Saturday, June 21, 2014

Classroom Benefits of the 20% Project

The summer break gives time to reflect on the past year. One of the best classroom experiences has been our 20% project. Every Friday students had the entire class period to learn what they wanted to learn.

Now, this is not a free-for-all. It is actually very structured with a few non-negotiable rules:
                Learning must be new learning or service learning.
                You must work during class. (You can work outside if you wish.)
                You will present your learning. (We presented at the end of each semester.)
                You will keep a record of your progress and learning.

Baghdad Battery
While some teachers restrict the topics, the only restrictions for my students were that it is safe and school appropriate. After eleven years of being told what to learn and how to do it, they are on their own to choose. 

They choose what they want to learn, how they will do it, and how they will show their learning. This is not for a grade, it is just learning for the joy of learning. Every Friday they are given the chance to choose to do the right thing during class. They set the pace, decide what to accomplish and must decide if they are meeting their own requirements. Howard Gardner calls this using the ethical mind (Gardner, 2008, pp. 127-151). Students call this difficult. I call it real-world learning.

Genius Exposition
Since there is no grade assigned, teachers wonder how they will get the students to do the work. First, it is their choice of learning or service project. This will help them embrace the idea and become engaged. Second, the hesitant will see others dive in and love what they are doing. They will follow along with some coaching. Lastly, students have an audience for their learning. They must present at the end of the semester. In May we hosted our first Genius Exposition. Friends, family, and community members were invited to attend and see the wonderful work our students have done. They can also opt to keep a public blog.

Since these projects are primarily individual learning. The opportunity to learn to work with others has been limited. According to Howard Gardner learning how to use the respectful mind and work together is an important part of learning (Gardner, 2008, pp. 103-125). Next year, to encourage more interaction between students, I am setting up a peer review process where the student of their choice comments and guides the other through the process. By giving students the opportunity to give constructive criticism and comment politely and professionally they practicing skills for coaching and collaboration they will need in the future.

The Gariphone
Being a guide on the side for this experience I have had the joy of watching students learn how to learn. They struggle with the freedom and then embrace the opportunity. Student who never smile or speak are sharing what they are doing with others. I have the chance to see what students really want to learn. I have watched students start a novel, begin an illustrated movie, create a recipe from least favorite foods, build an original musical instrument, write a musical, compose music, and design a car. It is amazing the things I have learned from my students. 

More information on the structure of the 20% project in my classroom can be found at 20% project.

Gardner, H. (2008). 5 Minds for the Future. Boston: Harvard Business Press. p. 103-151.

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