Around here, mid-January means prepping for 20Time, a spring semester project-based learning experience designed to bring real-world application to English/language arts classroom skills. Basically, students are given 20 percent of class time for 12 weeks to work on a passion project that they choose and their peers approve. (Click here for a free set of 20Time teaching materials.)
Over winter break, Colleen*, a 20Time first-timer, reached out via email with a few questions. With her permission, I’m sharing our conversation, which might help other folks as they set their plan.
As for me, I’m deep in the Year of YouTube project (three vids a week for 36 weeks – ugh, why did I agree to this, again?!!), but I’ve also decided it’s time to face a nemesis, a work of literature that I haven’t ever taught and, I’m embarrassed to admit, ever read. By far, it’s the most requested item teachers ask to be added to my curriculum collection, but I always back-burner those requests. I lie and say I’m too busy to build tools for works that I’m not currently teaching. The truth, though, is that I’m intimidated. I fake-read Macbeth as a senior in high school (yes, that was 30+ years ago and I only vaguely remember there were some witches and an insane woman crying about a spot on her hands or her soul or something like that) and each time I’ve picked up my thrift store copy of the play in recent years I’ve never made it past Act 2. How in the world can I get 16-year-olds to care about an ambitious king and his horrible wife? Well…this is my 20Time 2020 challenge. I’m going to *finally* read Macbeth and pull together some tools to help kids connect to those 11th century Scottish royals. This should be fun, eh?
If you’re participating in 20Time, either with students or as a solo endeavor, please tell me about your project in the “leave a reply” box below. I love hearing about everyone’s passion projects and it’ll help to know Colleen and I aren’t alone in the struggles to come. Now, onto Colleen’s questions:
I am about to embark on my first 20Time project with my freshmen students – all boys. I felt ready, but panic is setting in. Start date is just days away now.
First, I am concerned that students will not be able to generate their own ideas. How did you help students with this without giving them too much specific guidance? I have seen both project idea lists (general and specific) you have provided, but I am concerned that if I share the ideas, it will prevent original ideas.
Second, I am concerned about what students will do during the class time on 20Time days? For example, if a student chooses to create a project, like the lip balm holder, what does he/she do during class time to make progress on that project? Or if a student chooses to run a marathon for the first time as his 20Time project, what does he/she do during class time?
Love, love, love everything you do! Thanks for the continued ideas, inspiration, and enthusiasm.
So excited to hear you’re bring 20Time to your classes, Colleen! Awesome! Please know that the panic/uncertainty you’re feeling is completely normal. Handing over that much power to the kids is nerve-wracking and reminds me of when my own children started driving a car. Yes, you know you’ve done all you can to ensure their safety, but they still might drive directly into a ditch. Oh! Try not to let worry overwhelm you, though. I know, it’s hard. I also know that nearly all of your kids will safely reach their 20Time destination, even if there are a few dents in the car when they get there.
Okay, first, your concerns about sharing those idea lists are spot-on. I don’t give access to either of those lists until after the Guppy Tank round. I want kids to authentically choose a project that speaks to them, NOT to choose something from a list that they think will please me. I included the lists in the 20Time download so that teachers could see the sorts of projects my kids have accomplished. I also use those lists for the 10-to-15 percent of kids who will receive a red light from their peers on their first idea and struggle to come up with anything – anything! – that will work. Yes, you’re absolutely right, giving those lists out too early will poison the well of unique creativity. Instead, I talk about the projects I’ve done (ukulele, chin up, YouTube series, etc.) and encourage them to find their own thing. Once the kids realize that you’re seriously going to give them this large chunk of time to work on a passion project, I think you’ll be surprised by their enthusiasm and wealth of ideas. If anything, a lot of my job is helping them scale back their grand ideas into achievable chunks.
Second, part of the 20Time requirement in my class is that the project must have some sort of connection to English/Language Arts. Back when I started this in California, my principal told me I could use 20Time with my students but I had to be able to anchor each kid’s project to something in the Common Core State Standards. Because of this, every project has some sort of ELA angle. For the lip balm holder kid, he researched patent law in class and brought his laptop that had the 3D printer coding software installed. If time had allowed, he also could have worked on marketing, built ads with Canva, read a non-fiction book on engineering or entrepreneurship, etc.
For a kid who wants to run a marathon, maybe she also builds a blog where she documents her progress, films material for a YouTube channel, edits that video via tech she brings to class (all of my classrooms have always been woefully tech-limited), reads a book on distance running, reads a biography of Steve Prefontaine, makes a training booklet for middle school runners, researches the best nutrition plans for runners and builds an infographic with the knowledge she learns, etc.
Really, any project can be linked to the CCSS, so that happily hasn’t been a problem.
Finally, one of the essential elements of 20Time is that you, as the teacher, will complete a project alongside the kids. They love watching our struggles and celebrating our small successes along the way. Before each week’s work session, I usually talk for a couple of minutes about what I worked on in the past week, how things are going, and what steps I’ll be taking in the upcoming week. Unfortunately, I haven’t ever been able to work on my own 20Time project during class because I spend that time circulating, checking in, and helping kids fix flat tires. (See how I looped back the analogy there, eh?) Still, I keep them updated on my efforts and share in my frustrations. They’re sometimes pretty good problem-solvers for me, too.
I know the launch is scary, Colleen, but that’s also part of the fun. Some kids will excel and others will struggle. No matter how their projects turn out, valuable lessons will be learned – for them and for you. Keep in touch and let me know how it goes. Can’t wait to hear more!
*Name changed at her request.
Crown image credit: Pixabay, Public domain