I recently began reading Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question and found myself immersed, highlighting line after line of excerpts. The premise focuses on the deficit of questioning by students. Although I am a middle school teacher, first and foremost I consider myself a lifelong learner. That said, I cannot help but become perplexed when students are apathetic toward learning. Nevertheless, as Berger mentions, we should not wonder why students fail to display curiosity and a desire to learn; they have been conditioned this way. Berger explains, “Preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day. By middle school, they’ve pretty much stopped asking” (2014, p. 58).
The notion that students become less likely to ask questions as they age, in-turn becoming less engaged, welcomes a discussion on the root cause (Berger, 2014). Yet, whether a lack of questioning leads to disengagement or vice versa, one thing is certain: teachers must provide students with more opportunities to ask questions and further explore topics of interest. Despite pressures of meeting adequate state-mandated test scores and limited classroom instruction time, if educators want to cultivate a future of independent and innovative thinkers, time is of the essence. Tony Wagner and John Seely Brown, two leading researchers in education, strengthen the argument agreeing, “the consensus seems to be that this new world demands citizens who are self-learners; who are creative and resourceful; who can adjust and adapt to constant change” (Berger, 2014, p. 65).
What We Can Learn from Google
A More Beautiful Question contains many insightful anecdotes and perspectives on renowned innovators, of which include Google’s co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In Google’s Initial Public Offering (IPO) letter they explain, “We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. This empowers them to be more creative and innovative” (2004). Moreover, their vision was to offer employees an opportunity to build on curiosities instead of hindering them.
Although it is unclear who initially integrated Google’s philosophy in an educational setting, it has sparked a new wave of student-centered, inquiry-based learning experiences, known as 20Time, 20% Time, and Genius Hour — all synonymous in theory. The idea is to allow students to use 20% of their class time to take on a project of interest. Kevin Brookhouser, educator, author and advocate for 20Time in the classroom, discusses the impetus and outcomes for implementing it in his own classes.
Brookhouser pays tribute to best-selling author and thought-leader, Daniel Pink — specifically his three-pronged solution to getting the most out of employees, of which includes autonomy, mastery and purpose. Yes, Pink’s philosophies are geared toward businesses, but the same mentality could apply for getting the most out of students. If we fail to provide students with autonomy in their learning, we restrict their curiosities, closing the door on a realm of possibilities. Perhaps students’ apprehension to asking questions stems from the fact that we do not allow them the opportunity to do so (Berger, 2014). Offering students designated time to explore inquiries and produce something tangible from their learning is a wonderful tactic in harnessing the spirit of curiosity.
My Experience with 20Time
I am currently in my second year teaching Imagineering, an 8th grade course modeled from the 20Time philosophy. In contrast to traditional 20Time, Imagineering offers students a full, consistent marking period (roughly 50 days) to work. Routinely, students begin the class with varied outlooks, some excited, yet most timid to begin. I attribute this to the fact that they have rarely, if ever, had the opportunity to tackle a project aimed to answer one of the many questions that lie dormant within them. Although there are few exemplary projects that culminate, the opportunity far exceeds the results. The project urges students to question and this is a beautiful thing.
We, as educators, need to make up for lost time. Coincidentally, we must ask ourselves: what are our students' futures worth?
If you are interested in learning more about 20Time, check out Kevin Brookhauser’s book, The 20Time Project: How educators can launch Google's formula for future-ready innovation, and A.J. Juliani’s free guide to 20% Time in the classroom.
Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: the power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.
Brookhauser, K. (2013, May 9). Don't call it a classroom: Kevin Brookhouser at TEDxMonterey. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/MqG-bppvW7k
The New York Times. (2009, April 29). Letter From the Founders. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/29/business/letter-from-the-founders.html