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Google inspired Genius Hour fuels Ohio school improvements

At Discovery School in Mansfield, Ohio we thought carefully about the reasons behind the self-study part of evaluation of IB World Schools. Yes, it is a requirement of the process, but how could we use the information we collected to bring about change that impacted student learning and was not owned solely by members of the ​​​​​​administration?

We organized some informal professional development (PD) to explore the philosophy and practices behind ​​Genius Hour, which had been an integral part of our classroom timetables since we became an authorized IB school in 2016. The concept of Genius Hour, also called 20% time or me time, began with Google where employees were given the freedom to use up to 20% of their work time to focus on projects and passions that interested them and would ultimately benefit the company. As part of our PD, we wanted to ensure that students continued to get the most from this unstructured inquiry time, by providing staff members with the opportunity to move through the inquiry process in a similar way to their students.

To do this, we passed out copies of our school’s action plan that had been collaboratively created the year before. Teachers reviewed the standards and practices and the possible action items before selecting one that interested them or that they had experience of. This was done individually, in pairs or small groups. Throughout the rest of the session, teachers created a plan for how they would implement their action, analyze its impact, and reflect on its success. The sheer range and motivation of interests from the teachers was truly exciting. Focus areas included:

  • Broadening the channels of communication between stakeholders
  • Reviewing our stand-alone math curriculum to make learning and teaching more transdisciplinary
  • Deepening an understanding of music in the PYP
  • Reviewing our digital PYP portfolio policy and practices
  • Assessing and documenting prior learning
  • Increased exploration of culture through our programme of inquiry (POI) and additional language

As the Primary Years Programme (PYP) Coordinator, I supported the teachers with resources, time, and ideas for possible next steps. Regular check-ins between us meant that we could ensure these projects continued to move forward.

The process certainly helped us to practice what we preach. Teachers’ interest and experience helped to move the school forward as a whole. The projects focused our efforts on those initiatives that enhance our learning community.

In practice, this has meant that units of inquiry have shown increased evidence of mathematical concepts; exemplar portfolios have provided concrete standards on what should be included; and data collecting sheets have organized student assessment for future teachers. The communication between stakeholders has increased using social media and teacher volunteers attending monthly board meetings to share aspects of the programme. An online classroom was created to organize resources and showcase different Spanish speaking countries. This proved an invaluable tool in supporting our online learners during the pandemic. Synchronous collaboration of Ohio PYP music teachers was led by a staff member to discuss best practices and explore music through inquiry.

We will continue to work on and improve the processes of our staff Genius Hour projects by:

  • Creating an anticipated timeline for the project to ensure that all staff members are moving forward
  • Scheduled “check ins” with the PYP Coordinator and relevant stakeholders
  • Collaborative use of the programme development plan template and adding to it to support our PYP model

One teacher reflected, “it was helpful to meet and openly discuss issues in the school, building, or curriculum to see that the concerns we had were valuable and that we did not have to solve the how or why independently.”

Simon Clark is the Assistant Head of School and PYP Coordinator at Discovery School in Mansfield, OH USA. He is an active IBEN member and has taught almost all age ranges in the Primary Years Programme.