Lewiston teacher transforms classroom into Genius Hour

LEWISTON — Declan is creating stop motion videos. Cole is writing plays for his afterschool basketball team. Abigail is perfecting her ballet pointe technique.

These fifth graders are developing projects during a weekly activity called Genius Hour.

Lindsey Matthews, a fifth-grade teacher at Webster Elementary School, asked her students one question at the beginning of the school year.

What is something mentally that you’ve always wanted to try, but have never had the time for?

By the end of the school year, Matthews’ students will own, research and present what interest them most.

“When students are simply told that their ideas matter, they are overwhelmed with inspiration and drive,” Matthews said.

Lindsey Matthews

Genius Hour

Genius Hour is designed to allow students to explore their self-determined passions and it encourages creativity in the classroom. Students choose their learning every Friday for an hour in Matthews’ class.

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“It’s not about pleasing me,” Matthews said. “I believe in the kids’ geeky interests and wild ideas.”

It’s a chance for students to explore what they love, in a space in which failure is welcome and students support each other. The projects are self-driven, not guided by standards, rubrics or exams.

“Great teachers inspire and make a difference, but great classrooms have students inspiring each other,” Matthews said.

Matthews was inspired to start Genius Hour three years ago while attending an education conference in Portland. The concept of Genius Hour stems from the company, Google, which allows its employees to spend 20 percent of their time working on any project of their choosing.

“This isn’t time to take a nap,” Matthews said. “Instead, it is a time to explore curiosity.”

Matthews believes Genius Hour creates self-motivated learners, which makes kids turn ideas into reality. Matthews said while  student are guiding their own learning, they’re also mastering academic standards in a non-traditional way. Students utilize reading, writing, math, speaking and listening skills in order to research and reflect their project.

“Because my students are free to choose and explore areas they are passionate about, they are reaching a greater depth of knowledge and finding their purpose for learning,” Matthews said.

Each student grades their own project throughout the school year.

“I want the kids to have an honest reflection about what they learned,” Matthews said.  

Student projects include exploring American Sign Language, researching to find an end to world hunger and collaborating with doctoral students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology about robotics.

Matthews has noticed a culture change throughout the school year. Students ask more questions and problem solve on topics including math and science.

“If my kids can go into their state testing believing they can do it — that is a change right there,” Matthews said.

If you’re an educator and interested in Genius Hour, check out Matthews guide