Editor's Note

20% Time

Sit down with any parent and ask them to tell you about their child. You will not hear them brag that their child is exactly the same as their neighbor’s child. You will hear about their child’s interests, the things that excite them, what makes their child unique. To a parent talking about their child, being unique means “being different in a good way.” If uniqueness is a quality that we admire, why then do our schools try to fit all students into the same mold?

“Restructuring Education Pedagogy: A Model for Deep Change,” a report from the Media Laboratory, at MIT, summarized the issue this way..., “Current educational philosophy tends to focus on the means to provide ‘information’ to the masses. This leads to standardized tests that draw out this ‘information’ and those who can extract it are judged to be ‘educated’ or ‘intelligent’ — but this is not intelligence, nor does it assess a person’s knowledge, which is a person’s ability to organize and appropriately apply information. This approach/belief merely develops a generation of people who will make great game-show contestants but does little to provide future adult citizens with needed problem-solving skills. It develops rule-based learners in an era that needs model-based reasoners and systems thinkers.”

So, how can we improve education and reinvigorate our students? We can take a deeper look at what is known as 20% Time. This model, made popular by Google, gives employees one-fifth of their time to work on projects of their own choosing — empowering employees, spurring creativity, innovation and ideas. This is a model that can be applied in our schools. A.J. Juliani, a tech staff developer and education author writes that “what 20% Time allows students to do is pick their own project and learning outcomes, while still hitting all the standards and skills for their grade level. In fact, these students often go ‘above and beyond’ their standards by reaching for a greater depth of knowledge than most curriculum tends to allow.”

Instead of talking about standardization and what makes everyone the same, like our parents, it’s time to be talking about what makes us unique. Allow students to explore what they are passionate about. Encourage innovation and creativity. School can become more interesting and engaging for each and every student.

This article originally appeared in the School Planning & Management July 2013 issue of Spaces4Learning.