Caine’s Arcade and Google’s 80/20 Innovation Model in the Classroom

The 80/20 Theory

As I understand it, Google allows employees to work on their own pet projects for 20% of time while having them work on company chosen projects for the other 80%.  Allowing employees the chance to choose what they want to work on for some amount of their time increases motivation in the other 80% and leads to innovation that Google might not think of on its own.  Even though most of the pet projects never come to fruition, some of the ones that have have been great.  How can we bring this innovation to the classroom?

A Dreamer Becomes a Hero

Like many, I was inspired by the video making the rounds about a nine year old boy, Caine, who built an arcade out of cardboard boxes in the front of his father’s auto parts store. What is striking is Caine’s passion, his perseverance, his creativity, and the point at which idle work in his father’s shop turns into genius. The video which has been widely seen has generated a large college fund for the boy.

Passion

I love the part in the video when Caine describes how he made alterations to a game to make it harder.  Many of the students I see in reading intervention classes seem to give up on most things after only one try.

Sometimes it seems like our students are apathetic.  But maybe they’re just apathetic about school.  Do we know what they’re passionate about? Do we encourage them to find their passion? And do we let them follow passions far enough that they can go past the necessary point of frivolity and blossom into something substantial?

Let me ask a deeper question.  Are you as a teacher, passionate about teaching?  Do you as a teacher have something that you are passionate about?  I write this as I am finishing writing a script for my first film project in ten years not to be made in a classroom.  I love teaching.  But my passion is making movies.  If you’re not feeling some passion in your own life, how can you encourage it in children?

It’s a safe bet that for most of our students, school is not their passion.  We forget that decoding words is not the fun part, discovering and applying knowledge is.  Long division, multiplication facts, and timed tests are not enjoyable but problem-solving, brainstorming, and code-breaking might be.

The Past

I’ve done a couple of things in the past to offer moments of independence in my classroom:

  • Independent Work Time (students choose their own activities after completing assigned ones)
  • Writer’s Workshop (you write whatever you want but you have to publish on an agreed upon deadline)

The Future

I want students to take an interest.  I don’t’ care so much what they take an interest in.  I don’t want to give up class time for them to play games.  However, I do think I can give up class time for them to research, create, and explore while I guide, encourage, and motivate.   They can’t create Caine’s Arcade, it’s already been built.  I want them to create their own projects.  I’d like to give up as much of 20% to this notion.

I hypothesize that the lost time will be made up for in increased productivity and job skills when it comes to the assigned curriculum.  I could be totally wrong.  What do you think?

4 Responses to Caine’s Arcade and Google’s 80/20 Innovation Model in the Classroom

  1. I agree! I believe any time you give students the power of choice you reap greater results.

  2. I’ve never thought of applying the Google approach to classrooms, but it makes sense. We talk all the time about fostering more creative thinking in students, but it seems like it would take a ton of time and money, and we forget that the little moments of independence (as you call them) can make a difference. We definitely need to teach students to live a life full of passion, so they don’t get it beaten out of them by “the system.”

    -Charmaine Ng, Community Advocate at QuickSchools.com

  3. Awesome reflection, Mathew. And what a great way to challenge fellow teachers to think outside the box.
    Check out this story as well (‘How Creativity Works’: It’s All In Your Imagination): http://www.npr.org/2012/03/19/148777350/how-creativity-works-its-all-in-your-imagination
    It aired on NPR a few weeks ago, and a friend shared it with me. Totally aligned with your thoughts here.

  4. Pingback: Post 3- Allow students to express themselves! | Professional Experience 3

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