A Nebraska City teacher is taking a page from Google’s playbook to help engage her High Ability Learner students  this school year.
Kate Sherwin, HAL coordinator, heard a presentation about the Genius Hour concept at a conference for the Nebraska Association for the Gifted last year.
She put the program into action this year for her fourth- and fifth-grade students at Hayward Elementary and has been pleased with the results.
Students are working on projects as diverse as chicken coop construction; bake sale organization, marketing and execution; and  World War II historical research, said Sherwin.
“Rather than me saying, ‘this is what you’ll do,’ the students are chasing their passions,” she said.
Sherwin said Google allows its engineering staff to spend up to 20 percent of their time on pet projects.  The company reports that employee productivity is up, and Sherwin has seen her students’ work improve as well.
The students’ interest, achievement and quality of final product is up, she said, and she noted that some students are even delaying leisure activities like playing video games to work on their Genius Hour projects at home.
Sherwin said the student who started the chicken coop project has also learned about persuasive writing, change-making and local government as she researched city ordinances on the number of chickens that can be kept within Nebraska City city limits and the location of a coop within a yard.
She also learned about the different breeds of chickens, as well as where to obtain the birds once the coop is complete, said Sherwin.
“It’s something special to teach kids and learn alongside them,” said Sherwin. “They are excited to share with me what they learn that I don’t know.”
The student who wanted to organize a bake sale had to learn the basics of graphic design so he could create flyers to advertise the sale, which will benefit the Nebraska City Parks and Rec Department.
He started with a love of baking and cake decorating and refined his project into a fundraising sale, said Sherwin.
The student who is conducting World War II research  is looking for a local veteran or veterans to interview as part of his project.
Contact Sherwin at Hayward, 402-873-6641, if you would like to help the student complete his project.