Design Thinking during the Genius Hour process

“How might we use Design Thinking and ICT to increase student engagement and motivation during the inquiry process?”

The CEOM ICON Research Schools Project aims to research powerful approaches to learning and teaching that harness the richness of technology in order to provide opportunities to transform learning. As a participating school we are supported to conduct our own research in our setting. Together with other participating schools, we are invited to produce artifacts to inform the CEOM system towards ICON.

This is a reflection for our school’s progress in 2014.

For our school, our Inquiry question was:

  • How might we use Design Thinking and ICT to increase student engagement and motivation during the inquiry process?

In particular, we wished to apply this question to our Genius Hour program in Years 5 and 6. The Design Thinking process and tools were used for both staff planning when designing learning opportunities for students, as well as mapping the current Genius Hour program against this process.



In Genius Hour, students develop personal questions of their choice and research and present in any method they wish. They are able to work collaboratively or independently towards an action, and is a form of Passion Based Learning that follows a line of inquiry.

Students have already been visibly engaged and motivated during the Genius Hour program. However, as a relatively new program which was introduced last year, the team felt that there were opportunities to strengthen the process of inquiry within Genius Hour as well as consolidate and build upon the use of ICT.

In Years 5 and 6, students are provided with one-to-one access of a Windows 8 ultrabook. In Genius Hour, students use technology to:

  •  Submit proposals: via a Google Doc shared between the relevant teachers and students. Comments can be made as feedback during the proposal and planning stages.
  •  Conduct research: using Google Search on the World Wide Web, as well as World Book Online.
  •  Create products: producing video and pictures, designing websites, or coding games and applications. At times this includes the use of personal technology that students are encouraged to bring.
  •  Share learning: via a Google Presentation, shared between the relevant teachers and students.
  •  Communicate learning: via the Year 5 and 6 blog, where final projects are posted for the wider community. A selection of students also shared their learning via Google Hangouts to reach the parent and wider community.
  •  Collaborate and extend beyond their community: Some students worked with another school (St. Francis of Xavier Primary School in Box Hill) who were also doing Genius Hour using the Google Apps platform.

The aim of our research was to examine ways in which we can use design thinking and consider the use of technology to further strengthen the inquiry process throughout Genius Hour, so as to improve student engagement and motivation.


Measures of success

From a qualitative standpoint, we hoped that if we succeeded we would see an improvement in:

– engagement

  • less off task behaviours.
  • increased ownership of projects.
  • increased quality of projects (depth of questions).
  • increased positive attitudes towards Genius Hour.

– motivation

  • increased perseverance throughout the process.
  • increased impact of projects (in terms of a positive influences unto others).



Through NoTosh resources and support with the work conducted at the CEOM leadership days and team based days, several deliberate actions were introduced to the Genius Hour program:

Immersion / synthesis:

  • Viewed St. Francis of Xavier Primary School’s (Box Hill) Genius Hour presentations on Google Hangouts
  • Generated ideas using “100 ideas in 10 minutes” and evaluated them
  • Categorised questions as “Googleable vs Non-Googleable” using a filter
  • Presented provocations from the Google Science Fair and example of IBM’s Watson Super Computer
  • Developed questions using the Complex Questions Matrix
  • Gave the opportunity to a few students to work with another school on a joint Genius Hour project effort. Students at St. Francis in Box Hill who are also doing Genius Hour were able to work with students from St. Mark’s using the Google Apps platform



  • Communicated progress of projects on the Year 5 and 6 blog
  • Gave opportunities for feedback (kind, specific, useful) in small groups at various stages


Exposition / Presentation:

  • Uploaded all projects to the Year 5 and 6 blog.
  • Shared learning (10 groups) on Google Hangouts to an estimated audience of 300. Participants answered questions from viewers outside of the St. Mark’s Community.

These actions can also be viewed via this Thing Link.

As a third and fourth generation of the Genius Hour program, a lot of improvements have been observed anecdotally:

Quality and depth of projects – When comparing the sets of questions and projects against previous iterations of Genius Hour, students have been far more creative, original and inquisitive in their research. The deliberate teaching of a “Non-Googleable” question to this part has been instrumental, as has been the high bar and expectation for students for their projects to be meaningful.

Perseverance and engagement in students – In this iteration of Genius Hour, the teachers have observed increased determination and perseverance. As a long-term activity, students in the past have become disinterested or “lost” with their projects. There has also been increased enthusiasm and excitement for the times in which students are given specific time to work on their projects at school.

Ownership and collaboration amongst peers – A problem with Genius Hour in the past has been with medium to large sized groups, which can be dominated by a few students, or have timid students reluctant to participate. There has been a lot more shared ownership of the projects, leading to less “bystanding” and more active participation.


As part of our evaluation, we developed a survey to ascertain the attitudes and behaviours towards Genius Hour. 103 responses were collected out of 126 students. Students were asked to what extent they were enjoying Genius Hour this term, and then to respond by explaining their answer:

 gh feedback 1

low responses

medium responses

high responses

“Well this year it is different and so the question is harder to make so did not get to do a topic that I was interested in”

“I like it a little because last year they got to do it on whatever they want they could even make a game”

“I love working with other people but my group members muck around and we never get our work done”

“I’m enjoying the freedom of doing whatever you like but I not enjoying it because I’m falling behind, so to fix that problem you should give us more time.”

“We can use our own creative talents and we can make it our own project. Also we can do it with who ever we like and be fun and creative with it. Plus it is easier to learn what you’re interested in!”

“I like doing Genius Hour because I take more control of my learning and I like doing Genius Hour because it challenges me.”

Students were then asked to rank their agreement on the following statements:

Genius Hour makes me happy Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 2%

Neither Agree or Disagree 20%

Agree 52%

Strongly Agree 25%

Genius Hours inspires me to try something new Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 1%

Neither Agree or Disagree 9%

Agree 57%

Strongly Agree 33%

Genius Hour challenges my thinking Strongly Disagree 1%

Disagree 1%

Neither Agree or Disagree 15%

Agree 52%

Strongly Agree 31%

I feel energised during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 5%

Neither Agree or Disagree 32%

Agree 43%

Strongly Agree 20%

Doing Genius Hour is useful for me Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 3%

Neither Agree or Disagree 25%

Agree 52%

Strongly Agree 19%

I am bored during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 41%

Disagree 44%

Neither Agree or Disagree 13%

Agree 2%

Strongly Agree 2%

Genius Hour is interesting for me Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 0%

Neither Agree or Disagree 14%

Agree 52%

Strongly Agree 34%

I want to do well during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 0%

Neither Agree or Disagree 6%

Agree 36%

Strongly Agree 58%

I care about my work and efforts during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 0%

Neither Agree or Disagree 6%

Agree 41%

Strongly Agree 53%

I am “in the zone” during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 2%

Disagree 3%

Neither Agree or Disagree 41%

Agree 41%

Strongly Agree 14%

I use my time effectively during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 3%

Neither Agree or Disagree 19%

Agree 57%

Strongly Agree 20%

We also collected data from teachers in other year levels on the Open Expo day, as we thought it might be useful to seek from teachers external and independent to the year level:


“There was a wide range of projects that reflected the children’s interests and ability.  The children that I spoke to were able to talk about the reason why they chose their particular area so I was able to see the purpose behind it. I enjoyed looking at the journey, not just the finished product.  I also noticed that for some students the journey will continue.

No matter how big or small the project was, all students were very proud to showcase their work and get feedback from their family, peers and teachers.”

“What an incredible celebration of creativity and imagination! The students appeared excited by their chosen field and proud of their accomplishments. They seemed to be more willing and able, this year, to discuss their work with depth and clarity. I was very impressed by the students’ use of trial and feedback to test and refine their work before showcasing it.”

“I was very impressed with the level of research and how well some students explained their research topic. The students were very engaged and very enthusiastic to show off their designs and outcomes.”

“A brilliant Genius Expo that showed imagination has no limit. It was a privilege to witness the journey (struggles, failures, successes. breakthroughs, frustrations…) and to experience the destinations. Not only was the learning and skills that were gained evident, self esteem of all the participants oozed from their presentation sites regardless of whether they had achieved their goal. Visible learning in action! Strong, focused leadership! And the Google Hang-out…so cool! Hope all of our school got to see it.”

“The time and effort the students put in was evident in the depth of their work. There was a genuine knowledge and passion coming from the kids about their chosen topics. It was very clear the children had control over the development of their projects and it was great to see a wide range of topics and interests investigated. No two projects were the same. I think it agave our 3/4’s something to aspire to, they came back inspired, with open eyes excited to tackle their own inquiry.”

Whilst there have been some positive gains in light of the teacher and student data, we feel there is still room for improvement.

 One of the key principles of Genius Hour is for students to make a meaningful impact on their wider community. Whilst some students appear to have the correct intention and motivations, we feel that on the whole students were not following through with their impact. After designing a graphic to assist students to reflect on their intended impact, it was clear that most students genuinely wanted to have a reach far beyond what they achieved but required assistance to do this.

Moreover, as highlighted by the student survey, they are some negative feelings towards Genius Hour. We feel that this could be a barrier to engagement and motivation if we are not effective in communicating the process or ideas behind Genius Hour for all students.

Design Thinking is a relatively new process and concept for the team but it has certainly made an impact. From a teacher standpoint, it has promoted critical and creative thinking that has improved the quality of the inquiry process.

Further resources

Term 2 Projects

Term 2 Hangout

Term 4 Projects

Term 4 Hangout

What do students at St. Mark’s think about Genius Hour?


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