20% time was first introduced to the world back when Google decided to become a publicly traded company. In a state of the company address to the public, Google executives explained that they give employees time to work on projects other than those they specifically assign. They wanted employees to follow their passions and to use their interests to create solutions to problems. The 20% time was fairly unstructured in that employees were not forced to take it nor were they told when they could take it. They just had to be sure to complete their assigned work on time.
While this employee perk is no longer used wisely at Google, it was picked up by the education community. Teachers saw the value in letting students tackle a project of interest and take leadership in creating how the project would develop and be presented. Let’s take a deeper look what 20% projects can look like in the classroom.
How to set up a 20% project
Have students decide on the learning goals for project. This should be a topic that interest students and can be learned about over an extended period of time. Students should know that they will present those their learning process and product/project to a wider audience at the end of the given time.
Keep a daily journals. Students should keep daily logs of their process and progress. While they may not come away with something tangible at the end of every class period, they should be able to explain what they did and how that work fits into their final project.
Decide how to use class time. Not only will you need to set aside 20% of your class time in order to work on these projects, but you’ll also have to decide when the time will take place. For example, will you use 20% of your time each day, or will you set aside one day each week for focused work. You also need to define with students what work will look like in class. For example, students will need to do research, reading, prototyping, building, and possibly communicating with people outside of class. All of these activities should be written up in the students’ learning project report before the project begins.
Include frequent reporting. Every couple of weeks, have students meet with others to discuss the status of their project. Explaining where they’re at and what their goals are with the others may help students get new ideas on how to move forward. It also ensures that the time that you’re spending isn’t a complete waste, because students will be held accountable by each other.
Plan the final reveal. Students should have known the due date or presentation date since the beginning of project. On this day, you want to set aside enough time that each student will present their process, their findings, and their projects. This might be in a Ted Talk-style group presentation, it maybe a video, it might be a novel, etc.
Some 20% Time Project Ideas
20% time projects should help students learn new things and should challenge them in some way. This means that the projects don’t necessarily have to be academic. They can be about setting a goal for personal transformation or interest-based learning. Here are some ideas that you might suggest to students who have trouble coming up with their own topics and projects.
Learn a new instrument and play a song for the class
Do 25 pull-ups
Run a 5k
Write half of a novel
Start a blog and build a social media presence to gain followers
Write a story or article and pitch it to journals and magazines
Read 3 to 5 books by the same author and compare and contrast
Learn to code
Build an interactive map of your town or city with all of your favorite places
Plan, organize, and host an event for young children
Cook several recipes from one cookbook and then make revisions to write your own
Start a podcast on a topic that is interesting to you and seek out people to be interviewed or come on as guests
20% time is all about helping students follow their passions. How do you help students do this in your classroom?