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Batavia’s genius hour program is genius!

By Emily Tratar

Students prepare for the beginning of class; filing into the room, pulling out books, chatting with friends, snapchatting. When the bell rings, the teacher stands in the front of the room, bursting with energy. The students quiet down and the teacher tells them that he has a surprise for the class. One kid asks if there will be food involved. The teacher sadly shuts that idea down. Finally, not able to contain it any longer, the teacher explains that they will begin a new project called Genius hour.

Genius hour is a new program for self-guided learning. It is a chunk of reserved time for students to pursue any passion they choose. Though the students struggle at first, the ideas that are produced are of massive variety. From organizing dance classes to self-driving cars, the students use a multitude of skills to complete the projects.

This new program is spreading like wildfire through the Batavia school district, as well. Some of the middle school and high school English teachers have adapted their curriculum to fit Genius hour into the day.

“Kids finally get a choice in what they want to do, and so I’m able to see some students that don’t typically enjoy [school] find something they are passionate about,” said Molly Jackson, English teacher at Batavia High School.

Genius hour teaches students basic fundamental skills such as time management, email writing, goal setting, and research. Students pick a topic and pitch it to the class. The class then asks questions or gives suggestions about the topic that students chose. Once they have their ideas, students work either in partnerships or individually to create a project. After weeks of research and refinement, students then present to the class or small groups.

“I… love the feedback process,” said Jenny Kanaris, 6th grade ELA teacher at Rotolo Middle School. “At the beginning [of the process], they have one or two questions but then sometimes they build off of it and … It’s really neat to see how they incorporate their creativity in some way.”  

When asked about some of the different topics she has seen, Amber Jirsa, English teacher at Batavia High School, said she had so many to share that were “so cool.”

A student of hers wrote a novel, another couple of students started dance classes at an elementary school for after school, and so on. She then went on to explain how being okay with failing is also a part of the process that is a fundamental skill to learn.

Jirsa remembers a student she had who wanted to make a movie.

“I had a student last year who wanted to write, direct and star in a film and it was a lot to take in for three months… and his presentation started with ‘I failed’… it was awesome. The rest of the class started cheering for him,” Jirsa said.

Along with learning basic skills and getting the students excited about learning, the teachers at the Batavia school district are excited to see where this program is headed for the future.

“If this was something that the whole department did in sixth grade, we could even do a display night or a presentation night where we would come together and have students or peers share out to the community and to their parents,” Kanaris said.

Jackson also thinks expanding this program is in the foreseeable future.

“I think when people realize there’s value in the soft skills of having students choose for themselves what they want to do, set their own goals, make their own projects, kind of sail their own ship so to speak, when people realize that I think we can do it as a whole school and do it well,” Jackson said.

Imagine finding a passion, whether it be music writing or marine life, and spending time in class researching and doing it. A girl in your class who worked just as hard as you over the last couple of months comes up to present. She takes a deep breath and you see in her hands a 3D model of a train but it is different somehow.

“Today I’m going to show you my Genius hour project,” she starts.

With this program, the possibilities are endless.

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