I've blogged about this idea before, and I seem to keep bumping into the concept in my reading. Have you heard of Genius Hour or Google's 20% Time or Atlassian's ShipIt Day? These are all basically the same concept--each with it's own interpretation or branding.
My learning in this area came first from hearing of Atlassian's ShipIt Day (although I think it used to be called Fedex day) where employees were given a day quarterly to develop an idea of their own. It's like a day to be creative--and get paid for doing it! It was an intriguing concept to me, but I hadn't really seen it applied to the school setting.
Then I read about Genius Hour. Author Dan Pink (one of my favorite authors so how could it be bad!) wrote about Jen Schefner who had developed an idea to spend 60 minutes per week, whenever the employee desires, to develop ideas or sharpen skills. This led teacher Denise Krebs to work to create a Genius Hour for herself. The idea snowballed into creating Genius Hours for students.
As is typical now--once you start reading about an idea you find yourself stumbling on lots of people implementing the same type of thing in the classroom setting. To learn more about what other teachers are doing, you may want to check out:
The crazy thing is that this is the list of links I found in about 2 minutes...there is much more out there to learn if you want to try this in your classroom, during a prep period, or maybe even in the superintendent's office...