Genius Hour with Second Graders


Genius Hour? Yeah, I could do that with my second graders.

There are few projects that truly changed the culture of my classroom–this is one of them. Both and provide a quick primer on Genius Hour, aka 20 Time, aka 20% Time, aka FedEx Days. All right, I’m assuming you know about what Genius Hour is know. I found that this project is one of the rare moments in school where students are given choice in curriculum. In my class, students were free to choose any topic, and they were able to share what they learned in a variety of ways.

After talking with Kate Petty about 20% Time in her high school english class, I decided to give it a try with second graders. Despite several failures and rocky lessons along the way, my class found their groove with the following workflow:

Week 1: Choose a topic. Research it.
Week 2: Finish research. Organize notes.
Week 3: Create a poster or Google Presentation (or something).
Week 4: Present your project.

We spent one hour every Wednesday afternoon on Genius Hour projects. Students worked in pairs, and chose a topic together. The goal was to decide on a topic (horses, how to become a vet, how to spawn Herobrine (Minecraft was quite popular) and deliver a presentation four weeks later, totaling four hours of work. The following month would be new pairs, new topics, and new presentations.

I learned pretty quickly, though, that Genius Hour needs flexibility. I started off trying to stick to this exact schedule (4 weeks fit nicely into a month), but realized that this particular style of project takes on a life of its own. I’m not sure if it was a rainy day, a more challenging topic, or if pizza for lunch was to blame, but some rounds took two or three weeks. So, sometimes we would spend four weeks on a topic/project and sometimes we would spend seven weeks.

It took a while to figure out the pacing on this with second graders. The first time I tried this, we did all four steps in one afternoon. I don’t recommend that–it did not go well. Another mistake was using Google Slides for presentations. My classroom was typically 10:1, which meant students could only work on their slides when we had a laptop cart or when we were in the computer lab. Another bad idea was forcing buddies. Students could choose their partner, and could choose to work alone. I encouraged collaboration, but didn’t force it.

I made a few tweaks to Genius Hour to better fit second graders. These projects were more successful when students worked in pairs. I thought 100% autonomy would provide more engagement, but found that students got stuck during the research phase when working alone. I also fond that one month seems to be the Goldilocks length for second graders. Flexibility is essential, but seven weeks seemed to be too long for a seven year old to stay passionate on a topic with the intensity I wanted.

Students were engaged in projects like I’d never seen before. We know that student choice and autonomy make a huge difference in learning, but I felt the difference in my classroom when students were working on their Genius Hour projects. The desire to learn outweighed barriers. There was no leveled reading when researching–my struggling reader (1.2) learned how a car engine works on his own. At that point, students owned their learning. They didn’t need me to learn something; they just needed an environment that provided support and focus.

In my new position as Director of Technology, our senior admin team is talking about bringing the tenets of Genius Hour into faculty learning. Following Google’s model of 20% time, we’re trying to figure out how to give teachers time during the day to work on projects they are passionate about. I’m excited to see how we can create space for all learners–elementary students, high school students, and teachers–to follow their passions and share their learning with others. If you’re doing Genius Hour with your students or with your teachers, I’d love to hear about it.


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  • Joy Kirr

    Thank you for sharing! I get so many questions about how teachers try Genius Hour in the younger grades. I always direct them to blog posts such as yours. :) I added this post to the 2nd Grade tab in the LiveBinder here:

  • Glad to help. Thanks for sharing the Livebinder!

  • Thanks for posting this, it’s perfect timing…we’re trying to work this in over at SG in Austin.

  • Glad it’s useful Patrick! Happy to GHO if you have any questions.

  • Eva Gallardo

    I am inspired to try Genius Hour. I have been reading and
    listening to Daniel Pink and this seems to fit right into what he teaches. By
    giving autonomy to students and allowing them to pick the subject, work at
    their own pace, and to choose who they want to work with would really raise
    their desire and interest in a project. I can see the importance of flexibility
    and getting to know what works and what doesn’t work for each teacher’s
    particular classroom. I am excited to see how this model of learning will work
    with my middle school special education students.

  • Good luck Eva! This Google+ Community has lots of great ideas, and plenty of people to provide support and suggestions:

    Bill Selak

  • Rae Fearing

    This post really helped, I am helping a 4th grade teacher start genius hour for the last 10 weeks of school. Kevin Brookhouser shared a letter he sends home for high school, do you have something similar for elementary? I am excited to see what our students learn.

  • Rae, I did not send home a letter. At the time, I was creating videos that I embedded on my class website for news. So I just announced it there.
    Good luck with the 4th grade Genius Hour. They’ll love it!!

  • Vanessa

    “There was no leveled reading when researching–my struggling reader (1.2) learned how a car engine works on his own.”

    How are your kids doing research? Videos? I have always been interested in starting with my 2nd graders, but feel I have to do much preparing leveled information so they can read it.

  • Vanessa, I was surprised at how little reading problems my second graders encountered. They spent a lot of time on YouTube listening and learning. I asked them to turn closed captioning on so they could read along, as well as pause and take notes.

    My biggest takeaway as a teacher was that my second graders figured it out because they cared deeply about their topic. When there’s a genuine interest, they will find a way.

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  • Cara Little

    I just started Genius Hour in my classroom this past month. We are slowly getting into the groove and have started working on our research question. I notice that many of my students are having difficulty coming up with a research question. They are asking questions about topics we have already learned. I need t back up and do more background and modeling on asking research questions. Do you have any advice or resources?
    Thank you,
    Cara Little
    Raleigh, NC

  • Hey Cara, that’s a tricky one: how do we get students to be more inquisitive? I’d have a place in the room where students can write down things they’re interested in or curious about, maybe a small bulletin board with stickies notes. I always brainstormed and wrote down lots of their interests before choosing a topic. I also let students learn more about anything they wanted. Anything. At one point, most of my students were researching a particular part of Minecraft.

    Let me know how it goes!

    Sent from Mailbox

  • Nicole Hersh

    I’m in charge of Genius Hour for all five second grade classrooms at my school in Santa Barbara. I am having trouble figuring out how to make it work. We have only enough iPads for the students to partner up, but we don’t have enough adults to help them search. How do you teach second graders how to search for information on the internet (especially when 1/3 of them are reading below grade level, and youtube is blocked)? The kids are so excited, but I’m stuck!

  • Nicole, Genius Hour worked best when my second graders were partnered up, so your situation is actually great. Most (almost all) of my students found most of their research on YouTube. If it’s blocked, you could try the YouTube Kids app, SchoolTube, Discovery Education (if you have it),, or be sneaky and type in https:// to get to YouTube. Hope that helps!

  • Nicole Hersh

    Thanks so much! Youtube is blocked at my school, but we’ve found ways to watch some videos (thanks for the recommendations), and do some safe searches. It really worked to have them partner up too, too they can help each other. I’m a month into the project and they are loving it (and so am I).

  • Theresa Trevino

    Hi there! I’m in Houston, TX and teach 2nd grade. I’m just getting started with Genuis Hour and would love to collaborate with any of you on a collaborative Pinterest Board or via Google.

  • Theresa Trevino

    Do you have a graphic organizer or something that they use to help collect their data? Just curious because I’m also trying to start this in my classroom and I’m struggling to get started.

  • Theresa, I don’t have a graphic organizer. As a teacher, I just wrote down student names, projects, and progress on the whiteboard in the corner. For students, they simply took notes in a notebook. When they were ready to present, they made a simple poster and walked us through it. (We tried Google Slides and other digital solutions–those were disasters.)

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  • Melody Hicks

    I recently heard about the 20% time and your blog has inspired me to try out this Genuis hour with my kids! I have a 1:1 iPad ratio with 4th graders and they are always eager to work on them. I think this will be a great way to get my students engaged and create autonomy. Thank you for the pointers in introducing Genius hour to your 2nd graders, it will help me when introdcuding it to my 4th graders. Im looking forward to starting! Thank you again for sharing

  • Great to hear, Melody. I’d love to hear how it goes!

  • Jacqueline Dang

    I love this idea. I had heard of Genius Hour and wondered how it would be possible for me to execute this in my own classroom. After reading this post, it doesn’t seem as scary as I had thought it was! I am still a bit scared to start it. I would need to figure out the details of how to teach my students about Genius Hour. I love that this time promotes students to have a sense of autonomy and it gives them intrinsic motivation. Your students sound so motivated to work. I love it. I also have second graders so it makes me feel comforted that second graders CAN do this. It is not just meant of older students. My students have just learned how to use Google Slide so I think this would be a great opportunity for them to utilize that skill. This post was very inspiring and eye opening. Thank you!

  • Jacqueline, it is definitely scary to dive into the deep end with second graders. Once you get started, though, it is an amazing thing.

  • Krista

    Even though my summer is just beginning I have been attending lots of PD that has discussed genius hour. I also read Solarz Learn Like a Pirate over this past school year that talks about passion products. This is something I am interested to incorporating in my second grade classroom this upcoming year. At what point during the school year did you introduce and begin genious hour? Time is always an issue but I so on Kirr’s live binder page that there was a quarterly project…Thinking it would be easier to manage if it were quarterly. I;m sure I just need to do what works for me and my class. Thanks for sharing!

  • Hi Krista,

    I started Genius Hour with my second graders as soon as I found out about it. I think it was in February. I would recommend making it a regular part of the schedule. In fact, I would spend most of the first day (week?) of school introducing Genius Hour, and giving students LOTS of time to work on their first project.

  • Breanne Tidik

    Hi there! Thanks for sharing your experience! I am going to try GH for the first time with my 2nd graders next year so your feedback is really helpful. Did you have them fill out a project proposal? How did they reflect? What did you use to help them narrow down their inquiry questions? I have found lots of resources for grades 4+, but nothing for the littles! Thank you!