementing schedule change

Team members worked with administrators to expand homeroom time by changing its day of the week and time in the schedule in order to provide more time to work with students in progressing their projects.

Obtaining staff buy-in

School Administration asked the team to introduce the idea to staff while piloting it themselves. Staff were then invited to join the pilot group, in which 38 out of 52 did. The team also developed online material to support teachers who chose to take part in the project, assisting staff buy-in and comfort with the project.

Using Professional Development time 

Professional development time has been set aside specifically for Genius Hour for teachers to discuss the status their students’ ideas.

Obtaining student buy-in

Online resources created by the team also assisted students, making their goals visible and obtainable. Presently, most students have selected a project, identified partners, and are excited to start the implementation of their ideas.

Facilitating student ideas

Student ideas for projects were widespread and inspiring, surpassing the teachers’ expectations. Ideas included “my name,” “Native American Poverty,” “A walking trash can,” and “the way students treat one another.”

In some classes, brainstorming sessions as a whole group led to students creating top 10 lists. Students then narrowed down choices through small group work or individual conferencing with teachers.

YouTube searches and websites from other schools participating in Genius Hour led to many great videos of work other students have completed as a source of inspiration. The website also provides some task-oriented inspiration that can be rewarded with digital badges.

Increasing collaboration among students centered on a common, self-identified goal

As students discussed their ideas and prospective projects, groups were formed based on common themes. Students began seeking partners based not on pre-existing friendships but on common goals.

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Sustainability Plan

This project is inherently sustainable as the costs of staffing this project are built into the school district’s budget and individual buildings have some control over their individual schedules. However, the sustainability could be improved if the following actions were taken:

  • Reassess schedules to enhance programming
  • Build resources in the community that are primed and on board to help students as the need arises by partnering with them
  • Build staff capacity for Genius Hour programming through ongoing professional development and mentoring
  • Assess the program’s direction continually through data collected from students, staff, community partners, and parents

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