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20% Project: Innovation from the 19th Century

I wish I could take credit for coming up with the idea behind The 20% Project. In truth I got the idea from reading Daniel Pink's Drive, and he got the idea from reading the latest psychological studies about motivation and visiting innovative businesses like Google.

Well at least it came from the greatest minds collaborating on how to transform education in the 21st century, right? Nope. Actually The 20% Project was her idea.
No, that's not a hoodie. This is Maria Montessori, the Italian physician and educator who founded a movement in education that suggests that students should learn by following their interests and interacting with their physical world. The teacher is there to provide order and structure. From The American Montessori Society:
The teacher, child, and environment create a learning triangle. The classroom is prepared by the teacher to encourage independence, freedom within limits, and a sense of order. The child, through individual choice, makes use of what the environment offers to develop himself, interacting with the teacher when support and/or guidance is needed.
Sound familiar? This model of education has been proven effective in elementary and middle schools around the United States. If my students who come to me from Montessori schools are a reliable indication, these schools do an amazing job fostering creativity, innovation, and academic independence. They're sometimes surprised when I actually require that they read a specific homework assignment, but they usually humor me.

The Montessori model hasn't penetrated high schools as much as it has the younger grades, but I am seeing a tide rising of teachers, administrators, students, parents, and business leaders, demanding that we deliberately teach innovation, creativity, collaboration, and entrepreneurialism and give students the chance to learn by making things. That's the Montessori way, and that's what I'm hoping to accomplish with The 20% Project. 


  1. The Innovation Funnel is a mechanism that enables a constant stream of ideas that can be screened for viability.

  2. Innovation is one of the most bandied about terms in global business today, but exactly what it means can be nebulous.


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