20 percent projects: 10 must-have tools

20 percent projects: 10 must-have tools

Students engaging in 20 percent projects must gather and curate information, share it and present it. Here are 10 tools to help.

Every good handyman (or handywoman) knows that having the right tool can save minutes — or hours — of work.

Academic work is no exception.

Students who engage in 20 percent projects — where 20 percent of class time is devoted to a project the student is passionate about — engage in certain activities to prepare for the culminating event: often a presentation in front of their peers.

There’s content gathering and content curation to be done. There’s communication, progress sharing and presenting.

20 percent projects have been made famous recently by companies like Google — although 20 percent time isn’t like it used to be at Google anymore. But they date back to 1974 or before at 3M and HP. I wrote about 7 ideas to consider before launching 20 percent time, and it has been one of my most popular posts to date.

As teachers plan or implement a 20 percent project program — or any sort of long-term project — here are some handy tools to integrate:

1. Evernote (content gathering) — Evernote is today’s yellow legal pad of yesteryear. In Evernote, you can: gather information, search for it across all your notes, share notes with others, and sort notes in notebooks. It’s free (with premium upgrade optional) and super powerful.

2. Diigo (content curation) — Diigo allows students to gather information and useful websites in one location. Diigo archives webpages so they’re available even if they disappear. It offers annotation tools (highlighter/sticky notes) to remember key data. (Also useful: Pearltrees and Pinterest)

3. Twitter (communication) — I’ve posted here about the power of Twitter for teachers and how Twitter can connect classrooms to the world. That global connection benefits students doing 20 percent projects. Twitter opens channels of communication between top experts across the world and students.

4. KidBlog (sharing) — Progress on gathering information for 20 percent projects can easily be shared in a blog. (This podcast at Instructional Tech Talk opened my eyes to the idea.) It’s a great formative assessment and a way for classmates and teachers to follow along with a student’s 20 percent project.

[RELATED: 20 percent projects: 7 ideas to think about]

5. LiveBinders (content curation) — LiveBinders brings the organizational features of three-ring binders (sorting with tabs, grouping information together) in a simple, easy-to-use site. I love how you can embed content from other sites in LiveBinders with embed codes or just a URL.

6. ChartGizmo (presentation) — Have you heard that a picture is worth a thousand words? So is a good chart. Chart Gizmo offers several types of charts that are easily shared via websites or social media.

7. Weebly (presentation) — Weebly is one of the most diverse website-creation tools I’ve found. On Weebly pages, you can post text and photos, embed videos and forms, upload files, link to social media, organize information and more. It’s a great home base for sharing everything in a 20 percent project.

8. Screen Capture (content gathering) — This is a Google Chrome app that I use all the time. Install it to Chrome and you can capture selections of a screen (or the whole screen), draw and write on it, and then save it to your computer, copy it for use in another program or share it across several sites. Very useful.

9. bubbl.us (brainstorming) — bubbl.us creates semantic maps (word webs) and is very customizable. Change the color of bubbles. Branch off any bubble. Edit text in the bubbles. Then save your work and share it with others. Great tool for charting out ideas.

10. Slideshare (presentation) — Presentation slides can easily be shared with the world through Slideshare. Link to slides or embed them in a website.

What other tools are must-haves for 20 percent projects or other long-term projects? Share your best ideas in a comment below!

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