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:
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!
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,
Teach on, everyone!