REXBURG — A Madison Middle School fourth grade teacher is inviting community professionals to visit her class to share their talents, skills and knowledge during “Genius Hour” held every Thursday morning. The hour is set aside for locals to share their expertise on subjects that could be of great interest to fourth graders.
Sharee Barton recently asked residents via Facebook to help with her students’ various projects. Locals quickly responded and have volunteered to help with cupcake decorating, cardiology, map making, electrical engineering, drawing and playing the ukulele.
“I’ve just been so impressed with the community, and with people willing to come share their talents and to volunteer,” she said. “It’s made my students feel really special to have someone that I don’t know, and that they don’t know, to give up an hour to work with them. It gives more value to their project, and is a huge compliment to the students.”
Barton holds her “Genius Hour” every Thursday from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. for her students to study a subject they’re passionate about with someone who knows much about it.
“Passion is bigger than any other motivator you can find. Students work best if they get to pick their passion,” she said. “I don’t always have talents in those areas, but that’s okay. It’s their project. They’re supposed to be doing the research,” she said.
Once students decide on a subject to study, Barton reviews their proposals.
“They have to set up a really good strategy for reaching those goals that I have for them. I have found that the byproduct of “Genius Hour” is something very hard to rein in, in other settings. They are learning what they want to learn about. Teaching them how to is fun,” she said. “Teaching them how to write is engaging, having them writing about something they’re passionate about and teaching them critical thinking skills with something they’re passionate about, is really easy.”
Prior to starting their project, Barton’s students must present her a “driving question” on their chosen topic. From there, Barton reviews her students’ progress and looks for what she calls “helpers” or adults familiar with a topic to help further pupils’ project.
Once students have gathered their research, they’re asked to present what they’ve discovered and to later implement their project in some way.
“It can’t be opinion. It has to be rooted in the solution and rooted in research. They have to share or serve somewhere with their research, and the information that they have,” she said.
Barton says that the fourth day of the week proves a fun time for everyone.
“When you walk into my classroom on a Thursday, there will be three to seven adults working in small groups of students,” she said. “It’s kind of a three-ring circus, but I find it’s quite energizing.”
Following students’ work with their adult helpers, they meet with Barton to review their progress.
“At the end of the day, students write me a ‘reflection’ of what they did, what they learned, and what they’re going to do next,” she said.
Barton says that the amount of time it takes students to finish projects varies.
“It’s an ongoing project. The projects sometimes take three or four months to complete. It’s an in-depth experience,” she said.
Barton finds that students continue with their areas of interest well after leaving her class. She noted one student who learned to crochet during “Genius Hour”.
“Every time I saw her in the halls for the next three years, she was crocheting. It was a hobby. She could make gifts for family members,” she said. “I think some of the students are thinking about a career, but some of them are thinking about hobbies.”
The young girl became the only person in her family who crocheted.
“She was able to start something new. I try to encourage kids to do something they don’t know that much about. If they have some knowledge of it, it’s not as fresh. The journey doesn’t seem to be as powerful,” she said. “Something brand new is very powerful. It’s something they’ve always wanted to learn about but haven’t been given the opportunity. Life is busy, and it’s not on their homework list.”
Barton recalled two young boys interested in basketball. The boys’ driving question was “What does it take to be a good basketball coach?” Barton said.
“They sent emails to coaches they knew. They researched beginning basketball skills in chronological order to teach beginning basketball to players. For their final project, they held a basketball camp and offered it to young siblings to students in my class,” she said. “We had 10 kids come to their basketball camp for three days. So they learned organizational skills and learned how to be leaders. The byproducts of ‘Genius Hour’ are endless.”
One of Barton’s students was interested in making films and used “Genius Hour” to create his own YouTube video.
“One year I had a student whose driving question was ‘Can a fourth grader write, produce and edit his own movie?’” she said.
Barton got the idea for “Genius Hour” several years ago while attending a conference where she learned about a teacher who came up with the idea from Google. The company allows its workers to spend 20 percent of their workweek on a project of their own choosing that is also job related.
“By doing that 20 percent time, g-mail was created and lots of other things. That’s one of the most prominent that everyone knows about,” she said.
A teacher later coined the phrase “Genius Hour” to give youth an hour a week to work on areas of interest.
As for the community’s reaction to her request, Barton says she knew the community would be willing to help during “Genius Hour”. She’s been most appreciative of that support.
“I’m just thrilled — not surprised — thrilled. Rexburg is just a community that does this kind of stuff. Rexburg is a supportive community,” she said.
The Barton family moved here after having a positive experience with residents while passing through.
“I remember when we very first came to visit, we ran out of gas one mile from the exit. Within just minutes, this total stranger, took my husband to get some gas. That’s one of the reasons why we moved here. Rexburg is a supportive community,” she said. “I wouldn’t say I was surprised by the help (for my class), but I’m very pleased,” she said.
Barton says that while she got a good response, she still needs another person to help a student in the art department.
“I just asked a week ago, and I got everything I needed but one. I’m still looking for an oil painter,” she said.