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Genius Hour: Turning passions into life lessons
MUSD story pix
Stella Brockman eighth graders who explained their projects to the Manteca Rotary were, from left, Kaila Gueucio, Ashley Beck, and Julia Erdman. At left is eighth grade teacher Christina Hansen and at right is Principal Candice Espinola. - photo by GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

Stella Brockman teacher Christina Hansen has created a junior high version of the hit reality series “Shark Tank”.

But instead of coming up with business proposals to pitch to investors they’re picking projects that they have a passion about by outlining to teachers what they hope to learn, do research, produce the project, and then making a presentation.

Stella Brockman School dubs it “The Genius Hour”.  The 170   seventh and eighth graders involved are learning time management, getting a sense of potential careers, and are realizing why they need math and science. At the same time it gets them to start thinking about course studies and electives they want to purse in high school.

“They learn the value of math and science,” Hansen said of the students who discover that the projects they select and successfully pitch all require those two disciplines whether it involves cooking to explore their passion of wanting to be a chef or building a heart model on a 3-D printer as part of their exploring a possible career as a surgeon. “Seventh and eighth graders are typically motivated (to apply themselves) so they can get a good grade.”

It is part of Stella Brockman’s effort to plug their students into the Manteca Unified emphasis on career pathways. The district’s goal is to get students to look at various career options before they enter high school. That way they can select a course of study so they don’t flounder in high school and are able to take the steps once they graduate from high school to allow them to pursue the education they need to succeed in their chosen field.

“There’s a lot of self-reflection,” Hansen told the Manteca Rotary Thursday during their noon meeting at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room.

District Superintendent Jason Messer and other Manteca Unified leaders were concerned about how district graduates mirrored what happens nationally in terms of them enrolling after high school into programs such as community colleges but then a high number failing to complete post-secondary education.

“The Genius Hour” is designed to address that concern by getting students prior to high school to explore and get an understanding of the skill sets and education needed to pursue various careers.

Hansen said some of the projects the students have been working on for the past several months for a presentation in May could end up not working as planned.

“Failing in itself is a valuable lesson,” Hansen said. “You start looking at (the project) and asking how can I do this better next time.”

The program also helps teach life skills and even team work.

One student, as an example, is producing a video. After researching what it involved and then writing a script, editing and rewriting the script other students stepped up to help her by acting in the video as well as assisting with the production while also pursuing their own projects during the time set aside each day for “The Genius Hour.”

And in making their presentation not just in front of classmates and their teacher but other schoolmates and adults it will help sharpen public speaking and communication skills.

Messer has noted that in talking with employers soft skills such as time management, communicating effectively in person, team work, and being focused are among the biggest deficiencies in students not being prepared for the workplace.

Hansen — who pitched the idea for the program to Stella Brockman Candice Espinola and has fashioned lesson plans for “The Genius Hour” — stressed the program’s success is an effective team effort of the seventh and eighth grade teachers involved.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email