Fourth graders explore passions with Genius Hour

Jordan Gerard

Kids may enjoy school and all its topics to learn, but what they really enjoy are passion projects.

This year’s Spring Grove Elementary fourth graders used their noggins to explore their interests in what was called Genius Hour.

Teacher Sarah Tollefsrud said the entire project was about student-driven learning, something Spring Grove School District has been increasing in the past two years.

“Kids get to do something they’ve always wanted to learn about or do,” she said. “It develops a sense of learning along with creativity and research.”

It also provides the opportunity to accomplish tasks and goals beyond school walls, such as make fishing poles, tie-dye shirts, woodworking, architecture and design such as computer, graphic and fashion.

Student Kya Deck said she explored crafts and learned how to make different things, such as an American flag made from popsicle sticks, a wind chime and many different designs of bracelets.

“I got a lot of crafts for my birthday and holidays,” she said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Deck said she would continue her crafting, but probably in the winter so she didn’t miss a moment of summer fun.

In order to complete fourth grade standards, students had to write a procedural text about how to make their project. 

The students started the project in March, and took some time during the school day and at home to finish them. In May, they presented the projects to their peers, the student body and teachers.

“A lot of it is the students themselves. They’re very creative, imaginative and pretty excited about it,” Tollefsrud said. “It’s their learning, their responsibility and they were accountable for it.”

Students were not graded on the projects, but had to pick three to five state standards that met their project. 

In addition to writing procedural texts (directions), students could choose to write a short research paper. 

“It’s a nice match to what we’re kind of envisioning for the future,” Tollefsrud added. “Anytime kids are invested to what they’re learning, they’re really learning. It’s an experience rather than just a lesson.”

This is not the first time a fourth grade class has experienced learning on their own. Erin Becker also had her fourth grade class do passion projects last year.

In addition to helping students take charge of their own learning, the projects also allow them to fail, which in turn allows them to learn from mistakes.

“We encourage them to make mistakes. It’s not going to be perfect ... because that’s life,” Tollefsrud said. “Learning is from mistakes and progress.”