20time Project Fosters Innovation

by Brad Lands, Director of Technology and Innovation

“What do you want to learn?” This is the question I asked the Middle School students who enrolled in my 20time Project elective this year. Modeled after Google’s 20% time policy – the concept of allowing Google engineers to invest 20 percent of their work time on self-led explorations to solve real problems – this elective empowers students to work on an independent project of their choice.

Students were challenged to identify real-world problems, ask meaningful questions, pitch project proposals, develop solutions, present their ideas, and iterate their solutions. The goal was to prepare students for future-ready innovation and to get them thinking about unique ways to identify and address issues they care about.

At the beginning of the year, students began brainstorming ideas for their project. Once they had an idea of the project they wanted to pursue, they began drafting a project proposal. After their proposal was reviewed and accepted, the students delivered a 30-second elevator pitch to the class. In addition, students were encouraged to write a blog post once a week in which they discussed their progress, challenges, and goals.

The elective culminated in the Sherman Arts Center auditorium as parents, teachers, and students gathered to watch several of the Middle Schoolers present their 20time projects, which ranged from teaching self-defense techniques to building a hovercraft.

Students gave their presentations in the form of a TED Talk, equipped with a presenter remote, floor monitor, and body microphone. This ultimately helped to create the real-world experience of professionally communicating their ideas to an authentic audience.