Students are capable of doing fantastic things in their schools, but the confines within their education system restrict their opportunities to do so. To witness the brilliance of any student, they must be given the control to lead their own projects and become empowered by them. This connection is what makes a learning experience valuable.

Last year, a course called Genius Hour was first introduced for 6th graders at Dayton Junior High School. This rotating course gives students time to dedicate their learning to something they’re passionate about, without traditional curriculum constraints. The class is focused on take-charge learning, rather than compliance-based learning. Genius Hour is helping students build leadership and problem-solving skills, as well as develop their individual interests.

In Genius Hour, students are given the resources to explore their extensive interests and skills, with the purpose of building themselves up as learners. Many students have gravitated towards art, photography, or music projects, while others have taken on a more technological approach, like designing animations. There are also some students who have delved into scientific topics like physiology and anatomy, as well as students who are exploring physical construction. This student-lead classroom environment has been highly valuable for both the students involved and their teachers.

Isai Muñoz is an 8th grader in Genius Hour. He is studying the human body, to sculpt a mini, anatomically accurate human internal system out of clay. He says: “After I started this project, I found a reason [to become more involved]. This is what made me so interested in it.” He states that in contrast to his other classes, he was less likely to become frustrated in Genius Hour due to its open-ended nature. He felt motivated to dig deeper into his original ideas and create something interesting and important on a personal level.

This hands-on method of learning is important to the growth of any student or leader. It requires self-discipline, drive, and dedication: all things necessary for a powerful learning experience. Jennifer Shilhanek, a Genius Hour teacher, says: “Some kids don’t know how to effectively problem solve. This is a repercussion of what we’ve created: compliant learners.” She believes that students are much more brilliant than they’re often given credit for and when they are put in a box, their brilliance doesn’t have a chance to shine through.

It has become clear that students must be given more freedom. When a student cares about a project, one that is rightfully their own, they are able to create something valuable that surpasses set expectations.

Genius Hour sends a message to students in the classroom that is not “do this for me to get the A.” Rather, “do whatever is significant and impactful to you.” This control gives students a greater purpose that is so important to their educational growth. It gives them the resources and support necessary to orchestrate amazing projects.

Dayton Junior High is helping a generation of students build their talents, establish their interests, and gain confidence. There is an immense power in embracing classroom individuality and Dayton School District is witnessing this power firsthand.

Bevin Schrag Administrator

Bevin Schrag is a writer for Innovate Oregon. While working in social media and marketing at OnlineNW, she is currently studying the arts at Chemeketa Community College, to later become a media designer.