Genius Hour Sparks Passionate Learning at East Olympia Elementary


This year the fifth graders in Rizika’s class at East Olympia Elementary (EOE) are participating in Genius Hour. The student-driven program involves research and new learning culminating with final projects to be shared or published. Students can work alone, with a partner, or in a small group. Through speakers, field trips and research, students are tackling meaningful projects involving climate, professional careers and the importance of backyard chickens. Students are learning about the topics they’re passionate about, and then find a voice to make a difference.

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Guest Speakers Share Knowledge to Olympia Fifth Graders

The class has hosted many guest speakers, with topics from water testing and water bugs to understanding salmon as a keystone species. That even included a salmon dissection. Students hear about the importance of 3D printing, feral cat rescue and how to plan a food drive. Other subjects covered the impacts of climate change to include wildfires, fire safety and the importance of bees in our ecosystem. Students are soil testing, composting, and learning about mushrooms. The exposure to so many different careers has been an unexpected benefit of the visits.

Passionate Pussycats Feline Rescue visited the students at EOE. The 5th graders made cat toys and collected food. From left: Carly, CM, Mia, Jada and Diane. Photo credit: Dreya

Here is what East Olympia Elementary Students are Saying about the Genius Hour

“Because of my project I joined the Olympia Beekeepers Association, bought a beehive and bees and soon I will start making honey and be able to have a business selling honey,” explains CM. “Also, I called local nurseries to ask for plant donations so our class can create a bee garden at school.”

“I helped build a mini chicken coop with my dad and we are now using it as a brooder house for baby chicks,” says Sarah. “I sell chicken eggs, and I am saving money for my future.”

“Water testing is important because we need to know how healthy the water is for aquatic life, specifically salmon, a keystone species,” reports Byrnn. “To meet the needs of salmon, water needs to have a high level of dissolved oxygen, low PH and a cool temperature. We can do many things to help the salmon, for example, to raise the dissolved oxygen levels we can add more plant growth both along the streambed and in the stream. Plants provide oxygen and shade which helps to cool the water.”  

Graphic artist Ida Cornelia helped students create mixed media self portraits with watercolor and acrylic paints, colored pencils and markets. Braxton is working on his project. Photo credit: Jane Rizika

“I learned that 3D printing helps the environment by printing environmentally helpful things that act like the real thing, such as 3D printed coral that actually helps the ocean because it acts like a real coral,” says Annabelle. “3D is also used to print prosthetics, homes and meat. I plan to make 3D items to sell so I can buy more filament, and hopefully save some money.”

“We had a guest speaker, the founder of Passionate Pussycats Feline Rescue, and I learned about why it is important to rescue feral cats,” explains CB, who wanted to give a voice to homeless animals, specifically feral cats. “As a result, I planned and organized a food drive,”

“I had an iReady lesson about a reporter in elementary school, and thought to myself, ‘That sounds really fun! I’d like to do that,’” states Mia. “So, then I asked my friend Dreya if she wanted to start a monthly class newspaper and share Guest Speaker interviews with our class. She said yes, and so we have both learned about newspapers and journalists and why they are important to a community.”

Dreya (left) and Mia (right), both young writers, have been learning from guest speakers and student research on many fascinating topics through Genius Hour. Students make educational posters. Photo credit: Mary Ellen Psaltis

Ethan, who is interested in learning Spanish and being bilingual, is helping the Spanish teacher teach Spanish to the kindergarten classes.

The class has many expert peer helpers to go to when they need help with technology, peer editing, glossary, and citations. Everyone is interested in learning about other topics and helping each other out. Many have learned how to use Canva or a 3D printer.

Field Trips, Activities and Other Genius Hour Projects at Olympia School

Students visited the LOTT WET Science Center and Circle Hawk Farm. Four students participated in the Environmental and Literacy Sustainability Summit in January that was put on by Pacific Education Institute (PEI). They shared their project with K-12 students from all over Washington state including many state officials.

East Olympia Elementary 5th graders visited Circle Hawk Farm for site observations and sound mapping as part of the Genius Hour program. Photo credit: Jane Rizika

A group of eight students are representing EOE and Tumwater School District at the South Sound GREEN Congress this spring at The Evergreen State College. Students will share fall and winter water monitoring results with other students, compare data and problem solve solutions.

The East Olympia Elementary class made cat toys to donate to Feline Friends and organized a food drive. 

Families attended the Genius Hour East Olympia Elementary Open House on April 19, 2024, to see up close the many projects done by their students. Students consistently report on their evaluations that they are grateful for the Genius Hour, guest speakers and the correlating projects. They continue to be empowered and motivated to challenge themselves and reset goals as their projects evolved.  Everyone is interested in learning about the other topics and helping each other out. Learning can be amazingly fun! Learn more at the East Olympia Elementary website.

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