On Saturday, February 23, approximately 60 educators from K-12 grades attended a Google Summit at Porterville Military Academy. Jose Vasquez, director of STEM for PUSD introduced the Google certified educators who presented.  

The keynote address was given by Kevin Brookhouser, author of “The 20time Project: How educators can launch Google’s formula for future ready innovation.”  Kevin’s tenth grade students in Santa Monica spend one class period a week working on a project that solves a problem to benefit their community. At the end of the year, students have to deliver a 5-minute presentation on a red carpet like the TED Talks. 

While some teachers wish they could transfer the knowledge from their brain to their students, Brookhouser invites them to be empowered problem solvers. Motivating kids to think of themselves in this manner requires that he establish a classroom culture of innovation that breeds wicked problem solving.

Kevin believes that video games are learning machines that help with problem solving. Video game designers understand how brains work using a functional fixedness. Divergent thinking is required such as seeing an object on the screen and using it in an unconventional way.

Built into trying is the possibility of failure.  Kids are willing to fail over and over again if the challenge is hard enough to put forth the effort. He does not believe that kids who play video games are lazy, but rather that they like to do hard things.

Companies need employees who persevere through hard problems. Google is trying to rethink how to get faster and cheaper internet to everyone. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico wiping out their infrastructure, Project Loon restored connectivity by sending up balloon-powered internet.  

Daniel Pink’s book Drive talks about three factors that help motivate student participation. The first is autonomy where students have more choice about what they learn. The next is mastery or the opportunity for skill development. The third factor is purpose or work that has value outside of the classroom. When student projects make an impact outside of school external motivators aren’t required because of the intrinsic satisfaction.

Google and 3M need a culture of innovation so they implemented a bootleg system. Employees at 3M were allowed to work on a bootleg project which was not in their job description. This autonomous ability to explore a passion is how post-it notes were invented.   

At Google they called it the 20% project where employees can solve problems that are not a part of their job description for one day each week.  Some of their most valuable products and most innovative tools have come from 20% project. 

Students and teachers kind of abide by this unwritten contract that says teachers tell students what to do. They do it. Then teachers grade it. The problem is that the vast majority of jobs will not give them a list of things to do. Often problems are very ambiguous.

He believes in mandatory autonomy meaning that he demands that his students do a project.  They begin by brainstorming where ideas are not rejected and yet teenagers worry constantly about rejection.

To get their creative juices flowing and too keep them from worrying about rejection, he uses the Bad Idea Factory. Students have fun coming up with bad ideas which has them playing with their brains.  They broke into groups to create a proposal and generate a list of deliverables. 

His students are required to blog about what they are working on.  They also have to develop an elevator pitch. This short memorized talk is intended to inspire others to help students realize their vision.

The life of a project starts out as the best idea ever but progresses to the notion that it’s harder than they thought it would be and it’s gonna take some work. Projects invariably go through the  “this sucks and it’s boring!” phase. 

Eventually projects bottom out during the dark night of the soul and begin their upward climb to “it might be good enough to finish.”

His high school students have said, “It’s done and it sucks, but not as bad as I thought.” We all struggle when we’re learning something new, because 10,000 hours of practice is required to obtain mastery.

Kevin tells students that done is better than perfect, but he wouldn’t put that saying on the wall of parachute packing office.  He expects creativity and innovation. The quest for perfection leads to incomplete. Failure is an option, but failure not to deliver is not.


Kristi McCracken, author of two children’s books and a long time teacher in the South Valley, can be reached at educationallyspeaking@gmail.com.

Recommended for you