Genius Hour at LHS pushing community-minded projects in English class

Genius Hour at LHS pushing community-minded projects in English class
Posted on 12/19/2017

Tess Carey has a plan for her freshman and sophomore English classes, a plan that will require study and follow-through. The Lynden High School teacher calls it Genius Hour, part of a larger national push to encourage students to select a community-minded project and follow-through with a solution.

In Carey’s Genius Hour, students work on an inquiry project, something of their choosing. They will select an area that excites them, identify problems within that area and then develop an inquiry question that requires a tangible solution.

In a first attempt for Carey, she admits the entire project—it started in the fall and happens just on Wednesdays—has her a bit nervous. “You learn from your mistakes,” she says. “That is modeling. I want them to learn from their mistakes and not give up. I know I am going to make mistakes and this will not go as smoothly as I envision it in my head, but I want to learn from that, reflect on that and makes changes as I try it again. That is what I want to model for our students.”

One example of a possible project starts with a student concerned with the amount of food waste at the cafeteria. An inquiry question may come in the form of how can that food waste be used for good. Background research and will cover rules regarding cafeteria food uses, benefits of food waste in other areas of life and examples of places that have solved a similar project. “Students might look at Western (Washington University) and how they compost their food waste and then come up with a proposal to the school board on what to do here,” Carey says. “It could be coming up with compost bins, creating a club or the school board presentation.”

That’s just one example. Over the course of all of Carey’s classes, she will see a variety of inquiry questions.

Currently students are working through developing questions and writing proposals for Carey’s approval. Carey expects the proposals will get set by Winter Break and then following the break students can build knowledge and research, starting to connect with people in the community. “That’s when it gets messy,” she says. “They are all doing the things they need to do.”

Throughout the Genius Hour, Carey wants students to step outside the box and look at their world differently. “There has been a lot of community building around that and after finding your passion and what excites you, it is what you want to do with that,” she says.

Carey expects the inquiry project to have a community-service mindset, encouraging students to figure out the impact of their efforts.

“I hope the kids will have a sense of accomplishment that they can have an impact on something,” she says. “They can make a change. I know that sounds really big, but we have been looking at examples of kids who have done really great things. They see a problem and try to solve it. I don’t just look at kids who have been super successful, but kids who have failed and tried again. I hope they come away with perseverance, that failure is not failure.”