This post is part of an occasional series documenting my entry into project-based learning. This semester, my students 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.

So far, so good. I introduced the 20Time project to my freshmen last week and am still buzzing from the swell of support. Two of my classes broke out into spontaneous applause as I explained the plan and I received eight (eight!) enthusiastic parent emails of support. My singleton class of juniors heard about the project and began a whisper campaign to be included, so I’ve decided to bring them into the fold this week.

Kids enthusiastic about learning? Yeah, that works for me.

The first official assignment is the 60-Second Pitch Assignment, a 30-point public speaking assignment where each student stands before the class, explains what he/she wants to accomplish, and convinces us that it’s a worthwhile use of this time. I’ve decided the class will vote with secret ballots to approve or deny each project and the student must convince a two-thirds majority of us to support the plan during a Q&A session in order to get the green light. Any student whose plans fail to garner support will work one-on-one with me to refine/improve the idea, which I will then approve. (For easy tallying of the votes, I’m using my new ZipGrade app, which you can read more about here.)

Think of the 60-Second Pitch as a kinder, gentler Shark Tank experience – we’re calling it “Guppy Tank” in class, actually. The idea is that students aren’t building this project to please me; instead, they should be working on a project that makes sense beyond the four walls of our classroom.

A sign that I’m on the right path unexpectedly came Thursday morning from the teacher across the hall. Because I’m a little crazy, I decided that I would also complete a 20Time project alongside my students, as I would never ask them to take on a task that I’m not also willing/able to accomplish myself. To that end, I actually have two 20Time projects. First, I’m building (and blogging about – hi there, blog friend) these 20Time materials. Second, I’ve decided to learn to play a song on the ukulele and perform it live for my students. I’m tone deaf and uncoordinated, yet I’ve always wanted to be the cool kid who entertains everyone at the campfire, strumming a few impromptu tunes. My own children are musical (my 21-year-old son is a guitarist and my 12-year-old daughter plays the drums), yet I have no skills. Zero.

So I brought my son’s ukulele to school on Thursday to use as a prop and the teacher across the hall (a new teacher from a different department who I know only as a “hi, bye” work friend) popped into my room before school. He saw the ukulele, asked a few questions, and, as it turns out, just so happens to be a professional ukulele player, entertaining at our local wineries on weekends. He was so excited about 20Time and my personal goal that I now find myself with a personal ukulele coach. Crazy, right? He taught me the G7 chord before school on Friday and it’s looking like I might actually survive the next 12 weeks without embarrassing myself. Sweet.

If you’d like to see my 60-Second Project Pitch materials, they are available as PDFs at the links below. The Guppy Tank starts tomorrow and I can’t wait to see the variety of projects my students decide to pursue.

Stay tuned for more reflections as the next 12 weeks unfold.

Teach on, everyone!

Click here for the 60-Second Pitch Assignment.
Click here for the 60-Second Pitch Rubric.

Join the conversation! 10 Comments

  1. Hi ! I am bravely stepping out of my comfort zone, and attempting this with my students! Yikes! Quick question: For the pitches, students simply decided approve or deny for their peers? So on zip grade, they filled in just one question? Thanks for the inspiration!!

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  2. You go, Mandi! Be brave and it’ll all work out. For the Guppy Tank scoring, yes, I just had the classmates in the audience bubble in “A” for Approve or “B” for Deny. Then, I ran the score sheets through the ZipGrade app. Any presenter who scored 67% or higher approval was given a green light, 50% to 66% were given a yellow light meaning the project pitch was pretty good but needed a little guidance from me before the student would be allowed to move forward with his/her plans, and 49% or less approval meant a red light and a meeting with me to radically revise the project idea or choose something different altogether.

    For the most part, my students green-lighted their peers’ project pitches, though 10-20 percent of each class were yellow or red-lighted. I just had quick conferences with those kids during an SSR Friday session to help them refine their project ideas into something more workable.

    Hope this helps. And good luck with your first-ever 20Time! It’ll make your semester z-o-o-m by, that’s for sure.
    🙂 Laura

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  3. Hello! So, are students allowed to have notes when they present their 60-second pitches? Visual aids? Do they have to have their pitches memorized completely? Thanks!

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  4. Hi Robert,
    Great questions! I love that you’re digging into the project, already visualizing how it’ll roll. In my classes, there aren’t any notecards or visual aids for the 60-second pitch. I frame it for my kids to imagine they’re an inventor who crossed paths with an investor in an elevator or in line at a Starbucks. They have 60 seconds. I time them and cut them off, even if they haven’t hit all of their talking points. Then, the class can ask two or three clarifying questions, if needed.

    The pitches aren’t memorized; they’re more like a polished overview and then a conversation. Think “Shark Tank” with a softer edge. To help out my nervous guppies, I do write the following from the assignment sheet really large on the back wall’s whiteboard, so they can just follow the path as they present:
    Your name
    What you want to create
    Why you chose this project (Tell a little story, perhaps?)
    What materials/resources you’ll need
    What obstacles you anticipate and your plan to navigate those obstacles
    Why this project is worthy of a significant investment of time
    Graciously thank the audience

    My classes are HUGE, so I need these to be quick in order to stick to my packed spring calendar. Visual aids would slow the process and, I figure, you’re not carrying around a Powerpoint or posterboard when you’re in line at the coffeeshop. Also, we can always tell within those 60 seconds whether a student has an idea that’ll fly or whether he/she hasn’t really thought things through that much. Sixty seconds sounds like no time at all, yet it actually turns into molasses for some of the worst presentations.

    Of course, feel free to change up anything you like. Make these 90-second pitches or allow kids to have notecards. Whatever you think your kids will need will be great!

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  5. Alright, thanks! One more question: how many days or weeks before the end of 20Time do you assign the End-of-Project Speech Assignment?

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  6. Happy to help, Robert! I give the kids a two-week advance notice about the speech. That’s also the day I present my own 20Time speech as a model for them, explaining what I did and what I learned from my own project.

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  7. Hello, Laura!

    I’d just like to ask, how closely do you follow the rubric for the 20Time 60-Second Project Pitch? I’m sure many teachers who have assigned 20Time in their classes have had students who wanted to start online businesses, create some sort of product (like maybe cute little figurines or some solar-powered gizmo), or maybe choreograph a dance; however, I am not sure how these relate to ELA. Do you give these ideas high grades despite their lack of (or vague) connection to ELA, or am I just not seeing the connection to ELA? If that is the case, please tell me, what is the connection of creating businesses or creating a product to ELA? I don’t mean to be rude or anything; I’m just really confused.

    Thanks!

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  8. Hi again, Eng10Santos! I follow that 60-Second Guppy Tank rubric precisely – it’s the exact one I use with my classes. When I introduce 20Time the week before Guppy Tank presentations begin, I make it very clear that each project needs to have an ELA component. A student is welcome to pursue any passion, as long as it’s approved by the Guppy Tank voters and has a tie to something in the CCSS for language arts. I definitely have to help some kids find that thread, but we always can.

    For instance, if a student wanted to start a business selling a craft project, he/she could make an instructional video and post it to YouTube. Scripting, speaking, editing, and digital publishing all fall within the CCSS. Or, if YouTube’s off the table, he/she could research the patent procedure and interview small business owners/inventors about their experience with the process. If a student wanted to choreograph a dance, perhaps he also researches a famous choreographer and creates an MLA-cited research paper or webpage celebrating that person’s work. When one of my students wanted to learn to become a better cook, she also ended up creating a recipe book of favorite family dishes, along with interviews of extended family members to help her record the stories they associated with those dishes. She built the cookbook with digital publishing software and made copies to give to her grandparents for Christmas.

    Basically, students are limited only by their imaginations, but do expect that some kids will need your assistance. Here’s a list of ideas that might help you find some of those ELA threads: https://lrandazzo.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/listofprojectideas.pdf

    Have a great night! 🙂

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  9. Thanks again, Laura, but I think I still need some clarification.

    I was just wondering: how is raising money or collecting eyeglasses for a worthy cause related to ELA? Is that not against the guideline that says that the project “must involve creating something”?

    Also, how did you help your students come up with ideas? How did you show them the kind of projects you expected them to come up with? I’m afraid they won’t be able to come up with ideas that are as great as the ones your students came up with.

    I really want to try 20Time with my students next year and I want to get it all right. I appreciate all your help! 🙂

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  10. Sure, Eng10Santos. I understand. In those cases, the students were creating lots of things. They created social media campaigns and door-to-door advertising campaigns where they spoke to our downtown merchants. They created fliers and informational websites. They researched their charities to build those items and one even made a video where she interviewed the organization’s founder that she then edited and posted online. There’s actually quite a bit of ELA-worthy tasks tucked into those projects.

    For helping students brainstorm, I told them about my projects but didn’t give them much else – at first. I wanted to see what projects they would choose guided by only their natural interests. For about 30 percent of the kids, I later helped them find/strengthen the ELA tie that would make their idea work as a 20Time project. When I have a student who is really, really struggling, I’ll share the idea list I mentioned earlier (https://lrandazzo.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/listofprojectideas.pdf) but I try to wait as long as possible before pulling that out. If you think your kids need more support, feel free to share that list or the one of my students’ actual projects earlier in the process. Also, they can search “Genius Hour,” “Passion Project,” or “20 Percent Project” on YouTube or Google and find lots of other stuff that other kids have done for similar projects. Happy to help!

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