20Time Project – Update #1

This post is part of an occasional series documenting my entry into project-based learning. This semester, my freshmen will participate in a 20Time project, a 12-week experience where they choose a worthwhile project to complete (somewhat) on their own using 20 percent of our class time. You can read more about the path that led to this project here.

After a meeting filled with pointed questions and great advice, my department chair has green-lighted my 20Time plans (You the man, J.B.) and the stage is now set for a Feb. 5 launch. Ah, yeah!

One of the necessary elements for this project to be a success is the support of parents and guardians. As a mom, I would definitely have questions if my high schooler came home and said he was writing a stand-up comedy routine or filming a music video in English class.

So, here’s the letter I’m going to email to parents on the morning of Feb. 5. When my students arrive home that night and tell their parents that Ms. Randazzo is insane (certainly, it won’t be the first time they’ve made that declaration this year), I want mom and pop to have some understanding of my master plan.

Feel free to copy/reuse any part of this letter as you prep your own 20Time materials. Also, you’ll notice that the letter references a “speech proficiency,” which is a graduation requirement in my school district. You, of course, will want to drop or modify the wording in that section to best fit your situation.

Dear Parent/Guardian:

We’re at the halfway point of your student’s freshman year and our English class has been a wonderful hub of activity and growth. In the spring semester, we’re going to continue our rigorous study of classic literature (including Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet), but I wanted to let you know that I’m also adding a new element to the course – a self-directed project-based learning experience called 20Time.

In today’s business world, we need innovative thinkers who have a passionate drive to solve some incredibly complex problems. Forward-thinking companies know the value of encouraging workers to pursue personally meaningful projects as they exercise their critical thinking skills and create exciting new products to improve life (and the bottom line). At 3M, for instance, workers are given 15 percent of their time to pursue personal projects. One result of this program? Post-It Notes, one of the company’s best-selling items. At Google, engineers are given 20 percent release time and encouragement to pursue fresh ideas that will benefit the company. One impressive result? Gmail. 

The value of intrinsic motivation in learning and achievement cannot be overstated. To this end, I’ve borrowed from the research of Daniel Pink and a team of Google-certified teachers to bring 20Time to our freshmen this spring. Each week for the next 12 weeks, 20 percent of our time will be devoted to a language arts-based project that your student chooses based on his/her unique interests. (Don’t worry, 80 percent of our time will still be devoted to our traditional course of study.) During 20Time, though, I will guide, model, and hopefully inspire your student to find joy in wrangling with a challenge where there is no single “right” answer.

Understandably, students and parents will want to know how I plan to evaluate this unique project. To encourage innovative thinking, I will grade only a student’s process, not his/her finished product. I have built a variety of rubrics and tools to give students regular feedback on their work and those tools will be openly shared with your student ahead of scoring time. Basically, if your student chooses a project that he/she finds meaningful and works diligently on the project, he/she will do well on this assignment. The final assessment piece will be an end-of-project speech wherein students present what they did and what they learned from this process. This 3-to-5-minute speech will fulfill the school district’s speech proficiency requirement that all students complete at the end of their freshman year; I’m hopeful 20Time will make the speech proficiency even more meaningful than it has ever been before in my classroom.

All of the work needed to complete this Common Core-aligned project will be done in class, but you may discover your student wants to continue working on the project at home. Please encourage this. I hope you’ve had the experience of “flow” with a work project or hobby – that marvelous zone when time slips by unnoticed because you are so engrossed by the task at hand. If your student finds flow with this project, then we have much to celebrate.

As always, don’t hesitate to contact me via email if any questions or concerns arise as we work through the semester together. Thanks so much for your continued support of your student and our class!

Warmest regards,
Laura Randazzo,
English teacher

Teach on, everyone!

18 thoughts on “20Time Project – Update #1

  1. Laura,

    You are such an inspiration! I am the first, and only, ELA teacher and my school to try the 20Time project. I have introduced the project, and the students are performing their guppytank presentations today!!

    I love your blog 🙂 You are who I want to become as I strive toward ELA greatness!!


  2. Thanks for this kind note, Rebecca! I, too, am the first and only 20Timer on my campus – for now. Let’s both cut through the thicket and carve a path for our colleagues to follow. I know they’ll be coming along soon. 🙂

    Again, thanks for being a reader! I’m so glad the blog has been a good resource for you. Yea!

  3. I am SO excited to try 20Time this year. I did inquiry projects a few years ago and was moderately successful. Looking forward to starting fresh. Thanks!

  4. Wonderful, Jennifer! If it helps make things easier for you, you can also go here and grab everything I made for 20Time all in one convenient spot. Have fun with your kids this year!

    Thanks for reading my blog,

  5. My 7th grade classes will be working on 20Time Projects this year.

  6. Awesome, Trish! Hope these materials are helpful. Go get ’em!

  7. Matthew Bodell says:

    This is by far one of the most helpful teacher blogs I’ve seen. This project looks great for me to implement into a new senior seminar elective class I’m teaching this year. Would you mind if I borrowed some of the wording of your parent letter (particularly the research you did on the innovations created by certain companies utilizing this idea) as I draft up my assignment instructions?
    Thanks again!

  8. Thanks, Matthew! So glad you like the blog. Feel free to copy and paste the wording of that letter as you draft your own for your classes. The only thing I ask is that folks don’t post my letter on the Internet without giving credit to me as the source. If you’re just using the materials in your classroom, then there’s no need to give any credit. I really just want these materials to make your life easier.

    Much thanks,

  9. Matthew Bodell says:

    Thanks so much! Will do! I’ll cite you for my in-class documents too. I hate taking ideas without giving credit. Thanks for contributing to the profession and to students. I’m excited about trying this out!

  10. Super, Matthew! Best of luck with the project. It’s turned into a game-changer for me. 🙂

  11. Can you tell me the interval between introducing the 20Time project and the presentation of the “Guppy Tank” presentations?

  12. Good question, Irene! I usually give kids 3-to-5 days to prepare, depending on our late January/early Feb. calendar. No matter when I give the intro. Prezi and explain the project, I always make sure they have a weekend to ponder their proposal and prep for the Guppy Tank, which usually begins on a Monday. Hope this helps with your planning! 🙂

  13. Traci M Vedros says:

    Just when I think I couldn’t possibly love you or your units anymore… Thanks so much for sharing this! I am an 8th grade gifted ELA teacher – and my 8th graders are taking English 1. To “reward” this accelerated learning, my students get to take 11 days of 8th-grade standardized tests – and 6 days of English 1 / Algebra 1 standardized tests! Before I left for Spring Break, I talked to my administrator about doing 20Time during this testing to make the 17 days of testing… and she loved the idea. She just told me to do some research. Your amazing resources are perfect! Thanks for sharing!

  14. You are too kind, Traci. Tell your admin. that all of this originated from Google engineers – that’ll get her on board, for sure. 😉

  15. Lisa M Barone says:

    I understand my students asking “how many points is this worth”. I mean not many of us would come to work for free especially if we didn’t like or care for our job. Not all of my students like English, I get that, some are more geared towards math or science. Sometimes looking at things from another point of view helps keep our blood pressure down.

  16. Indeed, Lisa. I know Atticus Finch said it best when he advised, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” It seems we’ve trained our students to “do school” and succeed in a point-based system that values GPA above all else, including actual learning. The 20Time project is all about helping students find and pursue a passion that’s important to them, the real “point” of education. William Deresiewicz has a compelling book on the topic called Excellent Sheep. Definitely worth a look!

  17. Nowteachingonline says:

    I would like to do this with my kids, but I am also struggling with the introduction portion. Since the COVID situation closed all the schools, I need to make sure that I am making my expectations really clear at the beginning, but I’m not sure how to do that because I’m not sure I’ve wrapped my head around everything yet.

    Do you have a clear handout? I have downloaded your package and its great. I have also read through your entire blog. But is there something that lays out the criteria for the kids? I am really struggling with the intro portion.

  18. Sorry, Nowteachingonline, I don’t have anything like that written up and ready to go, only that opening Prezi slide show. I hear you. This is a difficult time. Standing in your shoes, I’d probably film a short video intro. for my kids where I share the slide deck and explain the project/my expectations and then post that video to YouTube as a “hidden” video. Then, I’d share the link to the video either in my closed classroom community (Google Classroom, etc.) or send the link to my student/parent email list. It’s such a big project that I worry the lack of connection to you during the process would cause it all to quickly unravel. Kids are great, but they’re kids. If they don’t have clarity and accountability, I doubt most will follow-through with their work – sort of like some adults I know. 🙂 Anyway, hope this is useful.
    If you haven’t already seen this, I also have some other distance learning lesson ideas in a blog post here:
    and here:
    Stay healthy and hopeful!

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