Summer Work: the 20% Classroom

My colleague, Brittany, and I learned about the 20% Classroom last year and immediately committed to bringing it about in our classes in the fall semester.

Since I'm "learning out loud" on this blog, I just wanted to post some resources that I found and be open about some of the questions I have. I'd love to hear your comments below.

One thing I've learned today is the semantics of 20%. A similar key term is "Genius Hour," where I'm finding a lot of interesting sources.

As with many great ideas, this one began at Edutopia. I found it as Brittany and I were waiting to lead a district professional development (no one showed up on a cold, winter afternoon). This gave us valuable time to 'talk shop,' watch the videos linked in the article, and discuss how it might be implemented.

This fall I will teach German 1, creative writing, and English 11 standard. Brittany will teach English 10 and journalism.

For me, the creative writing class will be a piece of cake. Last year's students took part in National Novel Writing Month and spent a lot of class time writing a novel. To me, this will just be NaNoWriMo spread out over a full semester: write a book, write a list of songs, create a collection of poems, etc. In English 11 I'm hoping that a career or college focus will help students to identify topics. In German 1, I don't know where to begin!

I began my research with this podcast from Jeff Herb's blog. He talked with a middle school teacher and a computer applications teacher about ways that they had implemented the 20% Classroom this past year.

I found Matt Miller's take on the 20% Classroom a really good one. Like him, I am a foreign-language teacher--and a paperless one at that. His Ditch That Textbook led me away from 20% on a tangent, but it was really worthwhile, and I'm going to spend time learning as a result!  Another blog of Matt's, "5 Tools for a More Digital Classroom" was also a great read.

The Genius Hour Wiki has multiple sources and quite a few teachers connected to help get over any humps that might arise.

Questions going forward

Here are a few questions I want to resolve before the fall semester starts.
  • Will a given 20% project be a semester-long, a quarter-long, or some other determination? It would seem that students will learn at different paces, and they will end up choosing projects that vary in rigor.
  • What will be the platform we will use for blogging & assessments? I already use Google Drive in my classroom. Will it be compatible, or would a more social-media-related app like Edumodo be a better choice?
  • It seems like it would be good to begin the 20% Project with 20 or 30-minute blocks, building up to a full 90-minute block once standards and expectations are in place. Or should we jump in whole hog?
  • Should there be an option for students to work collaboratively?
  • Connections with Common Core State Standards will come, because this uses the "emerging question" so effectively. But I want to make sure that we don't stray far from this.