Monday, July 1, 2013

From the beginning

A couple of months ago I stumbled upon the 20% project. I thought I was alone, and by the way brilliant, in thinking that I could adapt it for my classrooms. Never did I think that this is more or less old news and that brilliant teachers before me have already done such good things. In any case, I am planning to implement it starting this fall as a combination of Genius hour (first semester - student focused) and 20% project (second semester - human and/or product focused).

I teach at a Science to 4 groups of students (5-8th grade), and a Flash "elective" at a STEM program, therefore my class is a PBL learning environment where my students have created some wonderful things, However, all of these projects are mostly teacher driven. We study the standards, come up with the questions and develop projects/problems for the students to solve. Students then decide what they need to know, do some research to learn the content and set about solving the problem or creating the products to come up with solutions. What is oftentimes missing from this equation is the passion for learning new things. The quest to study outside of class and to bring in new materials to study, not for the sake of getting a grade, but because there is a real investment in the outcome. This is what brought me to the 20% project.

In the interest of paying it forward (and backward), and with the disclaimer that I have borrowed a lot of material from the amazing trailblazers behind


For over 20 years a trend in education has been gaining momentum that suggests the role of the teacher ought to shift away from an industrial model where the teacher stands in the front of the classroom to dispense knowledge through lectures, and the students sit to consume the information. Rather than being the “sage on the stage” as some pedagogical experts maintain, teachers increasingly ought to play the role of the “guide on the side.” In this role, the students play a much more active role in how the content and knowledge is acquired. In this model, teachers provide resources, ask questions, and allow students to develop projects  to explore the content. 

The goal of AdVENTURE's 20% project is to provide students with the space and time to explore their passions and take control of their own learning. Why? Watch the following videos that put it much more eloquently than I ever could.






Who started this?

3M started it in the 1950’s with their 15% project. The result? Post-its and masking tape! Google is credited for making the 20% project what it is today. They asked their employees to spend 20% of their time at work to work on a pet project…a project that their job description did not cover. As a result of the 20% project at Google, we now have Gmail, AdSense, and Google News. Innovative ideas and projects are allowed to flourish and/or fail without the bureaucracy of committees and budgets.

How does this tie into the standards?

Although the connections to CCSS are abundant, here are some of my favorite:

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

“Students also acquire the habits of reading independently and closely, which are essential to their future success.”

Research to Build and Present Knowledge
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis reflection, and research.

Range of Writing
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Science and technical Subjects

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.3 Follow precisely a multi-step procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.

Standards for Mathematical Practice
CCSS.Math.Practice.MP3 Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
CCSS.Math.Practice.MP4 Model with mathematics.

My Top 5 Reasons

1. Depth of Knowledge

By participating in the 20% project, students will become experts in their own topic. Along the way, they will learn the skills necessary to acquire, manipulate and communicate information effectively.

2. Passion

Passionate people are successful people. Students need time to find their passions. Oftentimes students struggle to communicate what their passions really are. They need time to explore their wonders (and often need some guidance with this, too) so that they can figure out what they love to do.

3. Inquiry based learning. 

Students will form their own inquiry questions to investigate. Being able to ask questions is a key competency that we need to develop.

4. Teaches resilience. 

Students will fail during 20% time. And they will problem solve and figure out another way to look at the problem. In real life failure happens, but we learn from our mistakes. Think Post-its, synthetic dyes, Teflon and penicillin.

5. Positive peer pressure

Students will get to share with the entire learning community what they are working on. Publicly announcing what they are trying to accomplish makes the goal real. 

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