Curiosity and the Genius Hour

Last year Jami tried an experiment in Dayton's middle school. In it, she had her 6th grade kids go through an elective called Genius Hour to see how a time of unstructured curiosity might ignite passions for learning.

It was incredibly successful, so this year she is introducing that concept to all the students in her middle school. They will each be given a period a day for discovery.

The concept for the Genius Hour at Dayton was modeled after the Google's practice called the "20% Time". This practice was first described in Google's documents for their IPO back in 2004:

>"We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google," they wrote. "This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner."

From this practice, important products such as Gmail, AdSense and Google News were created.

While this practice is not universally being maintained at Google, its value as a concept and aspiration is still potent there. There has been a great deal written about this concept of Genius Hours. Learn more here .

What might happen, Jami wondered, if that aspiration was introduced to all middle school students at that critical time in their lives when they are embarking on their first steps to adulthood? How might this experience of unstructured curiosity help build the Creative Confidence needed to be successful in high school and beyond?

All of this got me thinking about the critical role of curiosity in the learning process. Intuitively we know that we learn more deeply when we are curious about what we are learning. But was there any scientific evidence of this correlation between curiosity and learning?

Turns out that there is. Back in 2014 a study was released by a team from UC Davis:

>The study revealed three major findings. First, as expected, when people were highly curious to find out the answer to a question, they were better at learning that information. >More surprising, however, was that once their curiosity was aroused, they showed better learning of entirely unrelated information that they encountered but were not necessarily curious about. People were also better able to retain the information learned during a curious state across a 24-hour delay. >"Curiosity may put the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it," explains Dr. Gruber.

It turns out that when we are curious, a reward system is created in our minds by the release of neurotransmitter called dopamine . With its release we feel more energized and joyful and that joy flows over to other areas of learning.

>"Once you light that fire of curiosity, you put the brain in a state that’s more conducive to learning. Once you get this ramp-up of dopamine, the brain becomes more like a sponge that’s ready to soak up whatever is happening.” source

Here is a TED talk given by the lead author about the research:

YOUTUBE SmaTPPB-T_s This is Your Brain on Curiosity

I love his idea of the "curiosity vortex":

>"Curiosity may put the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it."

It will be very interesting to see how this Genius Hour might improve the learning in core subjects for these middle school students.