When you hear the word “genius” perhaps your mind immediately thinks of Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein, but Friendswood ISD believes anyone can be a genius, no matter how famous or how old.
Genius Hour is something that was implemented across elementary schools in FISD four years ago. The idea was taken from big-business companies like Google and Microsoft who found that giving their employees time during their work week to pursue something they loved, increased productivity and creativity. Seeing the benefits, teachers and administrators worked together to assign a project where the students would be able to pick a topic of their choice and research it throughout the year during designated class time, then present their findings at a district-wide event.
This year, Windsong Intermediate third-grader Natalie Alnas decided to do her project over Jane Goodall, world-renowned primatologist and anthropologist, best known for her extensive work with chimpanzees.
“My sister told me about Jane Goodall, and I was a little bit obsessed with chimpanzees and I wanted to do a little more studying on them,” Alnas said with a smile. “I learned a lot.”
Alnas said her obsession with chimps started at a very young age.
“When I was four years old, I saw a little chimpanzee toy at the store and I begged my mom to get it for me,” Alnas said. “She bought it and I played with it all the time.”
What started as a love for a toy grew into a love for the animal the toy represented. Alnas began checking out books about chimpanzees from the library and her knowledge grew and grew, but she wanted to know more. So, when the opportunity came for Alnas to pick a subject for her research project, Goodall was the perfect fit. Little did she know, she would actually end up having the opportunity to hear from Goodall directly.
By chance, Alnas’ SEARCH teacher, Ann Moetteli, received an email regarding a live video-chat with Goodall.
“I couldn’t believe how perfect it was [that I got the email] because Natalie was doing her project over Dr. Goodall,” Moetteli said. “So, I immediately signed her up to be a part of it.”
Soon after, Alnas was able to sit in on the video-chat with an opportunity to learn from and listen to the woman she had been researching.
“At first, I was a little bit nervous, but then I was just excited,” Alnas said. “It was amazing.”
“It was a beautiful thing, it was magical,” Moetteli said. “What amazed me about Natalie was how much she knew. As we listened to Jane Goodall speak, Natalie was saying things before Dr. Goodall would even say it.”
After intently listening and vigorously taking notes, Alnas had an opportunity to take a selfie with Goodall (see below). She grinned from ear to ear in complete joy because though they were separated by a screen, they were connected by heart.
“[Alnas] has such a kind heart. Dr. Jane Goodall is such a gentle soul and Natalie is such a gentle soul,” Moetteli said. “It was such a good fit when she chose her.”
Their connection has beyond just the Genius Hour project. Alnas said she wants to follow in Goodall’s footsteps one day.
“[This project] made me want to become a zoologist when I grow up,” Alnas said. “People are cutting down trees and ruining animals’ habitats, so I want to make reserves for the animals.”
Goodall once said, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Alnas is already making a positive difference by being kind, continuing to learn and working hard. There is no doubt she will one day leave her mark on the world, just as Goodall has done and continues to do.