Taking Google's lead, and inspired by Dan Pink's book, Drive, I decided to take the plunge and give my students the kind of radical autonomy they both suggest, and I gave my students 20% of their time in my English class to pursue a project of their choosing.
Rules and expectations
- You may work alone or with a small group.
- Choose a project that is new to you and something you wouldn't normally do in another academic class.
- Write up a proposal and pitch it to the rest of the class that includes a purpose, audience, timeline, and resources you will need to complete the project.
- Reflect on the process once a week in your blog.
- If at any moment you feel lost, overwhelmed, or uninspired, you must set a meeting with me to find a solution.
- At the end of the year, you will present your project and reflect on the process in a five-minute TED-style talk in front of other students, teachers, and community members.
- build a tutoring network of high school students helping middle school students
- design a complex videogame map using Valve's SDK
- start a business selling originally designed t-shirts and accessories
- launch a web-design start-up for local organizations and businesses
- write a graphic novel
- make a stop-motion animated movie of a scene from Macbeth
- write a backpacking guide for teenage girls
- interview local senior citizens and document their history
- record and produce a full-length album
Failure is an optionIn the end, many of the projects turned out exactly as they had been proposed at the beginning of the year. Epic win, as they would say. Many of them changed the scope of their projects. Some of them considered their projects a failure because they ran out of time or they couldn't make their businesses profitable.
I asked them to consider how often successful leaders failed, and they all got a sense that even failures were successes when they could learn from their failures.
Here is a video of clips from their final 20% talks.
My own successful failures
I learned a lot about facilitating a project like this successfully, and I made my own mistakes along the way. Here are two things I'm going to do differently next year.
Emphasize the importance of making somethingToo many of my students got lost in their ideas and spent more time thinking than doing. I don't want ideas, I want products. Even if they're failed products, make something.
Institute a mentorship programI am going to have each student seek an adult who would agree to be a mentor. I personally have little to no experience in the disciplines they choose for their projects. Furthermore, I simply do not have the time to support all of these different projects as much as I would like.
If you're interested in learning more about 20% time, check out these resources: