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Pure Genius

Seventh grade students use their passions to make the world a better place during “Genius Hour."

Natania Christopher, Staff Writer

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Saving the Texas tortoise. Raising money for missions in Cuba. Warning about the dangers of kidnapping. Making bracelets to raise awareness and funds for the Dallas Zoo. Using art to encourage others.

These are just a few of the creative things being done in the Seventh grade Life Science classroom every Thursday. Each week, students get the opportunity during Genius Hour to work on a project that they are passionate about, using their talents to make a positive impact on the world around them.

Seventh grade Life Science teacher Ms. Tamara Addis was motivated to start Genius Hour by huge corporations like Google, 3M and Hewlett-Packard. These companies allow their employees to spend a part of paid time freely honing their own innovative ideas. 3M, known for its Scotch tape, Post-its, bandages and other adhesive items, has incorporated this system for over sixty years. In fact, it was during this “15 percent time” – paid time to work on creative ideas – one employee actually created the famed Post-it. At Google, employees have used their time to make several renowned innovations including Google Earth and Gmail, which now have over one billion users worldwide. During his time, an employee from major electronics company Hewlett-Packard greatly contributed to the creation of Hypertext Markup Language, or HTML, the code for designing websites.

Ms. Addis has been implementing Genius Hour in her classroom for three years now, requiring students to create and implement an idea, either by themselves or with a group that will ultimately become a finished product. She said, “This process allows the students to play an active role in how they obtain their content and knowledge for this project.  In other words, this is a student-centered project rather than a teacher-directed project.”

The students are graded on their progress with reports given to the teacher at various points throughout the year. This gives students the opportunity to space out the process and present their product at the very end of the year. Ms. Addis said, “I am looking for innovation and passion in this project, not simply a grade.  I want the students to be inspired, not by the grade they will receive, but by the project itself.”

At the beginning of the school year, students brainstormed about this ongoing project and submitted a proposal to Ms. Addis for approval. Some had trouble figuring out what they wanted to do for their project. This assignment was open-ended, so possibilities were boundless.

Seventh graders Madison Harris, Elliya Bannis and Olivia Blunt weren’t sure what they wanted to do, but then Madison had an idea. She said, “I saw a video on YouTube about kidnapping, and I thought it was interesting, so I thought, ‘Let’s make a book about it.’” Now, the three girls are writing a book about kidnapping. Olivia said, “We’re writing this book so that people will be aware of their surroundings. We thought it would be educational.”

Emma McWilliams received inspiration from her older siblings. She said, “My siblings go on the Cuba mission trip almost every year. And that’s what I want to do.” As a Seventh grade student, she can’t go on an international Minimester trip just yet, but she’s getting ready. She is raising money for the Cuba trip by making and selling necklaces.

Sam Blanton and Matthew Mortenson are working together to create a website about the Texas tortoise, a threatened species in North America. Sam said, “We just love animals, so we’re raising awareness and trying to keep people from harming them.”

Students have been working on these projects all year long. They have learned new skills beyond the Science classroom and improved ones they already had. Olivia, Madison and Elliya gained knowledge about writing and character development. Madison said, “We had to change the characters so much.” Sam and Matthew had to learn more about making websites. “We struggled with design and finding a template,” said Matthew.

At the end of the year, the students will present these projects that they’ve worked on since August. Some will continue working, further improving their projects and making them into something big. Through Genius Hour, each Seventh grade student is changing the world for the better, one Thursday at a time.

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