On the first day of school my students walk in and I have a big circle on the board. A circle I ask them hard to look at and define its purpose and meaning. None of them ever can. I pretty much know they will fail. I want them to. But then I go on to explain I require one thing in my class and that is an open mind (hence the circle). I also use it to describe that I will never fit into that box of the traditional teacher and the only way we will get along is if you see around the circle, to the side of it, inside of it and out it. I believe in my heart that this is my pedagogical purpose in my teaching. My "teaching philosophy" if you will. I believe that students need to have an open mind to learn. Everything else is second.
This summer I began reading my teacherly magazines that I subscribe to all year but have no time to read. I kept seeing all over the place this idea of a 20% project. It was intriguing to me. It was me to be honest. The idea, the concept and the carry out. It is putting learning back into the hands of the students. A sometimes daunting but I am guessing rewarding experience.
But finally sold me was this video and Kevin himself:
Don't have time? Well let me summerize. The 20% project is giving students back 20% of their time in class and letting them teach themselves something. They are driving the car and are also responsible for showing me exactly what it is they learn.
Your first question probably is how can this be tied to learning? And how do you assess? That is the easy part honestly. I am in a language arts classroom and I have kids completely journal the process. They are journaling, they are writing, they are critically thinking and I make them prove it. Then they have their proposals where they have to propose to me what exactly they are doing and argue for it. Then the big whammy at the end. The presentation of what happened.
I introduced this project the first week of school and it went really well. Kids were stoked to have some control in their learning. Then there were the kids who freaked at having no one tell them exactly what to do. Then the next 20% day came and the next and the next and guess what happened. Some things were amazing. Some were out of this world amazing like I cannot even talk about it because I can't. Then there are still some that are drowning with their freedom.
I even have some groups who realized their original ideas just were not gonna work and they already failed only to come up with project # 2. The learning that is happening though is so hard for me to put a number on. The goal here is for me to be more a facilitator of learning and less a teacher. They guide the ship and I just help them to read the map.
But I am still so proud of this project and will be rolling it out to my freshmen in the next semester. I hemmed and hawed on how and when I would do it with them. I think it fits more nicely into my next semesters classes.
I have always found great comfort in being a "unique" teacher. It is so much easier sometimes to do something that no one is doing then repeating something that everyone else has done. They both have value in my classroom and I try and balance them. But usually I fall just left of the left meaning I march to the beat of my own drummer and I get good results in doing so.