20% is Not Enough


This week I have watched the ACEC conference twitter stream from the sideline with more interest than any other with several students from my school attending as part of a Digital Leaders group. A great opportunity to listen to presentations, tweet thoughts and questions and interact with teachers and keynotes.

They have done a brilliant job of pushing ideas and reflecting genuine student voice and  have also been excited by the various learning opportunities showcased at the event.

For the first time for many of these students, they heard the concept of Googles 20% time (also adapted and referred to as Genius Hour or Passion Projects in schools).


After hearing about this idea over 2 years ago, I developed Passion Project time in my own teaching and had our faculty run the projects with students over a term. This year as part of a different team we have implemented this concept into a “Big Idea” project with our entire year 8 cohort.

The concept remains the same, students can work independently or in groups on a project of their choice. There are expectations to develop a proposal and present/share findings or experiences upon completion.

Whilst I treasure and value these opportunities for students, I also wonder: how long can we keep adding this into our week as an extra though? How can we justify to students that this learning is different to their classroom learning? How much does that devalue what they are doing in each subject?

“Ok in this ‘special’ time you can learn about things that interest you and are meaningful to you, in any way you like, but the rest of the time, it’s just stuff you have to do!”

My argument here is not that we ditch these projects. I found it was a great stepping stone in my own experiences of supporting students to complete very different projects but on a similar time frame. I have learnt a great deal in this time including how to scaffold and lead discoveries and push students to ask and develop their own questions.

I am suggesting that instead of keeping these projects or times separate from our everyday school experiences, it should just be part of our everyday learning in classes. Why can’t kids be involved in ‘real’ and meaningful learning experiences in all their subjects?

Instead of adding another subject/lesson into the timetable, shouldn’t we be looking at what is already happening in classes and working on how we can make that more meaningful?

Shouldn’t this kind of learning be more like 80% not 20%?


  1. Joy Kirr

    I’m with you. I often feel the same. However… haven’t you found that implementation of this type of learning is a catalyst for more meaningful learning the rest of your week? I see student interests and struggles being the basis for what we do the rest of the week, and I find myself giving more and more over to the students. We have curriculum I “have to cover,” but knowing students’ interests and strengths, I can use these to improve my lessons. Knowing their struggles, I can use that information when figuring out how to present the lessons, or how students can tackle them. It seems, too, that now, when students ask, “Why are we doing this?” I actually have an answer that shows that the learning IS relevant to them. I find that I cannot spend our time anymore on anything that will not be relevant to their lives / their learning. Do you find the same?

  2. rhonimcfarlane

    Hi Joy,
    thanks for your jumping in! I absolutely agree that developing these opportunities for students is definitely a catalyst to push more meaningful learning across the week. I just think there should be less of the stuff we “have to cover” and more learning that is real, relevant and connected. In our school teachers are teaching 5 different classes of students from year 8 to 12 and not always for the entire year. Getting to know their passions, interests and strengths and working to personalise the learning is definitely a challenge. I believe that if we created opportunities for our students to get stuck into real projects over a term across different curriculum areas, we would see some fantastic outcomes and increased engagement.

    I have always pushed “why” and I write this as I laugh at the multiple times that my team have preempted this before I get the chance to ask. This is exactly what I am doing here; asking why it has to be this way. I see so much learning occurring during our 20% time, why shouldn’t it be 80%?

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