Using Genius Hour Ideas in Math Class



One of my goals last year was to incorporate more student content creation in my classroom. The journey was challenging but definitely worthwhile. Students created a variety of projects that helped showcase their math understanding. There were elements of choice in the projects and I felt like student engagement and curiosity bloomed.

This year I’m trying something different. I’ve always been impressed with the idea of using genius hour in the classroom. What intrigued me was the student choice and engagement piece. The idea of students owning their learning and being intrinsically motivated to participant in the learning process is important. Hearing stories from Paul and Joy inspired me to think of ways that I could apply a genius hour philosophy in an elementary math classroom.

I had a few discussions with colleague and kicked around a few ideas on how to get started. I started off with an informal wonder wall. Students started to generate questions that they would like to answer. I soon found out that this was a challenging task for the students. They weren’t used to this type of assignment. When asked to create a question for the wonder wall they had trouble. Many students asked what I wanted and were unsure of what questions to create.  I showed the students the Google and Siri test. If the question that they came up with could immediately be Googleable or Siriable (words?) then they should probably find another question. This actually worked as the class used some horrible and decent examples. After a while and some modeling, students started to compile a few different questions.

I then placed the different math strands on the whiteboard: geometry, measurement & data, number & operations and algebra. The class then started to sort their questions into the different math strands.


Students decided on what math strand to emphasize and documented it on their recording sheet. The class then discussed the math genius project flow chart.

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 7.31.56 AM
Click for file

I wanted to give students a bigger picture of what’s going to happen over the next month or so. Since my classes only have about an hour to work on this project a week, it’ll probably take at least a month of sessions to finish. I really have no idea though. It could take a couple of months, but it depends on how the students progress.

After we reviewed the flow chart the class will be moving into the research portion. Students will use a variety of tools/resources to research their topic to find some sort of conclusion. The students will be using the sheet below to document their research.

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 7.36.04 AM
Click for file

So far so good. Next week the classes will continue to research their questions and think about what type of presentation tool they’d like to use. This is definitely a journey and I’ll be documenting our progress through this blog.

Additional files:  Source Sheet Check List


Author: Matt Coaty

I've taught elementary students for the past 14 years. I enjoy reading educational research and learning from my PLN. Words on this blog are my own.

6 thoughts on “Using Genius Hour Ideas in Math Class”

    1. I had students come up with a list of 5-6 possible questions. Most of the students came up with their own topics. Many of them were related to something that they were passionate about. I remember one student a few years back researched how green screens worked. Another students wanted to know more about stealth technology. Both of the kids ended up making a slide show to present their findings. I believe they both used geometry and measurement as their focus strands.


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