20% Time — Igniting Passion — Week 1

You know how everyone seems to think working for Google would be career nirvana? (If you don’t, watch The Internship starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Or not. It’s pretty silly.) Free food, free haircuts, on-site health care, and the list goes on.

But the most relevant Google perk to my classroom is 20% time, which has exploded into a revolutionary educational movement, even as Google itself seems to be backing away. At Google, employees are (were) encouraged to spend one day a week working on projects of their own choosing, a policy which resulted in Gmail and Adsense. It’s based on the premise that knowledge workers are most valuable when granted protected space in which to tinker.

In education this has morphed into the notion that students learn best when granted protected space in which to explore. First, this is NOT “let students run wild in the classroom one day a week.” Rather, it is choice-driven learning in “protected space” that includes guidance, resources, collaboration, and authentic accountability. For more details, see the myriad of resources from thoughtful and experienced educators such as Joy Kirr, Kevin Brookhouser, Kate Petty, here and in your own Google search.

Two weeks ago I alerted my students and their parents (at Back-to-School Night) about our 20% Time plans; this week three sections of my juniors and seniors began the process with brainstorming and freewriting. I elected NOT to show them samples of completed projects because I didn’t want to stack the deck in favor of videos or websites or other forms of products. I want each student’s product to emerge organically from the research and learning. My choice resulted in awesome “pros” and predictable “cons.” Some students remain befuddled about the purpose and endgame. The notion of CHOOSING what to learn as opposing to BEING TAUGHT was utterly foreign. I have yet to ignite the passion that will drive their exploration. But for those who were already obsessed with anime or photography or cars or “I’ve always wanted to. ….”, well, they were positively giddy.

So far my students plan, for example, to build a car (in process, will document his learning from this point forward); to create an art book of original poetry, drawing, photos and songs; to learn how to and to knit a collection of scarves, probably Harry Potter-themed; to develop a yoga web site with information tailored for individual body type and goals; to make a YouTube channel and graphic novel in the style of an admired artist; to write a song and have Beyonce perform it; and to cure cancer.

Admittedly, the last two are ambitious for one semester or even one school year. But the assessment of success is not in the actual PRODUCT (cure for cancer), but in the authentic learning PROCESS (as documented in blog posts, weekly check-ins, productive use of class time, interaction with mentors and with other project participants). So, if my aspiring songwriter publishes his work on Soundcloud and receives some authentic positive feedback from musicians other than Beyonce, that’s wonderful. If my ambitious cancer cure seeker learns from organizations she believes are on the most effective track for a cure and helps with fundraising, she’s on the right path.

My DonorsChoose.org project for a greenscreen kit funded and we just received it. Instead of setting it up in my crowded classroom, I took advantage of our librarian’s offer to keep it in a collaboration conference room in the library that has IdeaPaint on the walls. I brought my students there to inspire them to incorporate videos with creative backgrounds into their products and just to play with writing on the walls. One girl wrote out a poem she’d written last week which inspired a group to join her in creating a book of original poetry, art and music. I just got out of the way….

Next year, I will probably introduce the process of creating a blog and collecting research BEFORE brainstorming ideas. My blog lesson is next week, but some students have already collected websites and images and writing about their learning process that they will need to transfer to their blogs. I dislike wasting time and energy this way.

Please let me know if you have any thoughts or ideas as we move forward with our 20% Time Projects.

Kickstarter Fulfillment Joy — Iconic Disc


Look at the pretties I got in the mail today! Last year I supported the Kickstarter project for Iconic Disc, a rockin’ decorative image holder that takes advantage of the lighted Apple icon on my MacBook Air. You see the rainbow lights decal in the  Kickstarter Green holder. Just below is a black holder with a palm trees scene and to the right a spaces cape in a silver holder. I also got three cute pouches to carry my treasures in. The black are the insert and the box all of this came in, very clean, Apple-like design.

No profound message today. Just my delight in getting what I paid for plus the “priceless” benefit of backing a successful  fledgling product.


First Day of School


University High, Irvine, Ca - Entrance.jpg

Whew – I’m pooped! Today was the first day of school with students. We added a 0 period to our periods 1-6 day, as well as a Friday Homeroom period (today they met for just 10 minutes), so we are all getting accustomed to a new time for snack and TWO periods after lunch instead of just one. Plus our new solar panels atop half our parking spots are creating havoc with old familiar traffic pattern. Add to that an entirely revamped computerized attendance and grade book system and it makes for much potential for chaos.

But we managed! Personally I’m highly pleased with the look and early chemistry of my classes. I have a sense of which chatty friends might have to be urged to pick seats NOT next to each other, but mostly everyone was good-natured, albeit cautious about this new year.

In lieu of handing out a two-page Course Expectations sheet and droning on about what they can read on their own time, I posted details for them to view at their leisure and just hit the highlights. To encourage them to listen and doodle, I shared some of my Sketchnotes and delighted at how their eyes lit up at the prospect of drawing in class on purpose. It makes sense – if students already receive PowerPoints and other handouts from which they can review details, why not let them engage in note taking in a more creative and engaging way? One of my classes has a high percentage of Special Ed students (along with a SPED teacher and aide!) and I know many of them would benefit from different styles of content delivery and note taking.

In addition, instead of collecting hard copies of their First Day Survey and Letter (one way I get to know them early), I’m having them submit this assignment online so I can carry around 5 classes of student writing on my trusty iPad, Hera. Win!

Anyway, Day 1 done, Days 2-181 to go! I’ll keep you posted….


University High, Irvine, Ca – Entrance” by Kevin Zollman —Kzollman 00:27, 4 December 2006 (UTC) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.