By Kate Harpel
Have students ever asked you why they have to learn a specific skill or told you that they don’t need your class for their future career? Do you ever feel that students have lost their desire to learn? These questions plagued me every school year until I discovered 20% Projects.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, 20% Projects refers to Google’s commitment to giving their workers 20 percent of their work time to work on personal projects that might benefit Google. Since the concept was released to the public, there has been some debate regarding the existence of the management model, but the idea behind 20% Projects--also known as Genius Hour--still resonates in the classroom.
Intrinsic motivation in the classroom--can you imagine?Students working independently on their own passion projects, stopping occasionally to share something new that they learned. It almost sounds too good to be true.
But to varying degrees, it turned out just as good as it sounds. Last year, I introduced 20Time Projects to my freshmen. With some guidance, students pitched unique project ideas to their classmates such as learning how to make handmade fish bait and tackle to becoming a balloon animal master. Administration would walk into my room and find students coding, creating 3D models using 3D printer software, learning chords, crocheting, and painting along with Bob Ross. It was amazing to behold.
To encourage my students, I participated in my own 20% Project. I attempted to learn American Sign Language (ASL) so that I could better communicate with my new student, and I am happy to share that by the end of the project I was able to get by in simple conversation without the aid of the interpreter! I even practiced with a few students who also chose to learn ASL; half a year later, we still sign when we see each other in the hallway!
Note: Do not use this edition of this book. As I was horrified to learn, it is terribly outdated. If you are looking to learn ASL, consider Dr. Bill Vicars’ website and YouTube channel. He’s hilarious.
This year I plan to adapt 20% Projects into a community/service learning project for my college-readiness seniors. Over the summer they perused articles, podcasts, and TEDtalks about a subject of their choice, and my hope is that they will use what they learned for good. Perhaps the girl who researched the history of makeup and hair will organize a free makeup and hair salon pop up for girls in need before Homecoming/Prom. The possibilities are endless!
If you’d like to give 20% Projects a shot, consider checking out Laura Randazzo’s free materials or 20Time’s website, which boasts a variety of videos regarding student successes. Your students will thank you.
What 20% Project would you take on in your classroom? What amazing projects have your students completed? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Kate Harpel teaches English and Mythology at Hedgesville High School in Berkeley County. She is a West Virginia native, a graduate of the Benedum Collaborative 5-Year Teacher Education Program at West Virginia University, and has been teaching for the past four years. A full time mother to a one-year-old, a full-time wife, and a full-time teacher, Kate spends her elusive free-time in the company of mochas, YA literature, and Netflix.