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! 2 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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