The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 5 Transcript

Jennifer Gonzalez, host

Listen to the audio version of this podcast.

Jennifer Gonzalez: Hi, This is Jennifer Gonzalez with the Cult of Pedagogy podcast. This is episode 5, where we interview A.J. Juliani to talk to him about 20 percent time.

I had heard about 20 percent time, I had a pretty vague idea of what it was like, or what it was about, and I wanted to talk to somebody who had really tried it and had maybe gone through some trial and error with it to see what kinds of problems he had, what it actually looked like on a day-to-day basis, whether he encountered any resistance from students. Just basically try to answer a lot of the questions that people would have if they were thinking about trying it, but were unsure.

So before I put the interview on, I would just like to ask you, if you are listening to this just as a regular download, we do have the podcast now on iTunes. And if you are listening to it on iTunes, I would really appreciate it, if you do enjoy it, that you would go and give us a rating on iTunes because as of right now we don’t have any ratings–or not enough for it to have any stars. So if you are feeling like you want to support the podcast and have it reach more people, then go ahead and do that.

And so I will go ahead and get us started on our interview with A.J. Juliani.

[music playing]

Gonzalez: So if you could just start like as if you’re talking to somebody who’s never heard of it, what is 20 percent time and also could you explain is there — the difference between 20 percent time and genius hour, and whether those two terms are interchangeable or not.

Juliani: For 20 percent time and genius hour, the idea really came from what Google does with their 20 percent time. So they give their employees 20 percent of the time, as a policy since Google started out, to work on anything they’re passionate about, anything of interest to them. So that 20 percent time came from Google and a lot of Google products came out of that 20 percent time. So big products like Gmail and Google Earth, Google [inaudible]. A lot of different products came out of it. When Marissa Mayer, who is now the head of Yahoo, was working for Google, she said that almost 50 percent of their new products that actually came to fruition came out of that 20 percent time. So it’s just this innovative time.

And genius hour is a very similar idea that came from the work that Daniel Pink did in the book Drive. And in it he talks about Fed Ex using genius hour which is the same, taking an hour out of the work week, or for students taking an hour out of the classroom learning, to again pursue your passions and learn and work and create whatever you want.

So 20 percent time in the classroom and genius hour in the classroom came from these sort of business models where very successful companies were doing this–Google, IBM, HP, Yahoo. There’s a lot of successful companies doing this. And so it came out of that idea and there was a number of educators, I just happen to be one of them, that jumped on kind of saying, “You know what? If it works for Google, it’ll probably work in the classroom as well.”

Gonzalez: Yeah.

Juliani: So I started it with a group of my 11th grade English students. Pretty much the basic gist of what I said to my students was “Look, I know you’re in eleventh grade and you’re motivated extrinsically by grades, pretty much your whole life you’ve been playing this game of school, right? You tell yourselves to do this and if you do it well you get this grade and that’s it. Right? But the real world doesn’t necessarily work like that.”

Gonzalez: Right.

Juliani: You can’t really find a job that way and so what we’re teaching them in school kind of breaks–I saw that with my own siblings and friends. They just kind of got out there and realized it’s not that easy. I can’t just work hard and be successful. There’s more to it than that.

Gonzalez: Yeah.

Juliani: So, I presented it to my students and probably half the class was like What are you talking about? The other half was really excited. But really that kind of started our journey. Genius hour, really the same thing, there’s another group of educators doing that same thing. That 20 percent time, or an hour a week, of learning what you want, what you’re passionate about. And kind of not giving those restrictions that we normally give in a school setting.

Gonzalez: So this eleventh grade class–I’ve been thinking about this. Where did they fall in terms of general ability? Were they advanced kids or was it a mix?

Juliani: Yeah, so I had two eleventh grade classes that I did this with. Once was my honors kids and one was my academic kids. So completely mixed in terms of that. Actually, you would never know from the final products which kid was an honors kid and which kid was an academic kid at all. Actually most of the students I had problems with were honors students who just wanted like a worksheet or a paper assignment that they could just do, get done, check off their list and move forward. Now again, I had great honors students do some amazing things and vice versa, but there was really no difference between the two and you couldn’t tell with the final products that they did.

Gonzalez: That is funny too, because that does sort of–that is sort of in line with what I know too about gifted kids. They really don’t like that unstructured…or a lot of times they kind of freak out because they know how to follow structured situations really, really well and they’ve built their whole career up to that point on that. So, so I think my first thought, and what I’ve seen from a lot of the comments on your site too, is that there’s this concern that kids are just going to blow it off or they’re going to just not do it or–because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of accountability built into it. Did you have problems with some kids that saw it as a slack day, to do nothing?

Juliani: I’d say the first thing– As teachers sometimes, we think we just know better. This is the way we’ve always done it, so this is the way we should do it.

Gonzalez: Right.

Juliani: But if you look at the research, all of the research says that extrinsic motivation really just doesn’t work as well as intrinsic motivation.

Gonzalez: Yeah.

Juliani: And that’s where Daniel Pink’s book Drive comes into play. And so I would say first thing, just look at the research on what actually motivates students. What motivates human beings in general? It’s not always the carrot and the stick. Actually that motivation doesn’t work as well as someone’s passion. So I share that information with my students and I share it with teachers as well. But you still have students who are going to balk for two reasons. Number one, this is not how school is supposed to be. So they’ve worked for–in my case they’re high school students, so ten, eleven years, for how many years–they’ve been working and following the same system on how school works. Then you flip it on its head and they’re kind of angry. They’re confused, but also angry that they have to spend this time. They’re going to college in a year or two and — That was part of the reason I didn’t want them to just focus on grades, I wanted them to focus on learning. For those students you have to say “Hey, this is an opportunity to actually take freedom and turn it into something valuable.” So I had high school students and I basically said “Hey, when you go to college, or when you go to get a job or something like that once you leave high school, no one is telling you what to do with eight hours of your day. You have to make all the decisions of what you’re doing with those eight hours. Your parents aren’t telling you. Your teachers aren’t telling you. There’s no one telling you what to do. How can you possibly be successful if the only way you know to be successful is following the rules that other people set out?”

Gonzalez: Right.

Juliani: So that kind of reasoning really worked with the students. Another type of students that like to slack off are the kids that are going to say “I don’t have any motivation. I don’t really have any passions.” And for those students I felt really bad that they felt that way, you know. So the first couple of days I had them do activities to determine what they really liked. So I would have them–One day I see them sitting there not really doing anything and I go over and have a conversation. I have them fill out this little sheet I gave them with four questions. One, what do you do when you’re supposed to be doing homework or something like that? Doodle, listen to music, what do you do when you’re supposed to be doing something else? Second thing is what do you do during your free time? Just list anything. So what do you do on the weekends, what do you do after school, just list what you like to do. Another thing that I do with the list is pretty much say Okay, if you had the chance right to get a job right now, what would your dream job be? And the fourth thing, the biggest thing is, “In ten years, what do you want your lifestyle to look like?” So these questions are really good motivating questions to get students thinking about “Okay, I want my lifestyle to be–I want to travel. I want to go to other countries or I want to live at the beach, right?” Instead of saying just job and talking about lifestyle, it really helped the students think about what was their purpose for learning.

Then I had the students fill in like a March Madness bracket where they filled in some of the things they did and narrow them down. So sometimes it was like video games was their favorite thing to do. Alright, have you ever thought about making your own video games? No, I never could do that! Actually, you could do that! And so those were the kind of things we would work on with the students that were kind of struggling to figure out what their passions were.

Gonzalez: Can you, can you give me an example of a kid who really was sort of lost at the beginning and what, what did they eventually land on?

Juliani: Yeah, so one of my students really was just not feeling this. Like you know, I got too much other work. They worked after school. They were kind of a typical “I’m trying to get my money” kind of kid. And so we got talking and one of the things he always did and I could see on his papers was doodling like little graphic type of stuff. So we talked about it, why do you doodle when I’m talking or when we’re doing stuff like that? Oh, I don’t know it’s just kind of fun. I was like do you have like a sketch book for art stuff? He was like I don’t really do art but I do a lot of edges of a book where I do drawings and stuff like that. And I said have you ever thought about learning more about that? He’s like “Nah, not really. Like, I don’t really see the point in it.” And I said okay. Our next meeting he came in and he had on this really cool t-shirt, right? And so it made me say “Hey where’d you get that t-shirt from?” Oh you know they were selling it at this concert I was at. Now I said “It’s kind of cool. It almost looks like one of your drawings.” So it clicked for him, like you can make t-shirts. Then I said also, you could make money off of those t-shirts. I don’t care if you sell them. That would be awesome if you sold them.

So that was kind of–A lot of the students that I had that maybe didn’t find their passion right away. I kind of asked like “Do you want to make some money? What could you do to make money?” Oh, I want to make a rap album. Okay, let’s do it. It was kind of like I was trying to get them to think and dream bigger than they were. So instead of getting them to say I want to rap or I want to draw. I’d say well what could you do with that rap? What could you do with that drawing? To get them to think a little bit bigger.

Gonzalez: Well and especially now with technology they literally can start to learn the nuts and bolts of doing all those things. So if someone were to walk in on the 20– It was one day a week right?

Juliani: Yes on Friday.

Gonzalez: What would they see on a Friday if they walked into your class, sort of in the middle of the year?

Juliani: They would see chaos. They would see some students out in the hallway. Some outside. Some on computers. Some working in groups. Some talking to me. They would see, really, chaos–and I’m not even saying organized chaos, because it was not. It was just chaos, and my role as the teacher was really not like a guide on the side but more of a coach, all right? So that whole guide on the side I feel like the kids are still in rows and I’m just walking around, but this was not that.

So, you think about a sports practice. You’ve got–I was a football coach. I’ve got eleven players on the field doing eleven different things. I’m responsible that they all knowing what they’re supposed to be doing. That they have training and practice so that when it’s actually game time those eleven people can actually do something can actually make something successful happen. I was doing the same thing in the classroom.

So we had a plan in place where they were documenting what they were doing on a blog. Sometimes they did video blogs. We had different stages along the way, but students were at different parts of the stages. So I had to say, where are you on the continuum of learning vs. creating, right? Should I push you towards creating or pull you back and say you still need to learn more? And then it was a lot of conversations. Conversations between the students, with myself. So if you were just to walk in you would be sort of blown away at what was going on. But you probably would have seen a student doing something cool and then gone over and had a conversation with them and been really drawn in. That’s what happened when we had administrators and other teachers come in was the first kind of shock at what was going on, but then the conversations that followed were really powerful.

Gonzalez: So let’s talk a little bit more about that learning-creating continuum. I wanted to learn a little bit more about how the whole thing is structured. There was — I’ve learned a little bit about a pitch day and I’d seen in some of your writing about how you eventually discovered that kids needed to make some sort of a final product. So how would you say the year is kind of structured?

Juliani: I’m creating an infographic on this too. It’s called the Beginner’s Guide to 20% Time in Education. So I can share that with you as well. But really, it was a lot of trial and error. It was also really learning from other teachers who were doing this too and what was going well with their students. People like Kevin Brookhouser, he’s done a lot of stuff on 20 percent time.

The initial stage is the why. So kind of explaining to students the purpose behind this. If I’m a teacher, I want to know the purpose behind what I am doing. The same thing with students.

Then it was kind of the idea creation, just like figure out what you want to do, figure out what you’re passionate about, what you’re interested in. That is the hardest part. The hardest part is getting students to choose a topic that they’re interested in and passionate about and have a sort of purpose, right?

So that scene is all about the kids who are high flyers. They know what they want to do. They are off and running. You can’t really hold them back, you have to let them go and then really work in small groups and with individuals other students on some of the strategies that I was saying to kind of work with them.

Once everybody’s kind of figured out what they want to do, we had a kind of Shark Tank pitch day.

Gonzalez: Okay.

Juliani: Students would create four slides, like a Power Point or Haiku Deck or Prezi or whatever it was. The four slides would be: First, what are you doing? So what are you doing with 20 percent time?

Gonzalez: Right.

Juliani: Second slide is why are you doing it? That explains your purpose. Third slide is how you’re going to accomplish it. Right, so what are the steps you’re going to take, kind of like an action plan, how are you going to accomplish it?

Gonzalez: Right.

Juliani: And the fourth was how are you going to measure your success? Those four slides did a couple of things. Number one, it really narrowed down their project, what they were doing. Then also because they were presenting to the class, they were like rapid fire succession, like 2 minutes a pop, just students getting up there and presenting, presenting, presenting, it also generated this positive peer pressure, I like to call it. Because you start seeing three kids in a row that are doing like awesome work and you’re getting up there and kind of like feeling self-conscious, like “Am I going big enough here?” It was like this positive–There was no grades attached, but there was just positive peer pressure saying like “Wow, Joe’s doing that? I didn’t think Joe could–” You know? It was kind of just really genuine. So a lot of times that week after we did that Shark Tank pitch day, I’d have a lot of conversations with students who wanted like to up their game. Because, not because I said doing anything, but just because they saw what their classmates were doing. So that was a really important step.

Gonzalez: Did those kids re-pitch later?

Juliani: They didn’t re-pitch to the whole class, but they would share with me what their change was.

Gonzalez: Okay.

Juliani: And that was part of the document. So we had been blogging once a week, sharing what they’re learning, what they’re doing. So that kind of learning and research process takes a couple weeks. And then they’re really funneling into “Alright, I’ve learned enough about building a computer. Right, I’ve watched YouTube videos. I’ve read. I’ve talked to a mentor” or something like that. All those different ways that you’re learning. They had gotten to the point where now I have to do. Now some students really wanted to jump into the doing too early. Others were scared. They were like “Oh, I still gotta do some more research!” That type of thing. So that’s the teacher’s job to kind of coach up and and see where they were.

Gonzalez: Okay.

Juliani: Then the creating process. You know, they’re video blogging about what they’re doing, everything. It’s all leading up to that final presentation, which we did kind of TED style, but shorter. That final presentation was them pretty much saying this is what I created or produced. Here’s my journey doing it and here’s why I think I was successful, which ties back to that pitch day. And so that was the whole thing. We try to bring in parents and other students in to watch their final presentations. That was really kind of the structure of it. I know people do varying ways, but that’s how a lot of people now in the 20% time community or genius hour are doing it.

Gonzalez: Do people ever completely change their focus halfway through the year or part-way through?

Juliani: Yeah, you know as a teacher, you have to decide too do you want it to be a year long? Do you want it to be a marking period? Do you want to do a short, like six week one to start off the year and then do a longer one so that kids understand the process? And so there’s some different ways you can do it, but there are lots of times when kids are like you know what, I thought I was into this, but I’m really not.

Gonzalez: Yeah. I would think seeing other kids work– Seeing other people’s work would open up other possibilities that you didn’t even consider before.

Juliani: Yes, definitely.

Gonzalez: So, is any topic allowed? So what if somebody wants to study bomb making or pornography or something where it’s just not going to work for school? Do you just have that conversation with them? Because it seems like the initial sell on this is you can study whatever you’re interested in.

Juliani: Yeah, so, yeah, the whole thing is pretty much from the get go saying you can study whatever you want, but this is still school. I relate it back to Google as well. They can learn whatever they want, but it’s still for Google. Right? So they’re not going to study those different kinds of things at Google because it doesn’t help the process. We talk about that in the beginning and we talk about how a lot of times people talk about thinking outside the box. A lot of times they don’t understand that there’s a box around that box.

Gonzalez: That’s awesome. That’s really, that’s very true. So the way you describe it to them at the beginning is that you can study pretty much anything you’re interested in, but it just needs to be appropriate for school? Or does it have to have some sort of academic tie-in?

Juliani: Yeah, I didn’t do any academic tie-in. I just say appropriate for school. However, other teachers have said, you know I want to tie this to my subject area, so you can do 20 percent time or genius hour, but it still has to relate back to social studies in some way or it still has to relate back to math in some way. So that’s why I said, there’s no right way to do 20 percent time or genius hour. It’s more or less kind of saying look, I want students to have a chance to learn what they want. Sometimes I’m going to place more restrictions, sometimes I’m not. For me it was just school-appropriate, because for ELA, the whole documenting, reading, writing, speaking, listening was in the project, so I was covering those standards anyway.

Gonzalez: Yeah. It’s harder for me to imagine how you could make it work in math, do you, do you know any teachers that are really, really genuinely allowing kids to follow passions and still making it tie into math?

Juliani: Yeah, there’s a — We have a 20 percent time community on Google+, and there’s a number of math teachers in there that are doing this. They’re all doing it different ways. You know, so there’s algebra teachers that are saying to kids it has to be something based around these specific types of algebraic concepts, right? Which could be starting a business and understanding how those things run or even like doing the stock market or — They have different things around it. There’s a number of math teachers also that have put some stuff up on the genius hour wikispace with examples of how they’re doing it. There’s resources out there. If you type into Google like “math teacher genius hour” or “math teacher 20% time”, you’re going get resources.

Gonzalez: Okay. I’m assuming the response is probably similar for somebody who has like a second grade class? How do they do this differently?

Juliani: So at this age in a school district I was previously at, we wrote 20 percent time into a ninth grade ELA curriculum. We wrote it in there, which was pretty cool, but then also there was a lot of other teachers in the district that wanted to do it. So my fourth grade teacher kind of gave the students a couple of options. She said number one, you can learn and you can make something that you’re like really interested in like outside of school. Number two, you can dig deeper into something we’ve already covered. So if you liked that dinosaur unit, let’s dig deeper into that. If you liked that space unit, let’s dig deeper into that. So kind of like an extension of what they’re already learning. And quite frankly, a lot of kids chose that, right? Then also, she said, you can like create something, like make something with your hands, like do a like a cardboard project or something like Caine’s arcade where you kind of build something along those lines. So just give a couple different options. So it’s still the freedom of that whole kind of learning and documenting and presenting that is very valuable. But I liked how she gave her students kind of some different directions of where to head. Because at the elementary level, I thought that was really important.

Gonzalez: Yeah, they needed a little bit more guidance, it couldn’t be left wide open.

Juliani: Yeah, but there’s–I mean, I’ll tell you there’s more elementary classrooms doing genius hour than, I would say high school math and science classrooms.

Gonzalez: Well I would think in an elementary classroom, they do, they have the whole day kind of to play with and they’re not pushing at any particular content area.

Juliani: Yeah.

Gonzalez: In terms of what the kids are actually doing, like the real younger ones, they can’t necessarily–They haven’t been taught how to do Internet research. Does the teacher sort of bring in lots of books and direct them to specific websites to look at?

Juliani: Yeah, I think that’s a bit of the teacher. I mean going to the library, finding books to do the research. Or maybe like giving them some links, depending on what your technology is like in the classroom.That’s kind of that role of the teacher helping in the researching and the learning process. Whereas the role for the high school teacher is a little bit different.

Gonzalez: Yeah.

Juliani: It’s more of letting them know when they’re done with the research and ready to start creating, kind of holding them on that line.

Gonzalez: So let’s talk a little bit about the no grades concept. One thing I was thinking about is if I’m a student who is doing sort of C work in your class, but I’m working really hard on genius hour, it might bother me that’s the part that doesn’t get graded and my report card is going to reflect the C work that I’m doing the other four days. Did you ever have that situation?

Juliani: Yeah, there’s probably most of people that do 20% time or genius hour grade it in some shape or form. And when I–When we brought it into our ninth grade curriculum, I wasn’t teaching it, but other teachers, they wanted to grade it.

Gonzalez: Okay.

Juliani: What we did though was we didn’t grade the final product, we graded the process. We actually used the GRIT rubric, have you ever seen that?

Gonzalez: No, but I will look it up.

Juliani: It’s on my blog as well. The G stands for guts. The R stands for resiliency. The I stands for integrity and the T for tenacity.

Gonzalez: Okay.

Juliani: So it’s grading how well you’re displaying these throughout the process.

Gonzalez: So it’s a really enriched type of a participation grade, sort of.

Juliani: Exactly. and you know the kids really liked it because maybe I wasn’t really successful, but you saw that I was working really hard and displaying these characteristics and they got rewarded for that.

Gonzalez: Okay. So that does contribute to their overall grade in the course then?

Juliani: I mean I didn’t do that, but a lot of the teachers use some type of rubric. There’s a genius hour rubric that Denise Krebs has created that I’ve included in my book. So there are some other rubrics out there that people have used.

Gonzalez: Okay, and so thinking about how you first got this started, and what you know now, if you could go back to that first year with that eleventh grade group, what would you do differently?

Juliani: I would really push them to, I guess, dream bigger with their products and angle. Because the really successful students were the ones that had a bigger purpose, if that makes sense. And the purpose is going to change. Like we had one student who wanted to learn how to play the guitar and perform a song. Right? But they knew nothing about music. So it was really hard. When they got up in front of the class and struggled to get through this song and sing it, everybody really cheered because we knew that it was difficult for that student.

Gonzalez: Right.

Juliani: We had another student who already knew how to play the guitar, that wanted to make an album. So when they performed a song, it just– It wasn’t as much as that other student. Even though they did more, per se, they didn’t dream big enough from where their skill level already was. So I would push the student to do more of the producing and marketing and selling and talk about that process than just the writing of a song process, because they already were doing that. So I would really push them in the beginning to have a higher purpose.

Gonzalez: Can you tell me about maybe one or two more student projects or focuses that really stand out from your time doing this?

Juliani: Two that really come to my mind were we had a girl student who she played two sports. I know she worked, and she just, she wanted to learn sign language. You know when she did the pitch day and she talked about why she wanted to learn sign language and it was because she wanted to talk to her niece who was four years old and she was deaf and so she needed to learn sign language. She only knew the like the alphabet and a couple of things because she didn’t really have much time. And so when she got up, and you know she had learned sign language, she had done a great job, but when she got up to do her presentation and she did signing, sign language to a song that she was going to do for her niece. I mean they were crying…

Gonzalez: I bet.

Juliani: it was emotional, because they could see what that meant to her. And it’s how happy she was to have the time to learn it, you know?

Gonzalez: Right.

Juliani: There was actually a lot of people that once she started going through, they were like, I want to learn sign language too. There were three people that did it and it kind of just grew into my favorite, memorable project.

Gonzalez: Yeah.

Juliani: We also had a student, which wasn’t as sentimental, but we had a tenth grade student that wanted to–He was really big into science, a self-proclaimed science nerd. His big thing– The thing he hated most about science was that a lot of kids saw science as something you have to do in school or with a white coat on. So he wanted to show that you could clone a plant in your kitchen, using like baking products and stuff you could buy at Walmart.

Gonzalez: Yeah.

Juliani: So he went through the whole process of cloning an actual carnivorous plant in his kitchen.

Gonzalez: Woah!

Juliani: He wasn’t successful with the carnivorous plant, but he was successful with another plant. With his presentation, I was like, “You’re way smarter than me! You’re way more intelligent than me.” It also showed that this kind of science is accessible. How cool would it be to show a fifth grader that you could do this sort of science in your own kitchen or something like that. So his was so memorable because his purpose was so strong, why he wanted to do it and what the reasoning behind it was. Those two always stick out in my mind of really successful projects.

Gonzalez: Those are great. Those are really cool ideas. And so now– The work you’ve been doing now is to get this into other teachers’ classrooms and teach other teachers how to do this?

Juliani: Yeah. I’m just a firm believer in student choice as a part of the learning experience.

Gonzalez: This is a nice way of structuring that because it’s really easy to say that, but a lot of teachers don’t know how to actually make that happen.

Juliani: Right, and I think there’s lots of different ways to make it happen, but when you look at what drives creativity and what drives innovation in a school setting, and even out of a school setting, a lot of the time it’s inquiry-based projects with student choice. Well the research already talks about that. The work that I’m doing is kind of saying that one of the most important things that we can do for our students is show them what it looks like when they have choice about their own learning because that’s what their life is going to look like, you know.

Gonzalez: Right.

Juliani: You know, I learned how to design websites. It wasn’t because I took a class. I just learned online because I was interested in it. I wanted to design a website. That was it. You know when I wanted to learn WordPress, it was the same thing. That’s how we learn naturally, all the time. But then for some reason in school, we revert back to this unnatural method of learning. To me, it’s a shame, because we take students who are very curious by nature and we kind of like knock the curious out of them. Then they tie what learning is to what school is, which are completely different. That’s kind of what I’m doing with my book is to really try to put the curiosity back into that equation.

Gonzalez: Yeah, let’s talk about– Let’s talk about the book. This is the book Innovation– Say the title for me.

Juliani: Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom.

Gonzalez: Okay, and that just came out a few months ago, right?

Juliani: Yeah, it just came out in June.

Gonzalez: It looks to me like it’s sort of a handbook basically for doing genius hour.

Juliani: Yeah, it really– It walks teachers and administrators and parents through the why we should have this type of learning, the research and everything. How you can do it. How you can measure success. Pitfalls that people have. How you can actually do it with teachers and professional development. How you can do whole school communities as well. There’s a lot of research in this, but there’s also a lot of stories of how teachers have done this, how students have done this. So, you know I think that it’s very practical, which is the main thing that I wanted to do. I wanted to create something that was practical, now just not for this year, but ten years from now for student choice. And I’m hoping that that’s the type of book that it is.

Gonzalez: Yeah, and you have another book coming fairly soon, or you’re working on one right now?

Juliani: Yeah, so I’m working on a book. I’m going to self publish this one. It’s called Scratch Your Itch. Really, it’s kind of taking a lot of the ideas that I wrote about in Inquiry and Innovation to another level. I see that there’s a systemic problem with we have students who don’t know what they’re interested in leaving our schools. Then we have college graduates or students out in the real world that don’t know like what jobs they want to do, so they kind of just float. Right? Float from– To these jobs that they’re not really interested in and they’re living at home. They’re just, they don’t like have a path. Right? Then they eventually get a job because they have to pay bills. They have to start a family. Then they end up working at something that they’re not interested in. So my book, Scratch Your Itch, is saying that in order to kind of find out what you’re interested in, you have to learn. That’s what it comes down to. So Scratch Your Itch is saying I have this problem, I have this interest. So take time learning it, developing it. If we don’t have those new learning experiences, we’re never really going to figure out what our purpose is and what we’re passionate about.

So it’s going to be a short book, but it’s the type of book that I’d like to give my siblings, my younger siblings. The type of book I’d like to hand to a high school graduate or a college graduate. That’s the type of book that I want it to be, where it’s powerful to students and young people, but at the same time if there’s somebody who’s forty years old working at a job they don’t like, it can be powerful to them as well.

Gonzalez: Right.

Juliani: So even though it has to do with learning, it’s not an educational book per se. It’s more of a book about how to find your purpose and passion through experiences.

Gonzalez: It’s more for the students, it’s not so–I mean teachers would benefit from it, but it really almost sounds like it’s for students.

Juliani: It is. It is.

Gonzalez: Yeah. All right, two more quick questions.

Juliani: Sure.

Gonzalez: Is there a wrong way to approach 20 percent time? Are there any don’ts that you can hand out to people?

Juliani: Yeah. The worst thing you could do is assign this project and sit back and say all right, it’s up to you guys, 20% time, learn what you want. I’m here if you need me. It’s the worst way you can do it. It doesn’t work out. A teacher has to be more active in this learning experience than anything else. Because students need coaching. They need to be connected to the right resources, to the right people. They need help in their project. There’s going to be pitfalls and failures. They need someone there to say “That’s okay. That’s what it’s all about.”

Gonzalez: Right. Have you seen teachers that try to overstructure it?

Juliani: Yeah, I mean there are teachers that try to overstructure it and make it more like project based learning. But, I don’t mind that as much the first go ‘round because I think teachers sometimes need to have that control. If they do the project that way the first time, I’m pretty certain that most teachers will relinquish some of this control the next time. I’d rather have a teacher do it and really have it structured than not do it at all.

Gonzalez: Yeah. Yeah. So if someone listening to this is thinking “Okay I really think I want to try this,” what would be your recommended first couple of steps?

Juliani: Joy Kirr put out a livebinder and she has been the desk curator of 20% time and genius hour. Like if you just want a resource dump, you can type into Google genius hour livebinder or Joy Kirr livebinder. She’s curated almost every single resource, blog post, book that’s out there and really you can sift through which of these resources you want.

Then I would say the next step is really kind of figuring out how you’re going to make it work within the confines of what your school does, what your curriculum looks like and what your class situation looks like. So you can’t really jump into it without thinking about what’s my school culture? How’s this going to go over? What’s our curriculum look like? How’s that going to work? Also, what does my class make up look like. You got to think about it that way. Because if you don’t and just go into it blind, then you’re going to struggle with those kinds of things, which will take away from the actual student learning.

Gonzalez: So is it important to get the buy-in of sort of, if you work with a team of teachers, or to get, you know, administrators to support it? Are there teachers that have gone kind of rogue?

Juliani: Yeah, I mean I did it rogue.

Gonzalez: Oh really?

Juliani: Yeah, I think there are other teachers start out doing it rogue. You still have to be transparent, right. So let people know you’re doing it. Invite them to come in and see what it looks like. Share the research and the resources with them as well so they are informed. So a lot of times, maybe you don’t need permission, but you still need to inform people about the purpose behind this and why it works. That’s kind of what I wrote my book about. There are other people who have written books too, like Angela Maiers’ Passion Driven Classroom, Don Wettrick just came out with a book called Pure Genius. There’s some other people as well. So there’s resources out there. I would say get your ducks in a row with that because then if parents are complaining you’re prepared. You don’t have to spend time worrying about those interferences coming into play.

Gonzalez: Okay, that’s good advice, so, so, it probably isn’t a good idea for somebody to hear this and say “Okay, next Friday I’m going to give it a try.” There should be some preparation.

Juliani: Yeah. I definitely think so.

Gonzalez: Okay. Anything else that you would want to add to this?

Juliani: I think we need to really look at– One of the things that I talk about in my book is we really need to look at how our learners have changed and how the world around them has changed. I know sometimes that’s hard as a teacher because we’re kind of living inside this box. We got to write SLOs and SCES and IEPs and all these different things that kind of like keep us in this box. But if we really think about what’s right for our students, it’s allowing them to experience what it’s like when they have their own learning path. And so if you can’t do 20% time or genius hour, what areas of your class and of your activities can you give students choice? You know maybe it’s just a warm up activity or maybe it’s a project that you want to do or maybe it’s a paper. Start small if you can’t go all in. Find out what that looks like and how students react to that choice. Because I think that’s what’s empowering is the choice piece. It’s empowering for teachers and it’s also empowering for students.

Gonzalez: Thank you so much for spending all this time with me. Your passion for this idea is just really evident and I feel that — It seems like any time I Google 20% time and education — anytime I was looking yesterday for more resources, your name was attached to everything. So I really feel that you’re at the vanguard of this whole movement and I’m just really honored that you were willing to talk to me.

Juliani: Yeah, thanks for having me on.

[music playing]

Gonzalez: Thank you so much to A.J. Juliani for talking with me about 20% time. If you decide to try it and you want to tell us about it, come on over to where you’re going to find lots of other great stuff for teachers too. Thanks for listening and have a great day.


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