Until this week.
I did some research on how to set up a 20% project and dove right in. Was it smart? Probably not. Dumbest thing I've ever done? Not by a long shot. Could this fail? Absolutely. Will it? I won't let it happen.
About an hour ago, I saw one of the most discombobulated classroom and saw pure joy. I had sent the students on a journey that they actually wanted to be on. Think about it this way... Students show up to school, sit in their desks, and listen (some of the time) to what you think they need to hear and learn to be proficient and making cool designs on a bubble sheet. What if they could show up to school, even for one period per day, and learn about something that they are truly passionate about. What if they come to you excited about something that they have discovered, or learned, based on a plethora of research articles, studies, images, and data? Isn't that school? Isn't that education?
Here's how I set it up in my room:
To start the day off, we took a quiz using Socrative. Please read a previous post to gain a true understanding of my love for that app. The class pulled out their devices, answered 5 questions related to factoring polynomials, and all but 5 of my 38 students scored at least a 4 out of 5. This is a major start in the right direction.
Once they finished with that, we introduced the 20% time. Students filled in the form here and got to work. Wouldn't you know it, there were students who had similar questions?! With that said, these students (some of whom didn't necessarily have much in common prior to the project starting) wound up partnering up and working on the research together. Students were allowed to work in groups of up to 4 as long as they could justify why they wanted to be in a group. Yes, I had a lot of students who were paired up with their friends (are we supposed to separate friends?).
What happened next is the fun stuff. I looked through all of the responses and brought up groups with some questionable entries. After all, I wanted to know that they were truly passionate about learning this topic. We ironed out the areas of concern and the students got right back to work. Once I had checked in on each of the groups, I looked up. Students were huddled in groups, hovering over their devices and collaborating on something that they loved to talk about. They were hungry to feed the curiosity. It was incredible.
Some of my favorites:
How can a nutritionist can help teens?
How do architects design blueprints?
How can I perfect my jumpshot?
What is the difference between the Marines and the Air Force?
What different types of photography are there?
What does it take to become a NICU nurse?
Why is the meaning of music changing every year?
This could have completely bombed. It could have been a giant waste of time. Who knows, it still might. The first couple of responses were "photography" and "phones". We pulled back for a second, I went into further detail on what a Google 20% project looks like, and had the students resubmit their responses. If there were any sketchy ones, it was easy to monitor the responses in real time and address them as necessary.
Things that I would do differently the next time around:
It was a little bit frustrating for me to ask the question "What do you want to learn?" and expect incredible responses immediately. To avoid the one-word responses that weren't questions, I would give the class an example of a good question that they cannot use. Something along the lines of "How has the light bulb evolved over the course of history?" would be a good start. It's boring enough to where the vast majority of the class wouldn't be interested in it and interesting enough to drive the point home. Another quick fix that I would do is to have each student submit their own response prior to telling them about groups. What I encountered was that students were grouping together to find out what the group wanted. Instead, I'd have each student submit their own idea and form groups based on common interests. There were some, albeit few, cases where "groups" couldn't decide on a project. Therefore, they were broken up and asked to find something that they, individually, are passionate about.
Going forward, I know that this is not going to be the Yellow Brick Road. However, it isn't going to be the same single-lane highway that drifts aimlessly off into oblivion. My students are ready to take on the 20% time as a way to prove that school is more than just teachers standing in front of the class and delivering the content from a textbook. I am learning, slowly but surely, that authentic learning happens when the ones who are learning are the ones who own it. I'm learning. So are my students.