Why we adopted Google's way of working in our classroom

Giving students time to pursue their own ideas is great, says Emma Sanderson – after all, it drove Google to success
24th November 2020, 12:47pm


Why we adopted Google's way of working in our classroom

Passion Projects: We Adopted The Google Way Of Working In Our School Classroom, Says Teacher Emma Sanderson

Children are naturally inquisitive. It is what makes our jobs as teachers in equal parts rewarding and challenging.

But how can we harness that curiosity in a way that allows students to take ownership of their learning while getting them excited to explore new topics?

To answer this, we can turn to Google - not its search engine, but its business practice.

Because in a bid to improve its way of working and potentially expand its brand, Google allowed employees to spend 20 per cent of their time a week focusing on what it called "Passion Projects' - any project of their choosing, on the condition that it ultimately benefited the company in some way.

This self-directed time led to innovations including Gmail and Google News.

The Google way: Self-directed ideas

We can do something similar in the classroom; time can be set aside in the curriculum to allow students to take ownership of their learning by working on topics that they are passionate about.

Not only can this allow for more engagement in a task but it also promotes deeper learning as a result - and it allows you to get to know your students on a more personal level and develop those essential relationships in the classroom.

By implementing "Genius Hour" into your planning, students have the option of directing their own learning to a topic of their choice, or, alternatively, teachers can guide the direction of the projects. This can also help students to become more motivated and engaged learners.

So how does it work? The Genius Hour structure follows three steps:

  1. There must be a driving question.
  2. The project must involve research.
  3. The project must be shared - not only with the class but possibly the world!

Driving questions

Coming up with a driving question that allows for insightful research can be challenging for students. As such, when approaching our first Passion Project in class, we spent time debating what makes an effective question before considering question stems and how they can be useful.

Students were encouraged to come up with questions using some of the following stems:

  • What does _______ reveal about _________?
  • To what extent does…?
  • What motivates_________?
  • How would you develop…?
  • What alternatives are there for…?
  • How can technology be used to…?
  • What assumptions are there about…?
  • What would happen if…?
  • How can we improve…?

Once students had decided upon their question, it then needed to be broken down into four smaller questions in order to focus their research, before they could come up with their own conclusion.

For example, after learning about some high-profile wildfires in 2020, one student decided to focus their project on this topic. They came up with an overarching question, which was broken down into four more focused questions for their research:

Google question example image


Once a student has a question, they need to be able to properly research it.

The school library is often a good place for students to start their research journey, with age-appropriate reference books to allow students to conduct their research safely and independently.

When it comes to the internet, students may need a little more guidance, but it can be done.

News websites aimed at children can provide insight into current affairs as a starting point for their research - particularly if websites have "further Information" sections that offer safe links to outside websites where students can freely continue some further reading on their topic.

Alternatively, offering students a list of websites they are allowed to use may offer more fruitful results than students exploring the World Wide Web on their own.

Sharing the project

This is a brilliant opportunity for students to take pride in their work and share their results with the class.

This could be in the form of a presentation (or a video created at home on Flipgrid), a speech, an article, a poster, a leaflet…the possibilities are limitless.

One student gave a rousing speech on the question, "What alternatives are there for living on planet Earth?" (Ultimately concluding that there were none and there was a need to change our lifestyles in order to save the planet).

Another student offered a passionate presentation on, "How can we improve Earth's biodiversity while allowing people to still eat meat and plants?"

Finally, after witnessing the impact of Covid-19 first-hand, one student wrote an insightful article to answer the question, "What has Covid-19 revealed about our society in 2020?"

Overall, Genius Hour is a great opportunity to create excitement around learning.

It allows students to practice critical thinking, focus on independent learning and build confidence in their presentation skills - all while focused on a topic that they love.

Emma Sanderson is a secondary English teacher at Hartland International School in Dubai and has taught internationally for six years. She tweets @emmanaomi 

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