Bring Google’s ‘20% time’ to your classroom with passion-based learning | Teacher Network | The Guardian

Bring Google’s ‘20% time’ to your classroom with passion-based learningTeacher Adam Schoenbart gives his students an hour a week to pursue a topic that interests them – and it has transformed their engagementSchoolgirl making notes about experimentIn passion-based learning the process and product of learning are equally essential. Photograph: AlamyAdam Schoenbart, in New York, USTuesday 9 February 2016 07.00 GMTLast modified on Tuesday 9 February 2016 07.06 GMT Share on LinkedIn Share on Google+Shares62Comments2Save for laterHalf a century ago, a scientist called Art Fry added a little glue to the back of a piece of paper – and created the Post-it.Fry made this stationary staple at the science and technology company 3M during “15% time” – a scheme that allowed employees to spend 15% of their time pursuing their own ideas rather than simply completing tasks set by managers.It’s not the only occasion this approach has resulted in creative innovation. Richard Drew, again at 3M, created masking tape using the same approach and it was during Google’s famous “20% time” that Gmail was created. If it works for businesses, could it work for schools?In a traditional learning environment, teachers plan lessons and direct students with set goals. But some are now experimenting with passion-based learning, which involves students spending an hour a week on something they choose to study.Project-based learning: 10 top tips for schoolsRead moreLast school year, I put this idea into practice. For 10 weeks, my students dedicated one class period every Wednesday to a project they were passionate about. They brainstormed ideas for what they’d like to focus on. Many chose topics related to their future career interests or potential college studies. Ideas included studying the possibility of colonising Mars, the impact of bilingualism on the brain, the power of soccer to build community, how music affects teenage psychology and the statistics of Blackjack.In passion-based learning, the process and product of learning are equally essential. Students had to hand in work each week, and had deadlines for submitting short blogposts updating me on their progress and for writing an annotated bibliography. These checkpoints helped me assess progress and give consistent feedback. Investigations resulted in a final piece of work showing their learning. Students got to choose how to present their final projects, with submissions ranging from presentations to videos and websites.One young drama club student, for example, interviewed experts about how to become a successful actor. She created a website, sharing resources, advice, and expertise for students who wanted to pursue an acting career.Another student learned about the development, market and sale of pharmaceutical drugs. His mum did this for a living and he used the time to better understand her work. He interviewed her, researched the field and presented his findings to our class.When another student, Cynthia, told me she had interviewed a local politician I knew our 20% time was onto something important. Cynthia and three other students investigated the role of police racism and bias in law enforcement. They researched the topic and interviewed local police officers about how it affects our community.After a state senator spoke at the school, Cynthia interviewed him about the issue. The group followed up with an email and quoted him in their project, spontaneously becoming investigative journalists and real-life researchers. They learned about how law enforcement deals with issues of bias, obtained expert testimony from police officers and politicians, and surveyed classmates to get a better understanding of students’ perceptions of these issues. In the end they created a presentation for the class documenting their research, learning, interviews and findings.Because students followed their interests, not all topics were strictly academic, but new knowledge and skills were always evident. Given the importance of reflection, I asked students to write about their work, learning and growth. At the end they were expected to evaluate their own work by answering a set of questions such as, what skills they had learned during the process. While their learning impressed me, the passion, honesty, and the growth in their powers of reflection is what made the process truly educational.This isn’t about standards or grades, it’s about empowering students to own their learning. When we care or are excited, we do more and we do it better. Too much of students’ learning is micro-managed and controlled. Projects they choose and are passionate about are essential to a well-rounded education.Some students took on ambitious tasks that were unachievable. For example, one wanted to learn about steering columns in cars and make improvements in fixing up an old car. This was overly ambitious, so instead he learned all he could about the car and how it works, so one day he could become an expert an

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