Project Genius: Big Learning for Young Geniuses

Boyes, Karen Tui. (2019). Project Genius: Big Learning for Young Geniuses.  Lower Hutt, NZ:

Spectrum Education LTD.

Karen is a fantastic presenter, committed to making learning better for students, and has introduced me to a wide range of resources.  This book was recently published about ‘project based learning’ (PBL) for elementary students .  I think most of the templates, etc. also apply to secondary students.

Genius Hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom. It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school. You will also find the black line masters are available for download at

Very positive quote for students to hear this. “You are a genius and the world needs your contribution.”            Angela Maiers

Here are three main elements to Genius Hour.

  • Research: Students must research something. Students cannot spend time going over information they already know. The key is learning and as a bi-product of this, learning and refining research skills.
  • Create: Students have to create something. They need to have something ‘to show’ for their time.
  • Present: Students have to present something. At the end of the time frame given, students give a verbal presentation to explain their process and learning.

This book organizes PBL in easy to follow steps. Here is the short version of her seven to begin

  1. Find your Passion – Start by discussing, “What does it mean to be passionate about something?” Create a wonder wall and invite students to add questions they have about the world. Show students videos such as Cain’s Arcade or the Kid President’s Pep Talk, both easily found on YouTube.
  2. Plan, Plan, Plan – Encourage and provide time for students to plan out their project. This is one of the most important steps for success in Genius Hour. Planning Guide on p.33
  3. Make a Pitch – Pitch Presentation Template on p.43
  4. Project – Rules for Genius Hour – These are student expectations so there is clarity.
  5. Create a Product – examples on p.56
  6. Presentation Day – Presentation Structure – template on p.65
  7. Ponder

I like the reflective questions Karen uses under the Ponder step.  Here are some of them:

  • What did you learn about working together?
  • What did you discover about yourself as a learner?
  • What did you do when you found others didn’t agree with your ideas?
  • What new questions are you asking:
  • What new insights have you gained that you can apply in the next project you work on?
  • What did you do when you reached an impasse?
  • How do you feel about your contribution to this project?
  • What more could you have done
  • What experiences made you laugh?

In Chapter 3, Karen provides a week by week organizational template that can be used.  Of course, like most things, you need to adapt according to the age and learning levels of the students.

Another quote that caught my attention is the following: “What good is an idea if it remains an idea. Try. Experiment. Iterate, Fail. Try Again. Change the world.”                 Simon Sinek

And, another: The greatest artists like Dylan, Picasso, and Newton risked failure. And we want to be great, we’ve got to risk it too.”               Steve Jobs

Too often students are resistant to trying things because they don’t want to fail.  Karen addresses the concept of Mindset by Carol Dweck in the book.  Maybe ‘how to reframe failure as feedback’ could be an important topic for student learning.

Here is a list of skills she encourages staff to teach explicitly.

  • Research Skills: How to search online, how to use contents, index and print resources, note taking techniques, evaluating sources, citing sources, I add teaching responsible use of technology.
  • Organizational Skills: Keeping track of resources, creating and keeping deadlines, decision making, time management.
  • Goal Setting & Planning Skills: Being specific, results oriented, realistic, recording..
  • inquiry Method: Formulate questions, exploring & investigate to find answers, build new understandings & meanings, share new knowledge, reflect and acting upon findings…
  • Scientific method: Hypothesize, test, analyze. repeat…
  • Speaking & listening skills: Teamwork, co-operation, written and oral communication… How to make an impact when presenting, in my opinion, does not get the attention is deserves. (Just Bill’s opinion)

Most of us know this quote from living life. “The middle is messy and it is also where the  MAGIC happens.”       Brené Brown

Hanging in there during the messy part is hard for adults and children. From my experience life is not a straight line nor smooth.  The rocks in the road can be insurmountable obstacles or learning opportunities.  This reminds me of a quote attributed to Mary Pickford, the actress: “Failure is not falling down, it is not getting up again”

Struggling students can benefit from PBL if they can find their passion.  As teachers, we model passion or the lack of excitement. I believe modeling passion about learning is an attractor for students.  Helping students who struggle find their way might be the best thing we do.

Here is an excerpt from a practitioner, Simon Ashby.  At the end of his list he talks about the “dunno” students.  I think this was a very good addition.

  • Genius Hour is going to be the hardest thing they’ve ever done.
  • It’s OK not to know what to do, how to do it, what your passion is etc.
  • Genius Hour is an opportunity to extend themselves beyond what you (and they) thought possible.
  • As your teacher, I’m more than happy to suggest some areas for you to go down, but the ultimate decision is yours.
  • Finally, you have your “dunno” children. Idealistic teacher: ‘What are you interested in learning about?” “Dunno”. “What do you do on the weekend? “Not much” etc. When you take your time to bore down into these children’s lives I’ve often found the “dunno” comes from fear of failure or standing out too much from fear of bullying etc. These children require simply, a poke or prod in the right direction, some structure to support them, the freedom to fail and lots of check-Ins from you. Contact @SimonAshbyNZ on Twitter.

Karen provides the following list of other practitioners with their contact information:

  • Miriam,
  • @rachoconnelll on twitter
  • @KyleHattie on twitter

In another chapter Karen provides tips to inform parents about PBL.  Many times when we try different teaching strategies we don’t share enough with parents.  I have found that parents are on a twenty year lag time.  They remember what school was like.  When school deviates from what they are familiar with, they question the change. We need to educate them as well.  Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at OECD wrote an article titled, “Educating students for their future, not our past.”  We will have to engage parents so they know what we are trying to accomplish and preparing them for an ever changing world.

The following is a list of 21st Century skills .Parents need to know what is going to be required in the future.

  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Information literacy
  • Media literacy
  • Technology literacy
  • Flexibility
  • Initiative
  • Productivity
  • Social skills

In another chapter Karen addresses what she calls the Responsibility Framework.  I like the acronym for learning  (OAR) and being a victim (BED).  If you want to learn, put your OAR in the water.  If you are a victim, you might as well go to BED and pull the covers up over your head.

Ownership Blame
Accountability Excuse
Responsible Deny


I wrote a new rule a year ago titled ‘Failure IS an Option.’

Karen put this in her book, “Failure is an Option – Simply learning from your mistakes teaches you so much.” It makes sense to me.

Here is a closing thought by Karen. This is an opportunity to allow your students to express themselves, to develop lifelong learning skills, be curious, find their passions and strengths.  As always, there is more in this book to help create learning opportunities for students.  I recommend this book for those who want to start using PBL as a learning strategy.  There are many templates and great questions in the text.