Passion. Persistence. Being willing to ask advice, work together and explore different approaches to solve a problem. Being open to taking chances in learning about something by trying something new and keeping at it even if success doesn’t come right away.

All this, says SelfDesign educator Joanne DiGiuseppe, is part of what makes “genius” happen. Joanne has facilitated SelfDesign Learning Community’s popular Genius Hour since 2018. In that time, she has welcomed many learners to the online space to share their passions, interests, excitement and “genius” about whatever they’re working on in their learning.

Genius Hour is a cozy, welcoming real-time online space that allows learners in grades 3 to 9 to ask questions and share ideas. They learn the value of sharing their interests and see how they and others learn by witnessing the highlights, the struggles, and the challenges of learning. It also allows learners to get to know one another, make friends, have fun, laugh, share, be creative and explore together.  And in doing that, they can deepen their understanding of the notion of learning and of “genius.”

“Many learners aren’t sure what ‘genius’ means and can be a bit intimidated by the term,” Joanne says. “So we begin each session by brainstorming the notion of ‘genius.’ Someone might say, ‘Well, is it being really smart?’ And we ask, ‘What is ‘smart’? We dig down to find a comfortable place where learners come to realize that ‘genius’ is just really about sticking with a problem. It’s about being willing to fail and to try and try again, to have something crash or break, and to practise and work at it and ask for advice and help – all on the journey of learning to figure something out.”

The range of projects and questions that learners present is diverse, she says. “We’ve had learners at Genius Hour who performed their auditions for plays or TV or shared submarine designs or artwork. We’ve also had learners come in and say, ‘I’m stuck. I don’t have new books to read. What do you recommend?’ or, ‘I just got a goldfish, and I’m setting up an aquarium’ or learners who just introduce their cat.’ These sharings have led to so many really, really interesting discussions.”

All learners are welcome, whether they share something or just want to listen in.

“Kids come and show what they’re doing, or come and just watch and see what other kids are doing,” says SelfDesign’s Acting Principal of Educational Programs Catherine Dinim. “They come with families or a support person. They have their animals on their laps. They can engage in whatever way they feel comfortable.”

“If you have a question or problem you’d like help with, this is a great place to ask for ideas,” Joanne says. “The learners bring so much wisdom to the discussion – I’m continually floored by how creative they are and how supportive they are of each other. I learn so much from them every time.”

Learners can also continue the sharing after each session ends. Genius Hour has a discussion space on SelfDesign’s Village of Conversations online platform, where all members of the SelfDesign Learning Community can share and chat.

How can learners take part in Genius Hour? “What are you passionate about?” Joanne says. “What are you curious about? What do you want to share? What’s been exciting for you? Bring that and let’s talk about that. Let’s share ideas together.”

Genius Hour runs from 1–2:30 pm on one Monday each month from November to April. The next Genius Hour takes place Monday, April 12, 2021. This is a drop-in event; just show up.

Learn more on the SelfDesign Bulletin here (for members of SelfDesign only)