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

Time for a status report. My classes are now four weeks into our 12-week 20Time experience and things are rolling nicely. A broad array of awesomeness is underway, including many blogs being launched, short stories/novel chapters being written, and songs being composed.

Students are showing incredible heart, enthusiasm, and/or ambition with their projects. A few current favorites:
• Writing and performing a selection of spoken word poetry
• Researching a biography/memoir of a recently deceased grandfather
• Building an interactive ThingLink poster based on interviews of all 33 classmates
• Turning our fall semester vocabulary words into a digital cartoon dictionary for future students to use as a study tool
• Filming a documentary on finance for teens
• Engineering, researching patents, and creating a marketing plan for a unique lip balm keychain
• Creating a YouTube channel featuring short tutorials of 25 high school wrestling moves

Personal Insights
Since I would never ask my students to tackle something I’m not willing or able to try myself, I’m also working on a 20Time project – two projects actually. First, I’m building these 20Time materials (click here, here, here, and here) and blogging about my progress. (Check!) Second, I’m pushing myself way out of my comfort zone and learning to play the ukulele.

My marching band kids are especially psyched and have adopted me as their pet, teaching me chords during passing period and bringing me tab printouts. With their encouragement, I joined our school’s Ukulele Club (I’m not the advisor, just a member) and was convinced by the club president to join in playing Vance Joy’s “Riptide” at Friday’s assembly. So, yes, one month after picking up the uke of the first time, I performed with the clubbers in front of a thousand kids. (Camera phone evidence, courtesy of J.N., one of my juniors. Yes, I’m the awkward one on the far right.)

Far from perfect (wisely, I was nowhere near the mic), I was proud of myself for getting up there. My students flipped out and were still talking about it today.

Some early lessons I’ve learned from 20Time:
1. Our scripts aren’t all true. I’ve always told myself that I’m tone deaf, can’t sing, unmusical. Slowly, I’m starting to see that’s not entirely true. Will I be the next American Idol? Uh, no. Can I hear the difference between a “C” and a “G” chord? Actually, yeah, I can.
2. Follow your passion and doors will open. The new teacher across the hall is – surprise! – a professional ukulele player who now tutors me before school. I’ve made a new friend and may even join his Friday night jam group. Crazy, right?
3. Kids want to teach adults. They know a lot of cool stuff and want to share it with us. This project has helped me let go of my role as Giver of All Knowledge. As a result, we’re all learning a ton and having fun – at the same time!
4. Empathy for the struggling learner. It is really, really hard to stick with something that’s not in your natural skill set. In the first week with the ukulele, I was ready to quit three separate times. Now, I’ve always loved words and writing, but not all of my students share my affinity for written expression. When my reluctant writers want to quit on their drafts, I’ll definitely have more patience and encouragement than before this project.

That’s all for now. (How is it almost spring break? Whoa.)

Teach on, everyone!

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