20 percent projects: 7 ideas to think about

20 percent projects

Google’s 20 percent project idea has started to take education by storm. The gist of it, as outlined in this New York Times article: Google allows its employees to use 20 percent of their “on the clock time” to pursue projects that interest and inspire them.

This 20 percent project idea — also called “Genius Hour” — has taken my brain by storm, too.

I think how much I would have loved to do this as a student. In junior high and high school, I dabbled in some computer programming just because it interested me. A friend and I even built a nice-looking computer game despite the limitations of technology at the time.

I wonder how my life would be different now if I had 20 percent of my day in one class to teach myself how to program. I might be living in Silicon Valley instead of Indiana.

I’m thinking hard about instituting a 20 percent in my classes next year. Here are some of the issues I’m working through as I plan:

1. When to work on it: 20 percent of class manifests itself as one day a week, 10 minutes a day, one month a year. I’m leaning toward making Fridays my 20 percent days.

2. How it connects to class: Some teachers want the projects to reflect the content in their classes. Others turn students loose to pursue their passions. My advanced Spanish classes could pursue any concepts that inspire them and report back about it in Spanish.

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3. What checkpoints to assign: Blogs appear to be a great way to keep students on track through a long project. Jessica Pack and John Stevens tell how students log their learning on blogs in this interesting Instructional Tech Talk podcast.

4. How to motivate: I worry about my “just tell me what to do and I’ll do it” students with 20 percent projects. In fact, I asked a class about this cool new idea that educators are trying. A few almost yawned and said it would never work. Angela Maiers writes that many unmotivated students fail to see the relevance of our classrooms. These projects could regain that relevance.

5. What tools to use: Google Docs seems to be a natural choice. It’s web-based. It’s free. It’s collaborative. Kidblogs or Edublogs would be great places for students to write about their learning.

6. How to grade: This one totally depends on your philosophy. At a recent #PATUE chat on Twitter recently, J.D. Ferries-Rowe (@jdferries) had a hugely insightful answer to this question. “Student: How will this be graded? Teacher: I don’t know. Why don’t you get together and show me some options tomorrow?”

7. How to wrap it all up: Presentations in front of the class or an authentic audience. Websites. Displays. The options are limitless, and this part seems the most fun to plan to me. I’d like to plan a 20-percent-plan conference. I’d schedule the multi-purpose room. Set up a presentation schedule. Maybe a keynote speaker. Just like an education conference.

Are you thinking about 20 percent projects? Why or why not? Have any good ideas for how to do them? Leave us some ideas in the comments!