In a nutshell, I've given my students the opportunity to reclaim 20% of the time they spend in my classroom and use it to learn about subjects they love - no connection to content required. Implementing a project like this is passion-based learning at its finest. Because students are able to pursue learning of their choice, they are 100% engaged, 100% of the time. In addition to being something that has captured their interest, launching this project has allowed me to better know my students. I've found out that they are interested in a wide variety of subjects, some of which I would not have expected 11 year olds to wonder or care about. Students are allowed to choose whether to work alone or collaboratively to produce evidence of their learning, though everyone must complete individual reflections along the way.
In the end, students will present on a topic of their choice and will showcase learning in a method of their choice. So far, some are planning iMovies, screencasts, or poster projects, while other students are leaning toward constructing models, song-writing, or recording a podcast. All of the projects will be shared on our classroom website and/or Vimeo Channel, so student work will have a wider audience. However, I suppose the real endgame - the one that counts most - is that students will become more well rounded and will have a chance to explore areas of personal interest.
Allowing students to choose what to learn, how to learn, and how to show their learning is powerful. It is also incredibly fun to facilitate as a teacher. I think that I look forward to 20% time just as much as my students do! There are definitely many different ways you can choose to implement a project. Here is how I have structured ours:
- Develop a plan for where you will find the time. I teach two hour block periods of ELA and #flipclass Social Studies, so I have chosen to give students one hour on Wednesdays and one hour on Fridays.
- Day One: I had my students brainstorm questions. I said, "You are going to spend the day asking questions, but there are two rules. First, questions can not have an easy answer that could be found with a simple Google search. Second, we will make no attempt to answer the questions today." I had my students generate questions in a Today's Meet room. As they brainstormed, I copied and pasted their questions into a Google Doc. This allowed me to eliminate questions that were too easy to answer. (Check out a sample of student-generated questions.)
- Day Two: Students selected a question they were most interested in researching. I emphasized that they should choose a question formulated around a topic they love. I then asked students to respond to a prompt in Edmodo, which is the LMS we use regularly. It's a great system, because it allows me to comment on each student's response privately.
Use complete sentences and follow all of our writing norms:
What question will you be researching? Why did you choose that topic to research? Where are you planning on finding the answer? Are you excited about 20% time? What are you worried about regarding 20% time? Will you be working with anyone?
- For the Next Several Weeks: Students should have the opportunity to thoroughly research their topics. This process lends itself well to informal discussions about information credibility, effective Internet searching, a range of digital literacy skills, using the electronic catalog system in the library more effectively, etc. The amazing part? Students are so engaged and invested, they pay super close attention to developing and refining these skills - which they might otherwise consider boring or mundane.
- Before Production: As a class, my students will work together to create a rubric that defines what a "good project" will look like. In other words, they will have to define how we will be able to tell how much someone has learned about their topic. Since students are free to choose how they would like to express their learning, the rubric will need to be somewhat general.
- The Production Process: After researching, students will have to create a product that showcases their learning. I have found that the kids are so energized by learning about topics they love, they can hardly wait to start producing! They aren't even concerned about having to present their final product to one another; rather, students are eager to share and have an incredible sense of pride.
Currently, my students are in the middle of the research process. Their excitement is palpable and the room feels energized even more than usual whenever 20% time rolls around. Students have greeted this opportunity with such enthusiasm that they are often clamoring for permission to work on 20% pursuits when they finish other work, and many have also chosen to investigate their topic at home. Recently, I was able to talk with parents during conferences and several of them came prepared with questions. It was as if they couldn't believe A) how excited their kids were and B) the fact that a teacher was actually allowing students to choose their own learning. All were supportive and very pleased with the level of student enthusiasm that has trickled over into the home environment.
Where Can You Learn More?
Consider listening to this week's Instructional Tech Talk podcast. John Stevens (@jstevens009) and I were lucky enough to be interviewed by Jeff Herb, who invited us to talk about the 20% projects we've implemented in our classrooms.