This year’s project is…

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you know that the spring semester around here means 20Time, a passion project where students spend 20% of class time for 12 weeks working on an individual plan approved by their peers. (A whole bunch of free materials, including handouts, to explain the project can be found here.)

One of the cornerstones of the program is that the teacher also completes a 20Time project, serving as the ultimate model for our students. This will be my third year using the project and I’m incredibly nervous about announcing my plan, one that will be – by far – the most difficult I’ve undertaken.

But first, let’s revisit the path that led us here. In January 2015, I was frustrated. My students were obsessed with their grades and there was little interest in learning just for the pure joy of learning. (Click here to read about the dark Thursday I just snapped.) Knowing that I need to be the one to solve the problems in my classroom, I built my own version of 20Time, a project that forced the grade-grubbers w-a-y out of their comfort zone. I wanted to model for them that learning’s supposed to be fun, so my first year’s project was to learn to play a song on the ukulele and perform it live for my classes. To meet the project’s language arts requirement, I built a series of blog posts reporting our progress and published a packet of 20Time materials at the end of the semester.

Since I’m not naturally musical and still can’t carry a tune, I was successful only because I found a mentor, a new teacher across the hall who played ukulele for a hula dance team on the weekends (yes, an eerie coincidence) and graciously became my before-school jam partner. My marching band students encouraged me to keep practicing and, after 12 weeks, I joined my school’s Ukulele Club members and performed at the spring assembly. A brief video from that day:

I also performed “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for each of my classes. Yes, it was awkward. Yes, I messed up a lot. And, yes, it felt great to accomplish that goal.

Last year (Year 2), I decided to make a 10-part YouTube series on classroom management to help encourage my fellow teachers. This was a challenge because I pretty much hate my voice. And my face. Still, I persevered and posted all ten videos. A year later, the series has more than 17,000 views, a figure that feels pretty successful. Through the process, I learned a lot about video editing, received some gratifying emails from teachers, and realized I really prefer to write blog posts than film them. (Er, I haven’t made a single video since the series ended. That sorta says it all, right?)

So this takes us to 2017. My family made a big change this year, leaving the San Francisco Bay Area for slow-your-roll Idaho. As a unit, Team Randazzo is now calmer and happier than we’ve been in many years. We’re putting family time ahead of work (you may’ve noticed I’m blogging quite a bit less this year – something had to give) and all of us have even lost a few pounds since we arrived six months ago.

My family and our new healthy focus led me to this year’s 20Time challenge. By the end of this semester’s project, I will be able to…

(Ready for this?)


…at least one…pull-up!

Gotta admit, now that I’m writing this, it feels rather anti-climatic. A pull-up seems so basic, but you need to know that, right now, this feels like an impossible task. You see, I have the arm strength of a gummy bear. I’ve never – ever! – been able to lift my own body weight. Curiously, a career of sitting on my butt reading novels, grading mountains of essays, and making cute stuff for the blog hasn’t improved my ability to pull myself back up into an overturned kayak. But this is about to change.

I actually decided a few weeks ago that “From Zero to Pull-Up” would be my 20Time goal, and because I can’t sit still with an idea I’ve already begun the long slog toward that goal. When I started on Dec. 15, I could hang from the pull-up bar for only 12 seconds. Pathetic. Today, I can hang for 55 seconds; progress is happening. Will I be able to make my goal? I’m not sure and I’m a little scared. Failure is a major component of 20Time, so even if I can’t do a pull-up by the end of April when my students finish their projects I’ll still be a heckuva lot closer to that goal and much, much stronger than if I didn’t make this effort.

So, that’s it. This spring, I’m going to do a pull-up. For the language arts portion, I’ll design a series of motivational posters that I can use as fresh desktop screensavers in my classroom and promote them on social media. (Actually, I was so fired up during the holiday break that I already did this part of the project. You can grab a free five-pack of those posters here.)

Whattya think, would you green light my project? If you’re also getting ready to launch a passion project/20Time/Genius Hour this spring, what’s your project going to be? Scroll down to the “Leave a Reply” box and let me know what’s up. Weight lifting advice/tips are also appreciated. I need all the help I can get.

Teach on, everyone!

UPDATE: Wondering how the 2017 project turned out? Click here to view my 20Time 2017 Results blog post!

25 thoughts on “This year’s project is…

  1. You go, girl!!

    I would love to use the 20Time Project in my 7th grade classroom, but I recently learned that next year I will only have half of the 7th grade per semester and although I will have them for 92 minutes (which I think is ridiculous for 7th graders), I’m worried about covering all the standards. If you have any suggestions please let me know.

    I always look forward to your posts. Thank you for all you do and for inspiring me to be a better teacher!

  2. Thanks, Shari! I’m pretty much terrified of that pull-up bar, so we’ll see how it goes. Okay, if I’m understanding correctly, your 7th grade English class is really just a one-semester class. If you get an entirely new set of students each semester, I probably wouldn’t use 20Time in the way I use it with my year-long classes. I feel like I need that fall semester to know who my students are and where their strengths lie. Also, I need to identify the chuckleheads who’ll need more monitoring so I can keep them on track. With a one-semester class, I wouldn’t have the time I need to know them well enough to trust them, if that makes sense.

    You could, though, bring in something more like Genius Hour, which is a smaller experience that I’ve read about being used in elementary schools. Just Google it and see if a modification of that approach might be a better fit for your schedule.

    Hope this helps! 🙂

  3. One whole pull up? I congratulate you! You’re my hero! If I ever manage to even get into the starting position, I’ll let you know! I have never ever gotten even close to doing one!

    Go for it, Laura! You can do it! Woo-hoo!!

  4. They say the first one’s the hardest, Carolyn! I’ll let everyone know how I did later this spring. Ack!

  5. My AP Lang kids are doing a mashup of a REHUGO-20Time-TED talk project. I haven’t decided what I’ll do yet, but I’m thinking about it. I might do something ed research-oriented, looking at drops in reading comprehension in middle/high school and seeing what could be done to circumvent that. I know this work is being done, but I want to have something concrete to share re: rationale and suggestions. That’s what’s in my head right now, anyway. 😉😊

  6. Awesome, Mrs. Turner! It would be great to have that evidence to pull out at a future staff meeting. When co-workers start complaining, you’d be able to show them what they can do about it. Love that.

  7. Kelly Fykes says:

    This is my second year doing 20Time with my students. I was a newbie last year and decided to create a blog about the working mom getting a healthy dinner on the table in 35 minutes or less. I shot photos and took reviews from my very finicky daughters and loving husband about each meal. At the end of the 12 weeks, I actually had several great meals to add to my repertoire of weeknight cooking. This year, I attempted the Hour of Code with my students and was really intrigued. So for my 20Time project, I am going to learn to code, or at least attempt to code. I have been assured by my genius Computer Science colleague (who is also my mentor in this project whether he likes it or not) that at the end of the project, I will be able to write simple App for my phone. I teach many students who are very interested in coding. I want to learn more, so I can understand the appeal better. This is going to be a stretch for my brain to say the least!

  8. I love your huge swing in topics, Kelly. So inspiring! I feel like my first year was about fun, my second year was about professional development, and this third year is about personal power. Life is supposed to challenge us and help us grow, and that’s what 20Time’s brought to my world. Definitely share that app with us when it’s done. Is your mom blog still live? I’d love to take a look – and get a few healthy dinner ideas! 🙂

  9. Mary OConnell says:

    I should be doing something more active, but I have been obsessed with Tiny Houses since HGTV began the series! So, I am using the 20Time along with my freshmen to learn more about the makings of a tiny house and have committed to a two-day workshop in June that gives more information about the tiny house movement. Living in Idaho, I am sure you have heard of these great little living spaces. I thought I could use this lesson to show students the real-life application of anything they might research.

    Thanks again for your incredible work. Enjoy your 20Time (impressive so far) and your time with your family: RandazzoTime!!

  10. Oh yeah, Mary, we have tiny houses up here and I’ve even seen some yurts! Very familiar with the concept, which makes a ton of sense to me, too. Happy researching! 🙂

  11. I second that, Kelly! I’m always looking for fab meals for the school week!

  12. Hi Laura,

    You are amazing. I’ve been reading your posts, and you never fail to WOW me.

    I just bought your Tony, The Tiger. My colleagues and I are incredibly excited to use this for our seventh graders. Sending you lots of love as you practice those pull-ups. You’ve got this!

  13. It’s my Pearl! Oh my gosh! Miss you and the California kids. (Pearl, just so everyone knows, was one of my student teachers back at my old site and even taught my own daughter’s 6th grade ELA class. She’s family!) Thanks for your vote of confidence, sweetie. We’re on yet another snow day up here in Idaho, but that didn’t stop me from getting to the gym this morning. Just call me the Rocky Balboa of English teachers. 🙂

    Hope all is well at the middle school. Say hi to Karen and the gang for me! xoxo

  14. Melissa Meverden says:

    I’m so excited for you! This is an excellent goal to work towards and you will feel AMAZING when you nail that first pull up.

    One suggestion is to try pull-up negatives. That’s when you jump up (using a box) to the top of the pull-up position with your chin over the bar, and slooooooowly let yourself back down to the hanging position. At first, you will basically just plummet towards the ground while clinging to the bar (shrieking is optional), but over time you will gain more control. I’m guessing there are lots of YouTube videos that will illustrate this exercise better than my explanation can. These exercises were a huge help in me getting my first pull-up.

  15. GREAT suggestion, Melissa. I’m YouTubing “pull-up negatives” right now. And any shrieking I end up doing will fit right in with the cursing under my breath that’s been my usual move. Thanks for the encouragement!

  16. JerseyBuckeye says:

    Good Luck! I’m on the sidelines cheering for you.

    I love reading your blog and you give me so much positive inspiration! Thanks for putting yourself out there and taking risks so the rest of us can benefit!

  17. Thanks, JerseyBuckeye! I need all the support I can get. 🙂

  18. Hi Laura! I am about to roll out the 20 Time project for the second semester. I’ll admit, last semester being the first time to tackle a project-based learning experience, I did NOT complete a 20 Time project myself. But I’m ready this semester 🙂 I plan to implement healthy lifestyle choices and blog about tips & tricks. My ultimate goal is to lose 5 lbs by May and be able to run (ok, realistically- lightly jog) a 5k.

    A big thanks to you, Laura! Without your blog posts and resources, I don’t think I would have thought implementing this experience would have been doable.

  19. Love this, Leanna! What an excellent role model you’re going to be for your students. Go get it! And, yes, this is very doable. Trust me. 🙂

  20. Terri Cyphers says:

    Hi Laura,
    Thanks so much for your materials and blog posts. I am a lot less terrified to begin 20Time with my 8th grade ELA kids.
    My passion is Student Council. For my project, I plan to film a series of vlogs of easy to use project ideas and leadership lessons for student council advisors. I’ve never blogged or vlogged before, so wish me luck!
    Thanks again!

  21. Love this, Terri! What a great use of your time. Please, oh please, send me a link to your blogs/vlogs once you get some of them posted. I’d love to take a look! 🙂

  22. Gabriel Johnson says:

    Hey Laura,

    Longtime lurker here! Embarking on 20time with my 8th graders here in Oakland this semester. I had my first work day last week and walked around as kids were coding, playing guitar, animating, drawing and practicing improv and realized I had done something amazing by taking my hands off. Thanks so much for all the materials and thoughts that will continue to guide me along this scary path. I’m a poet (who hasn’t found time to write in way too long) so my 20time project will be a poem a week for the time we work on these.

    Thanks again and good luck with the pull-up!

  23. Your note just made my day, Gabriel. So glad you decided to take this scary step. It’s terrifying and absolutely wonderful. Now, go sharpen that pencil! 🙂

  24. Fellow Idahoan and 20Time. Currently in the table flipping frustration pit that 20Time sometimes inspires. Thank you for your resources and wisdom!

  25. Me, too, Mrs. Dubya! Me. Too. But like they say, if it were easy, it wouldn’t be worthwhile. And, hey, at least most of our snow has melted away, right? Bring on 4th quarter! 🙂

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