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

Some blog readers (and some colleagues on my actual campus) are watching my 20Time pilot, waiting to see if the idea might work in their own classrooms. Blog reader Jenny S. sent along a question this week, which I’ve reprinted with her permission:

Hey Laura,
So I’ve been following your progress with 20Time and on Friday my whole school went to a conference about incorporating technology to enhance learning. There were two sessions all about this 20Time concept, so I encouraged two of my colleagues to attend with me – and we are hooked! I told them that I have a long-distance teacher friend who was implementing this and that I would ask you how it was going. We’re most curious about those kids who never do anything on a regular basis (never turn in homework, don’t take notes, etc.) Are they actually finding the drive to do something they are passionate about during this time? If not, what kind of consequence is in place? Also, what does your time look like? Are kids working independently in your classroom, or are they able to wander to the library or computer lab to do research? Do you find that all students are using this time to work on the 20Time project? Are students ever saying they are at a “stand still” and just trying to use the time as a study hall? Sorry to bombard you with questions, but we really want to implement this with our 7th and 8th graders next year, and we are just trying to get a grasp on some of these “what if” situations.
– Jenny S.
P.S. I love that you’re learning the ukulele!

My response:

Oh my goodness, Jenny, I’m so excited that you and your colleagues are amped to try this out. Also, I’m charmed that you think of me as your long-distance teaching friend. Awesome!

My kids are about five weeks into their 12 weeks of work time (so I’m still not sure where we’re going to end up), but I already know that 20Time is a keeper. I understand feeling nervous that the chuckleheads will not use their time wisely. It’s a valid concern. The vast majority of my kids are excited, focused, and on point with their work. About 10 percent (say, 3 kids per class) need extra monitoring/encouragement. So far, I’ve been able to keep them working by separating their work space from their friends and checking in with them personally each week during our class work time session.

During the work time periods, I’m constantly on the move, working my way around the room and looking over shoulders/checking in on progress. These are very active guide-by-the-side days for me and the kids are excited to show me what they’re working on or ask my advice about writing, design, editing, etc.

I decided not to allow any work other than 20Time work to fill our class period. No SSR. No homework for other classes. No leaving the room to “work” in the library. It’s too easy to allow ourselves to fall into distraction. I admitted to the class that I’m tempted to do this, too, whenever I’m working on a big project, but it’s important to force yourself to do the work in the time you have set aside for this particular project. Also, I don’t trust all of my students to work solo and keeping them in my room means they’re my responsibility, not the responsibility of our over-taxed librarian.

So far, it’s working well. Some kids’ projects are already soaring, while others are slower off the starting line. Some projects have already been modified to work around blocks and several kids have commented about the huge effort/time commitment it takes to be a content creator, like those folks they adore on YouTube.

The weekly Exit Tickets that the kids fill out the day before each work session have been invaluable in helping them focus their daily work time plan/goal and in helping me know exactly who I need to check in with during each work session.

Some classes have been pindrop silent while everyone is working, while other classes have a nice hum of activity as people complete interviews or help one another with coding/tech/blog building.

I haven’t built points or grades into the weekly work because it feels contrary to the intrinsic motivation that I’m trying to build. I can see, though, why some teachers would want/need to do this with particular classes. Personally, I’m going to resist this as long as possible. Perhaps a solution for a particularly unruly student would be to grade him weekly on his effort and then enter that score as an individual assignment just for his grade? That’s a bridge to cross in the future, I’m sure.

Oh, and I’m also thinking that this assignment works better as a spring semester project rather than being used in the fall. In the second semester, I know which of my kids are going to need my extra “attention.” Early in the fall, though, I wouldn’t know as well which kids needed closer monitoring.

Thanks for your questions, Jenny. Keep ‘em coming! One of the great thing about this project is that it’s just as mentally exciting (challenging?) for me as it is for kids. So far, it’s definitely been a fun ride – not to mention that I now know three songs on the ukulele.

Thanks so much,
Laura

Teach on, everyone!

Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. Laura,
    I started thinking about using 20Time in between discovering your work on TeacherPayTeachers and realizing that you’re incorporating it into your classroom. I was relieved and also ecstatic to discover that it’s not just a pipe dream for me!

    This update answered a lot of the questions I had, but I was wondering this: If you don’t allow students to go to leave your classroom, how do you accommodate the students’ whose projects are technology based? Do you have computer access in your classroom? Do they bring their own technology? Do you “rent” out laptops from the school’s media provisions?

    In my project-based learning, I’ve found this to be my biggest struggle–keeping kids in the room, but also allowing students to effectively use their time outside of the computer lab. I was hoping you could offer some guidance!

    Thanks in advance!

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  2. Great minds think alike, eh, Kathleen? Thanks for checking in with me. On my campus, computer lab space is at a premium, especially this spring with the computer-based Common Core exams and my district’s benchmark testing. I knew I wouldn’t be able to secure enough computer lab time for all of our work sessions, so I told my kids from the start that if they chose a tech-dependent project, they would need to be able to supply their own device/software/etc. I have two computers and one iPad in my room that I can loan out to students, but that’s it. Our library has a Chromebook cart that I could use, but I haven’t needed it. About 70 percent of my students have access to technology that they can bring to work sessions (I teach in Northern Calif., near Silicon Valley – I know, I’m pretty lucky) and those without access chose non-tech projects, such as writing original poetry collections, creating short stories, crafting graphic novels, etc. Basically, I just put it on the kids, making it clear that they’d be with me in our classroom for all of the sessions. If they need special materials, they need to bring ’em.

    Hope this helps!

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  3. I absolutely love this idea and I plan to use all of it next year. Thank you so much for sharing it and your process.

    Would you mind posting a list of projects your students are working on? I would appreciate that, as I’m stuck visualizing things they could do that would take this long to complete. I did see your list of suggestions but I wanted to know what your students came up with that weren’t on your list!

    Also, do you have any students who have done a lot of the legwork for their project in the first work days and then insist that they are “done”? How do you handle this? Make them keep working on it and improving it? I feel like I would have a handful of kids who would do this and then they would not have much to work on when we have work days.

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  4. Hi Erin, thanks for being a reader! I love that you’re ready to take the 20Time plunge next year. So exciting! I have about 170 kids working on different projects (I know, right?), so I can’t type up the full list, but I’m happy to share a few. Most of my students chose blog or novel-writing or poetry/song lyric writing options. The blogging, for instance, includes everything from cooking to fashion to model car building to a sports-journalism approach to following a favorite NBA team. Other students are using their time to build public service projects, such as documenting what life is like with a disability, raising awareness for global clean water initiatives, hosting free dance clinics for children with developmental disabilities, and building a birthday party entertainment business where profits are used to support patients at our local children’s hospital. Here are a few other favorite projects, which I mentioned in an earlier post:
    • 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

    Really, I think you’ll find the projects will be incredibly diverse. It all just depends of what drives each student.

    As for the concern that early finishers will be “done,” the great thing about this type of work is that you’re never really done. One of my favorite questions this past month has been, “Now what?” Okay, so you’ve built your website and have five posts. Now what? Add more posts or promote on social media. Okay, so you’ve finished your short story. Now what? Add illustrations and research self-publishing options or write another story. Even for myself, I learned my ukulele song much more quickly than I thought I would. So, what was next? I asked one of my freshmen (she’s a musical theater kid) to sing in one of my performances, so now we’ve carved out rehearsal time one day a week at lunch. I also joined our school’s Ukulele Club and have learned two more songs. With these projects, there’s always the next step on the Path to Awesome. We’re never really “done” with learning, so these 20Time projects aren’t ever really “done” either. We’ll just run out of time in a few weeks, but I’m hopeful that many of these projects will have taken root by then and continue to be a source of pleasure of my students. Time will tell. 🙂

    Thanks again for checking in with me!

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