10 Reasons to Try 20% Time in the Classroom

Posted by Ross Crockett on

“Here's a radical new idea you may not have heard of—20% time. With this concept, you devote that percentage of class time to allow students to discover and learn the things they want to, and in the ways they want to learn them. Sound crazy? I urge you to try it on in your own classroom. Below, AJ Juliani provides us with a list of reasons why it's worth considering as a classroom teaching and learning strategy.”


via Edudemic

If you haven’t heard of 20% time in the classroom, the premise is simple: Give your students 20% of their class time to learn what they want. Yes, that’s it. Below is a list of the 10 reasons you should consider 20% time in your school, and you will not regret making that choice!

1. You will join a great community of learners

When I first did the 20% project with my students I didn’t have a community of teachers or learners. Within months that changed as a number of great teachers before and after me started to share their 20% time stories online. The largest active group is the Genius Hour teachers (inspired by Daniel Pink) who have #geniushour chats and a great Genius Hour wiki. Get involved and see what others have done!

2. You will allow students to go into depth with a topic that inspires them

One of the major issues we face in schools today is covering a wide breadth of information, instead of allowing students to get a real depth of knowledge. Students using 20% time are able to delve into subject matter that means something to them, often times taking their free time at home to learn more. Isn’t this something we should be promoting at all levels?

3. There is so much positive peer pressure

When students in my school have their pitch day, they get to share with the entire class what they are working on. Publicly announcing what they are trying to accomplish makes the goal real. Students get to see what their peers are working on and want to make sure their project stands up to the rest of the class. Regardless of a grade being attached to the project, this makes for students going the extra mile.

4. It relieves students of the “game of school”

Too often our students complete assignments for the grade. They go through the motions to receive an external pat on the back (or pat on their transcript). 20% time takes away the “game of school”. It brings back the love of learning for learning’s sake.

5. It’s fun!

Randy Pausch famously said, “If you think you can’t learn and have fun at the same time. Then I don’t think you have a good understanding of either.” Without a doubt it is the best time of the week. Listen to how one Genius Hour teacher share her students’ excitement for Genius Hour to arrive.

6. Your class will be covering all types of common core standards

It doesn’t matter if you teach elementary, middle, or high school. The genius hour and 20% time projects cover multiple common cores standards. We’ve had teachers propose this type of learning to their administration back by awesome research. Remember, the community will help if you are fighting a battle to get 20% time started at your school.

7. It’s differentiation at its best

Students are working at their level, and as teachers we should be helping to challenge each one of our learners at their best pace and ability. Because each project differs, students are not bogged down by following the same steps as their classmates. The entire class is learning, but it is truly differentiated.

8. You learn by what you do, not by what you hear

Experiential and challenge based learning puts the mastery back into the student’s hands. We provide guidance and pushes along the way, but they are the ones “doing” and “making”. Confucius put it perfectly: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Let your students make and they will understand and thank you for the opportunity.

9. It is a perfect way to model life-long learning

I did the 20% time with my students and took it upon myself to learn how to code and make an app from scratch. I failed to make that app. But my experience learning how to program left me with a whole new perspective, and was a teachable moment about what we call “failure”. There is no real way to fail a project in which “learning” is the end-goal.

10. Your students will never forget what it felt like to create

Have you seen Caine’s arcade? It started out as a little idea and now Caine has inspired hundreds of other kids his age to create something unique. When you create a product, it becomes part of who you are, and there is a “care” involved that we just never see with multiple-choice tests. What would you want for your child?

This is the most important time to be in education. It is the most important time to care about education. It is the most important time to impact education.

Now, more than any other time in the past 100 years, education seems on the verge of a paradigm shift. You see, for the past century, most of the educational change has been “doing old things in new ways”. Today, we are beginning to see educators, educational institutions, and educational companies do “new things in new ways”.

My challenge to you as a teacher is to allow your students the freedom to learn what they want. That’s what 20% time is all about, and that is why it is so successful.


  1. AJ Juliani

    Thanks for posting Ross! The great thing about 20% time is how passionate the teachers are who do this in the classroom. It’s a great community of learners who love to share and collaborate!

    • Ross Crockett

      My pleasure, AJ …. I thought the article was wonderful, indeed. The only time I recall ever getting 20% time when I was in school was in kindergarten! I’m thrilled to know that it is being used more frequently in the digital classrooms of today, and at various higher grade levels. Great work!

  2. Janine

    This is a cool idea, but how do you do it. Is it a day a week or 20% of each class. How do you track what students are doing? I want to do something like this, but not sure where to start or how to frame it so the kids understand what to do and how to show me what they are doing. Thanks for the help!

  3. Nelda LeCroy

    This sounds like a great idea. My concern would be justifying the learning/ showing some learning outcomes for administration to see so I’d have that support. And what about kids who a just want to “investigate” games? I’d like to see examples:)

  4. Cindy Friday Beeman

    Without computers available to all at the same time to do their research, how does this work? I like the idea, but the kids who would use it to “play around” like they already do in my keyboarding elective are the ones I’d worry about. I too would like to see examples of the kinds of measurable examples of learning, and know more about computer resources needed.

  5. ajjuliani

    A lot of these questions are talked about and discussed on our Google+ Community: https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/104012538187352003800

    In terms of justifying learning to administration, you have to understand that this is user-generated learning, but the standards and goals can be teacher created. I would specifically choose ELA CC Standards that cover research, writing, reading non-fiction etc to show administration and other teachers. I used to choose the project and the learning goals for students, but now I let the student choose the project and goals and they still hit the standards.

    Your students definitely don’t need computers to do this, but it is a help to go to your school’s computer lab or have a computer cart in class for research. The library would be a great place to start! There are many excuses “not to let students” try 20% time or Genius Hour, but as I say above, the risk is worth the reward.

  6. Madame Austin

    Interesting idea but with all we already HAVE to do and less time to do it, not sure about this yet.

What do you think?