By Mary Anne Mather, Managing Editor
TERC’s Using Data For Meaningful Change Blog

bo and girl lean over folders on a table and work on indpendent student projects

Photo Credit: Clyde Gaw, TAB Educator

 Too often, when people think about using data, they limit their thinking to consulting test and assessment data from state tests, to district benchmarks, to classroom assessments. And while consulting this level of data has its merits, being truly data-informed requires so much more! As teachers, we can come closer to “data-genius” if we tap the treasure-trove of data that a classroom genius hour reveals…

group of students work an selective parts of a mural of a cityscape

Photo Credit: Clyde Gaw
TAB Educator


Many years ago, as a young classroom teacher, my first- and second-grade classrooms were organized into learning centers. While I interacted with fluid small groups of students, the rest of the class worked independently at these centers. Several centers were obligatory daily—each offering differentiated choice activities. These obligatory centers focused on core curriculum subjects, with opportunities to learn new things, practice skills, and experiment. An additional visit each day, called “choice,” offered students the option to select from a variety of resources and suggestions that I provided, or to explore an independent study of their own. Independent studies might unfold as multi-day or multi-week collaborative projects, based on student interest and inclination.

When I recently read Angela Maiers’ blog entitled Genius Hour: Making time for passion in the classroom, I reflected on those classroom days and the “genius hour” I had provided for my students, although, back then, I never thought about it in quite that way. Coined by credit union manager Jen Shefner and popularized by Daniel Pink in his book Drive, genius hour means freeing up a regularly scheduled block of time for students or employees to follow their own interests, ideas, and creative pursuits. Genius!

Now, as a senior facilitator for TERC’s Using Data project, I am struck by a question (and an opportunity!). Not only does genius hour provide an environment of freedom-to-learn for students, it can inform teachers in so many useful ways. “What data might a teacher collect during genius hour?”

Here are just a few data-collection ideas that came to mind. This is the kind of data that informs pedagogy and taps student engagement:

Data Point: A student’s preferred learning method or style
Application: Use during lessons as an alternate or student-preferred approach to teaching new or difficult core content.

Data Point: A student’s special interests and areas of prior knowledge
Application: Tap later to motivate learning in core subjects and to celebrate expertise—especially for students who need the recognition that “I CAN learn. I know things.”

Data Point: The types of activities students gravitate to…or avoid
Application: Use the students’ preferred activities to make connections to math, reading, writing, science, etc. Particularly make explicit connections between preferred activities and the types of activities they avoid when left to their own devices. It’s easier to do something you think you don’t know when you start from a comfort zone.

Data Point: A student’s demonstrated core-subject knowledge and skills that surface during the duration of the genius-hour work
Application: What knowledge and skills do students know and understand that might not be revealed through traditional testing? This can be particularly illuminating when it comes to your English language learners. And, knowing what students know can influence placement decisions that lead to more equitable student learning opportunities.

What happens when students are given the time, resources, and opportunity to pursue what they are most passionate about? They willingly engage in authentic literacy, mathematical, scientific, and content-development activities. They feel valued as learners. And their teachers have a rich arsenal of data to inform lesson-planning and pedagogy.

Look again at the common core state standards: The problem-solving, language development, organizational skills, collaboration, analytical thinking, and presentation skills that are active components of genius hour activities are just the things we are asked to develop in our 21st century learners.

Thanks to Teaching For Artistic Behavior (TAB) for documenting genius hour in the art room and for sharing photos of student “genius’s” at work! The Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) concept enables students to experience the work of the artist through authentic learning opportunities and responsive teaching. Students create art related to their interests and passions; instruction is offered in the context of work that they have chosen. The successes of Genius Hour are seen in TAB studio classrooms every day. For more information visit

Others on genius hour and how it works:

Integrating Technology & Genius Hour: My Journey as a Teacher & Learner
Twitter: Gallit Zvi @gallit_z


Genius Hour—I Can’t Wait!
Twitter: @AllThingsUpper


Genius Hour in Room 8


A New Movement Ignites the Genius in Every Child
Twitter: @imagination


6th Grade Boy: “Art Should Be…Like the Whole School!”
Clyde Gaw’s Blog: Transition to Choice Based Art Education