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20 tips for putting Google’s 20 percent time in your classroom

By Stephen Noonoo, Editor, @stephenoonoo
December 8th, 2014

2 innovative educators share tons of tips for creating innovative, inquiry-based classrooms in only one day a week

google-timeOriginally pioneered at places like 3M and HP, Google’s vaunted 20 percent time, which lets employees spend a full one-fifth of their time on passion projects, has spawned everything from Gmail to Google News. Now it’s gaining ground among educators who are carving out a chunk of their already-limited time with students to work on innovative inquiry-based projects that resonate on a deeper, personal level.

AJ Juliani, an ed tech innovation specialist at Upper Perkiomen School District in Pensburg, PA, piloted 20 percent time three years ago when he taught High School English at his former school, and since then, he’s authored Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom: Using 20% Time, Genius Hour, and PBL to Drive Student Success, and created a free course for teachers on his blog. Kevin Brookhouser, a high school English teacher at York School in Monterey, CA, has also run 20 percent time projects in his classroom and recently finished writing a book about his experiences, called The #20time Project after raising money through a Kickstarter campaign.

Recently, Juliani and Brookhouser shared their top tips for getting started, overcoming obstacles, and creating something students find truly meaningful.

1. Dedicate One Day A Week
When he began 20 percent projects in his classroom, Juliani decided to dedicate every Friday to the project, instead of 20 percent of each class day, which he found insufficient. “I wanted to give them the ability to get into that state of flow,” he says. “Giving them 10 minutes a day, they were never going to get into that.”

2. It’s Not Just for High School
Twenty percent projects can be used in any subject, and with any grade or skill level. “I’ve done genius hour at the elementary level all the way to doing it with teachers so it doesn’t really matter the level,” Juliani says. “It’s more or less how you’re structuring or framing it to what that actual subject or grade level is.”

3. Set Your Own Parameters
As English teachers, both Juliani and Brookhouser knew that students would be hitting standards just by virtue of all the speaking, listening, reading, and journal writing they’d be doing. For other subjects, they suggest setting parameters on a subject-by-subject basis. Math teachers, for example, might require students to do accounting or use equations to solve project problems.

(Next page: 4 inspiring student projects)