For one day a week, AJ Juliani's 11th Grade English class gets to do whatever it wants. That's "whatever" as in anything - anything at all. Juliani means business too. The project his students will be spending 20% of their time on in the coming semester is not 'read and report on any work by an early transcendentalist', nor is it 'choose any of the following four essay prompts to use as the basis for your term paper'. Their task is quite literally to work on any project of their choosing. As Juliani put it on his assignment sheet: "Have fun. Find your passion. Explore it. Enjoy learning what you want."
Juliani's experiment is based on Google's "20% Time" policy, which allows each of its employees to spend one fifth of their workweek on anything that interests them. The Huffington Post article
that inspired Juliani's great endeavor reports that half of all Google's products since 2009 (including Gmail) began as 20% Projects. Allowing leeway for this sort of entrepreneurial experimentation is a trend thats sweeping through industry, as R&D divisions worldwide realize that trusting in the passions of their engineers is a lucrative business. It's these very same passions that Juliani hopes to stir in the hearts of his students. He says that one of his primary goals is to give them a chance to truly explore their interests before they are thrust into the self-directed world of higher education. If his experiment is successful, he'll have also encouraged a healthy dose of innovation and entrepreneurship in each one of his pupils come May.
Whether or not the 20% Project can be successfully implemented in a classroom setting remains to be seen, but what I find most encouraging about the initiative is that it represents a promising experiment in new modes of learning. The factory model of schooling has long drawn the ire of educational progressives, but attempts at resistance are often balked at. Perhaps that's because many alternative models are merely reactions to the factory model; many lack the strong, logical connection to industry that made the factory model the standard for modern education. The "20% Classroom" is not designed merely to be the antithesis of the factory model like the classroom proposed by Sir Ken Robinson in his now famous TED talk
, nor is it built on fleeting "theory of the day" ideologies. Rather, it's based directly on a development that's shown extraordinary ability for yielding new innovation in industry. 20% Classrooms are an experiment that combines successful trends in the modern workplace with directed educational reform. The prophecized revolution in modern schooling may well be right around the corner, but it's experiments like these that keep us moving forward in the mean time.