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5 Ways to Help Students to Think Creatively With 20-Time

By Kriscia Cabral on October 23, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

I recently went to an EdCampSD. This is an “unconference” event where teachers get together and talk about all things new in the world of education. It was there that I was introduced to a concept that I was already employing in my classroom, but without knowing its formal name. My class refers to it as "Danny" homework . Taking a page from Danny, Champion of the World, students are given the option to create a project of their own interest instead of typical homework assignments for reading and writing. At EdcampSD I learned that the movement behind such thinking was labeled 20-Time.

20-Time started ages ago in the business world. The idea behind it is to set aside 20 percent of office time — or one day a week — for employees to explore and work on one topic of their choice. Google has used 20-Time with its employees resulting in innovative ideas such as Gmail, Google News, and Google Teacher Academy. Using 20-Time in the classroom allows for the opportunity of true innovation in the hands of our learners. It is students learning about something that truly motivates them.


Five Ways To Incorporate 20-Time Into Your Classroom


Step 1: Light a Match

The first step for many students is finding that interest in something they would like to dedicate their time to. A great place to find inspiration is the Genius Hour website.

This site is filled with links, interviews, book recommendations, and so much more. It is a great place to start and get your feet wet.

Another option came from a colleague of mine, Stacey Lamb. She created an idea called a "Challenge Wall." Students discuss challenges that they would like to face and post them to this wall. If a student is in need of a project idea, they can go fishing on the "Wall of Possibilities" and challenge themselves to work out the problem.



Step 2: Spark the Fire

Get in the classroom and let the exploration begin. Have students share what they plan to create for their project. Take note of this and have it posted. A good idea would also be to have students write this down in a folder or binder they keep. A visual in your classroom is a daily reminder of their purpose.






Step 3: Maintain the Flame

Before students set off to research and explore, have a plan in mind. Let them know what your expectations are. Pick one way of exploration at a time and set an attainable goal that students should meet by the end of that day’s work.

Along with the goal setting, be sure students are aware of the consequences for not meeting goals. While this learning is exploratory, students should maintain a sense of purpose. I tell my students they get three strikes. I have alternate assignments they can work on if expectations are not being met.



Step 4: Enjoy the Heat

Students will be burning to explore! The classroom will be a controlled chaos with imaginations exploding all over the room. A tracking system is needed to keep students on schedule. My first 20-Time projects were homework based. This is the expectation and homework assignment they had to complete once a week. A check-in system or handout outlining steps to completion could also work. The important thing to keep in mind when creating a system is making sure students are in charge of their tracking. They should be aware of deadlines and understand what needs to be completed prior to that time.


Step 5: Share the Warmth

The final step in this process is sharing out. This is where the kids truly shine. They get to speak about a passion, an interest, an idea that they got to learn about and no one else did. This moment is priceless!

One way of doing this is by having students come up and share in front of the whole class. Another idea is to create an edcamp for kids. A colleague of mine Dena Glynn shared this amazing idea at EdCampSD.

Have students sign up for a session to share with a small group. Have multiple small groups going at one time. Students can look at the board and choose which presentation they would like to watch. This allows for small group discussions about the projects and more interactions with the presenter and the audience members.

20-Time is a great way to show students how important their ideas are. It is an opportunity to harvest creativity and incorporate the Common Core Standards into their learning in a way they will enjoy.

I’m eager to hear how you plan to incorporate 20-Time into your classroom!

Comments (6)

Thank you for sharing this - a nice, concise explanation of 20% Time / Genius Hour. I'm adding it to our ever-growing list of bloggers here on the Genius Hour LiveBinder: http://www.livebinders.com/play/play/829279?tabid=045bb093-b100-8cb4-4cf7-8628e206962b Thank you for sharing!

Kriscia, this is a brilliant way to get learners to do an investigation on something that interests them. I am definitely going to try this method in my classroom.

Hi Dena,

Thank you for reading! Yes! Kids as the educators is something I enjoy from start to finish. I love to see how hard they try when it is something they have a drive or desire for. I can't wait to put on my Kids EdCamp! I'd love to Skype a project with you!


I really like the way these steps can give the students the chance to be their own teacher and develop their ideas. Don’t we want our students to be motivated and want to learn, and having them decide on certain aspects of their learning will only develop that motivation. Students that might not usually contribute to class discussions become more willing to share their ideas, which tell you this strategy has the power to motivate. You know we have done a good job when students can teach us about a topic.

I couldn't agree more. As I said on my Facebook page, there is nothing I love more than learning from students. The light that glimmers as they share their knowledge, there is nothing like it! Are you doing 20-Time in your classroom? I'd love to hear how it is going!

Thank you for reading!


This is such a wonderful way to empower students and allow them to be the "teachers" for a change. When we, as educators, turn to the role as a facilitator, amazing things happen! Students that might not usually contribute to class discussions become experts among their peers. You know you've done a good job when students know more information about the topic than we do. Such a great springboard to an expository writing piece as well, and, of course, a Kids EdCamp! Thanks for sharing!

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