Sunday, June 2, 2013

20-Time and Genius Hour in the Classroom

"Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved."
                                                                   -Ralph Waldo Emerson

The concept of 20-Time or Genius Hour in the classroom comes from the autonomous style of companies like Google, 3M, Best Buy, etc... that gives employees time to investigate, research, or create whatever they would like to.  Google, for instance, gave engineers 20% of their work week to work on whatever they wanted to work on.  Most of the engineers used this time to try out an idea that they thought would work, and it led to some amazing discoveries such as Gmail, Google News, and many more.  Many companies are now copying this concept and trying to allow their employees to create and innovate.

Can this model be replicated in schools?  When explaining this model to most people the first message that comes up is that Google has ultra-motivated employees that can make this work.  In schools in could never work.

After doing this for a few years, I disagree with this statement.  The goal of classroom 20-Time is not the same as the goals that Google has.  In the classroom I want students to:

*  Learn the big concepts about the topics I teach
*  Be introduced to facts and vocabulary about these topics
*  Learn how to Learn
*  Become enthusiastic about learning and education
*  Become passionate about a topic
*  Develop 21st Century and soft skills in order to prepare for life

The 20-Time concept is amazing at helping accomplish this in the classroom.

Teachers are bogged down with an overwhelming amount of standards and benchmarks.  For this reason most teachers put their heads down and plow through content as fast as they can in order to have students "know" everything that they were supposed to know.  Is this good?  I always felt that students knew this information for the test, but would not remember it later.  Now, after rounds of testing this thought, I have repeatedly seen this to be true.  Students retain very, very, very little of the information that we are forcing down their throats.

This entire last paragraph was about only one of the things that I want my students to accomplish....and that is the Trivial Pursuit facts about the content.  At this point the students are usually too overwhelmed to understand the concepts, as they are busy cramming in all of the fine details and attempting to predict which ones will be asked on the standardized tests they will be given.

Learning how to learn?  Becoming enthusiastic or passionate?  Developing 21st century skills?  NO WAY!  These areas have been harshly neglected from our education system and our schools for far too long.  Most students that I encounter "hate school", "hate math", "hate reading", "hate science" and this is all before I get to spend one second with them in the classroom.  Why, in a country in which we spend about $12,000 per child so they can have a guaranteed access to an education, do the students act like they are being punished for having to go?  There are not many students that look at it like a free $12,000 scholarship and for an opportunity to improve themselves.  I know that many will say that there are plenty of students that are motivated to do this, but I do not believe the % is very high.  Most of the students that do appear to care are simply grade chasers who would rather have an "A" and learn nothing than get a "C" and learn a LOT.  They have been trained to play a game called "school".  Many of the students that do actually care about becoming educated are ones that have a strong social structure outside of the school, which helps reinforce this desire.

Enter the 20-Time concept.  Give students 20% of the school week to learn about whatever they want to learn about from cooking, to mechanics, to writing a novel, to computer coding, to dinosaurs, to submarines, to whatever.  I was shocked at how many students would actively seek information, knowledge, skills, strategies once they were given this time.  It allowed me to teach time-management skills, collaboration, communication, research, and a bunch of other skills better than I ever had before.  I saw a lot more smiles, a lot more engaged students and a whole different vibe (on those days as well as the regular days).

The most moving observation, was that many students who had been written off by all teachers as "lazy" and "uncaring" thrived in this environment.  I had several times in which teachers came down to observe "so and so" working on this big project that they could not stop talking about because they couldn't believe it was really happening.  Also, there was another extremely important observation made.  Many of the students that struggled during this inquiry-based and autonomous time, were students that were dubbed "great students" with straight A's and excellent standardized test scores.  When the game changed, however, into a more "real-life" game, they struggled mightily.  Many did not have the ability to be self-directed, manage time, be creative, or inquire about a topic.  This was such an important discovery because it allowed me to work with them on improving these skills that they were desperately in need of before they were thrust into the real world, which is not as forgiving.

I cannot emphasize enough the amazing benefits that were achieved through implementing 20-Time.  I always find myself in defense of this time because for some reason, teachers seem to be afraid of it.  They seem to be afraid to give up 20% of their time.  They seem to be afraid to give up control of their classroom.  I have seen the opposite happen.  By implementing (not giving up) 20% of the time, I have had an opportunity to teach many skills and interdisciplinary concepts that I would not have otherwise.  Also, the other 80% of the time was much more productive because students were learning how to learn and seemed to have a new found respect and enthusiasm for the process of education.  I challenge you to give it a try.  I do not think you will be disappointed.

***  I receive no commission off of anyone implementing 20-Time and you do not hurt my feelings if you hate it.  I just wish your students could have the opportunity to try it.

Please check out work done by many of the experts of 20-Time or Genius Hour.  They have a ton of great stories and strategies to share.  This includes:

*  Joy Kirr -  and
*  Denise Krebs  -
*  A.J. Juliani -
*  Kevin Brookhouser -
*  Gallit Zvi -
*  And a bunch of others.

Check out this resource as well:  Kate Petty's 20-Time in education:



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  3. Thanks for sharing Oliver. I found your comments really inspiring and innovative. Keep uo the great work!


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