Students Working on Computers

Dream Class: Using Google’s 20% Time to Build Student Engagement

Enhance engagement in your classroom and libraries with 20% Time! Get started with advice from educator Kristen Strickland.

Remember being a new teacher and your dream class consisted of students following their interests, organically growing into whatever they wanted to be? Learning would happen at their own pace and according to their curiosity. 

You may think that those early teacher dreams were just a fairy tale? I’d say not. 

According to Jillian D’Onfro of Business Insider, Google uses a workplace concept called “20% Time” to build employee productivity. Employees take 20% of their workweek to focus on projects of their own innovation. From Google’s “20% Time,” we have gained advances like Google News and even Gmail (“The Truth about Google’s Famous ‘20% time’ policy”).

Sounds a lot like that dream class, right? Many teachers across the country have adopted this concept. If you do a quick search on YouTube of “20% Time Project,” you will see some incredible presentations displaying students’ capabilities when given the reins of their own learning.

Natalie DiFusco-Funk uses passion projects, very similar to “20% Time,” to create a school fair around student research.  Watch her experience on eMediaVA and learn her expectations as students explore their own interests and present them to the school in this video.

I’ve implemented “20% Time” during our schools’ core-plus bell or flex time. For two weeks students are able to research anything they want as long as they can present it to the class on the third week using Google Slides. Through these presentations, I’ve learned what makes a great tackle in football, how the catacombs in Paris were created, what makes the best brownies, and the top colleges for sports scholarships. But even more, I built a rapport with my students, which helped classroom management tremendously!

You, too, can take on passion projects or “20% Time” with your students. You can make it as big or small as you like. Present your own project to the students, also! I guarantee that you will learn more about your classes, and reciprocally, they will be more invested in your instruction.

Here are some resources to help you get started:

Why 20% Time is Good for Schools | Edutopia

What Is 20% Time? | Cult of Pedagogy

How 20 Percent Time Projects Enhance Engagement

9 Fine Ways To Do Better 20% Time | Cool Cat Teacher

Kristen Strickland is a Technology Integration Specialist in Chesapeake Public Schools and is an eMediaVA Ambassador.

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