This is a guest post by A.J. Juliani is a co-founder of Education Is My Life. He currently is a K-12 Technology Staff Developer overseeing a 1:1 initiative. He also founded the non-profit organization “Project: Global Inform” and wrote The 2.0 Teacher in 2009.
Dorothy may be the most beloved and well-known teenager in any movie. Her line, “Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore…” has been quoted thousands of times. I think it is an apt metaphor for our current state of education.
When Dorothy had a problem in Kansas, she deals with it the old-fashioned way: asking adults for help. When all of the adults in her life fail to help her, she runs away from her problems, thinking that there is nothing she can do besides hide.
When she lands in Oz, one thing becomes clear: Dorothy will have to find her own path, make her own way, and solve her own problems. During her journey she connects with others who are “searching”, and they help each other reach their final goal.
Today in the world of K-12 education we have many students who are looking at teachers for all the answers. When they graduate from high school, they are left wondering what to do with their lives…and instead of living with purpose and following their passions, we have many young adults still searching well into their late twenties and early thirties.
I was like this too. Bogged down by coursework I shied away from delving into my interests during high school and college. I spent most of my time worrying about what I “had to do” versus what I would like to pursue. I’ve seen the same thing happen to my siblings and friends as well. The last thing I want for my students as a teacher is for them to “go through the motions”. I want to give them opportunities to explore their interests, create with purpose, and go deep into subject matter. This problem is what led to my experimenting with 20% time in the classroom, and it changed everything.
20% Time is a simple premise. Give your students 20% of their time to work on whatever they want in your class. The idea is derived from Google’s own 20% policy with their employees. In education we also have teacher running Genius Hour projects, Fedex Days, and Innovation days/weeks. Each of these ideas are rooted in the belief that students do much more, and learn so much more when we give them autonomy in their school work.
When I first announced 20% time to my students they acted like Dorothy when she landed in Oz. They realized quickly that this was not the “same old classroom” they were accustomed too. I was not going to give them an assignment, set up their 10 steps, and show them how to succeed. Instead, they would have to create their own path, make their own way, and reach out for the help of others to reach their final goal.
In the past year we have seen a boom in 20% projects and Genius Hour projects happening in the K-12 classroom. Amazing educators have pushed this movement forward, and Angela Maiers Choose2Matter campaign is another way for students to find their passions and learn with purpose. This July we are running a “20% Time MOOC”. The course offers two outcomes. Teachers will learn about the research behind Google’s 20% policy and how it can be applied in K-12 education; and, learners will also participate in their own 20% project throughout the course and present as a final product. I want to encourage you to join this MOOC and connect with so many teachers who are giving their students the power to choose (Access Code for the course is ZXQ2B-8CWMV).
When our students realize that it is them, and not the “wizard”, who has all the power…we’ll all be on the path to making a difference. Let’s make it clear that we are not in Kansas anymore, and it’s time for all of us to work together to reach that final goal.