Igniting Student Passions through Genius Hour!

Make a copy of this presentation here.

At Fall CUE, George Garcia and I walked participants through how to guide students through self-directed projects.

Introduction to Genius Hour

In the session participants will be introduced to the genius hour concept, aka 20% Time, aka Passion Projects. This framework allows students roughly an hour per week to work on a project of their choice. Students then present their learning to their class as a culminating activity.







The Bad Idea Factory!

To get the creative juices flowing, we start with an activity called The Bad Idea Factory. This allows participants to come up with as many bad ideas for Genius Hour topics as possible. The Bad Idea Factory gives participants the freedom to just get ideas down on paper without any judgement. Sometimes these “bad” ideas lead to better ideas or the passion project itself.


Identify your Passion

Helping students find a passion is the hardest part to a Genius Hour running smoothly. Following The Bad Idea Factory, participants will then go through a questionnaire to help them identify their own passion. Our participants will go through the process of identifying their passion in the hopes that they too will participate in this 20% time so that they can understand the needs of their students. These questions can also be taken back to their classroom and used with their students.

Classroom Management

Facilitating this time is a critical piece for teachers to understand. Genius Hour does not work like a traditional classroom lesson. At all. Teachers need to be comfortable being the supporter of their students learning. They also need to understand that they are there to help guide their student’s efforts with questions that help students come to their own conclusions. That this may not be a graded activity and doesn’t have to be extremely structured to be successful. The end result of this will be students who are able to drive their own learning, and may or may not be a finished product.

Star Wars Faculty Video

Star Wars Faculty Video

The force is strong with the Hillbrook faculty. Inspired by the Jimmy Fallon & the Roots, faculty and staff at Hillbrook School sang along with their favorite Star Wars tunes. First, enjoy the video, then stick around for the backstory.

Why Make a Star Wars Sing Along?

Our Talent Show is long. The faculty act is the last act. This video lets us have zero setup (the previous year’s Taylor Swift cover with toy instruments took a while to set up), and this video can be shared later if the Talent Show runs long and we need to cut an act. Oh yeah, and we can share it with thousands of people later.


The first step was deciding what our faculty/staff act would be. We decided to copy the Jimmy Fallon & the Roots version, but cut out the Cantina sequence (for time, not because of the “who shot first” controversy (Han did)).

Sing Along & Record Audio

Emily Hendricks, our Tech Support Specialist, booked time with each faculty member that volunteered. She recorded them in Logic Pro X, asking each person to sing along with the Jimmy Fallon recording. For each track, Emily auto tuned and auto timed the vocal so that the pitch and timing lined up. Finally, she muted the original Fallon track, so you only heard the Hillbrook recordings. Pretty simple, and pretty rad. Audio? Check.

“Sing Along” to Record Video

The second step was to get some video. I held up two phones: one phone played the original Fallon video, and the second recorded the “singer.” All faculty/staff needed to do was sing along to the original YouTube video. Note: aside from enjoying my share of quotes, I added those because people didn’t really sing when I was recording them. It should be duly noted (spoiler alert) that some of the people in the video didn’t sing at all. But alas, that’s the magic of video editing.

Sync and Edit

Now that we had an audio track and a bunch of video tracks, it was time to line ’em all up. I used Final Cut Pro X to line up all the video tracks to the audio track that Emily recorded, and used the original Fallon video as a template (sort of) for the layout of the 9 video tracks. Final Cut is great for complicated things like this; here’s a quick tutorial of how to get multiple video tracks on the canvas at once.


So that’s how we made this video. It felt fitting to finally write up a blog post for Star Wars Day one year after this epic video. Enjoy, and May the Fourth Be With You.