Tuesday, April 29, 2014

20% Time Projects: Resources for Teachers

Image from Pecha Kucha
The basic premise of the 20% Time Project is that it is student-driven, passion-based learning. The idea gained traction as more people read Daniel Pink’s book Drive. In the book, Pink cites an idea that started with the 3M company and was expanded by Google. Google encourages its employees to spend one day each work week, 20 percent of their work time, focusing on their own projects. Why? Well, it turns out that when people have autonomy over their work, time to master their skills, and a clear purpose, they are more motivated to learn. And scientific research supports this claim. In fact, Google’s philosophy of 20 percent time is how we now have Gmail!

Introductory Resources:

Resources for Introducing 20% Time to Students:

How I Introduced 20% Time to Students:

I posted a YouTube Playlist to my class website with videos from other teachers, from Google, and from Daniel Pink which explained the premise of 20% Time. I asked students to watch a couple on their own time as homework and try to come up with an explanation of what 20% Time Projects entailed. We used the videos to frame out opening discussion and to kick-off our initial brainstorming session.


What do you want to learn? One day each week during the second quarter we will be using our time to research the topic of your choice.  You goal is to become an expert on that topic.  But this project is not just about researching…it is about doing something with what you learn.  To complete this project successfully you will
    • Pick a topic you are passionate about, something you want to learn. You may work alone or in small groups of no more than four students.
    • Find a book on your topic to guide your learning.
    • Pitch your project idea in a project proposal to the class for topic approval. You will submit both a written proposal and produce a video proposal to be posted to our class site for our community of learners to vote on.
    • Connect with an expert on your topic to interview.
    • Blog each Friday reflecting on your progress. Each post should also incorporate reflections on how your selected book is guiding your research.
    • Produce something – a presentation, a writing piece, a show – that you share with people outside of our classroom.
    • Reflect on what you have learned in a TED-style talk.

This is not simply a research project.  Once you’ve finished the research phase of this project, you must do something with your new found knowledge.  Students will be creating products and presentations (either individually or in small groups) that will extend beyond the classroom, such as documentary videos for H-Vision, web pages, pamphlets, newspaper or magazine editorials, an article for the Fordian, letters, public speaking presentations, fundraising, music, plays…or whatever you can think of to best make our community aware of your research topic.  The idea is to reach an audience outside the doors of our classroom in order to share your research.

Creating Your Pitch Video

Your video pitch will be a creative visual presentation that answers the same questions as your written proposal but in a way that engages our larger learning community.  Whereas your written proposal is meant for just your teacher, your video project proposal pitch is meant for our entire community to see and respond to.  So here are some guidelines and ideas to keep in mind:
         Whatcha gotta do is make sure you answer these questions:
    • Why are you interested in this particular topic?
    • What question(s) are you hoping to answer through your research?
    • What will you need to research?
    • Where will you find the expert and the information you need?
    • What will the outcome/product of your research be?
    • Why is this a viable topic?

Once you have written your proposal, you need to figure out how to produce your pitch video. The video pitch will be organized in the same way as the written proposal; however, you have the freedom to produce your pitch in a way that makes the best sense for your topic.  You can elect to screencast a slide or Prezi presentation or you may want to record yourself talking – it is up to you.  Your video pitch should
    • engage your viewers with use of appropriate images and design elements,
    • present your idea in a professional, well-prepared manner,
    • be under two minutes in length,
    • answer the same six questions as the written proposal, and
    • be posted to our class website for our class to vote on.
    •          Tools to Consider Using For Your Video:
        • Jing - a free app that allows you to screencast whatever is on your computer screen (and, it is already on the school computers)  
        • PowToon - an easy online app for creating animated presentations
        • Prezi - an online presentation program.  This would be a good first step to putting together your video and then you could screencast your presentation
        • RawShorts - This site is an easy...seriously EZ way of making engaging animated videos.
        • Screencast-o-matic.com - no downloading necessary with this free, online screencasting program.  Fast, easy, and awesome.
        • VideoScribe - Have you seen the RSAnimate videos? Well this app allows you to make videos in a very similar fashion.  It can be a bit time consuming, but the results are pretty cool!

Considerations Before Beginning:

Students watched the initial videos explaining Genius Hour/20% Time, and then explored potential ideas on a resource page found on our class website. I also opted to email parents about our project in advance of starting it, which helped me gather support as well as find experts in our community for my students to interview. I gave my students a framework for their research - blogging, reading requirements, interview, and presentations - in order to help them keep track of their learning. Some teachers will argue against formalizing the project in this way. However you decide to frame your project, keep in mind that student choice and purpose drive the 20% Time and Genius Hour projects. Try as much as you can to open up the choices that students can make about their research topic, how they research it, and how they present it.
What are the parameters? What can students research?
Read something and be inspired. Act on it.

Read. Discover. Pitch. Learn. Share.

  • Brainstorm Days - Try using this video to introduce brainstorming to your students. Then use this video on "Where Do Good Ideas Come From?" during the next class period to encourage collaboration.
  • Initial Research - check out the philosophy and resources available on the Independent Inquiry wiki. Consider sharing with students and have them explore the question of “what is learning?”
  • Students then craft a written proposal and pitch presentation with works cited.
  • Once a proposal is approved, students will need to find a book to guide their learning and a mentor with whom to work. Oftentimes, the mentor can suggest the best book for students to read, so you may want to have them start by finding a mentor. Use everything at your disposal to find real experts - community members, other teachers, family and friends, and social media sites
  • On 20% research days (usually we had them each Friday), students were given the entire class to work. At the close of each research day, each student needed to post a reflection blogs which included not just a progress report but needed to also reflect on what the student was reading. Each blog posted needed citations or quotes from their research.
  • On research days, the teacher would conduct conferences with individuals and small groups.
  • At the close of the semester, not only did students find ways to share their research outside the classroom, but they also produced a TEDTalk style presentation on their project and what they learned through their research.

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