20% Project: Valuable or a Waste of Class Time?
by Sally Lakdawala, East Leyden Business teacher.
I think it is every teacher’s desire to do something that students will remember. With that in mind, my inspiration for the 20% project came from bits and pieces found online about Google’s 20% philosophy. The basic concept of the philosophy is that every Google employee is allowed to spend 20% of their time at work on whatever they want, no questions asked! This philosophy is meant to drive creativity, free thinking, and innovation, which often times may translate into real world failures and/or success. Employees are given the liberty to pursue something that interests them or they are passionate about and encouraged to see it through to success or failure.
In terms of setting up the project in a classroom environment, I found guidance from a teacher, Kevin Brookhouser, at York School in California. As a class, we brainstormed possible ideas, both good and maybe not so good. Admittedly, I thought that some students’ project proposals were maybe not so good. However, the way I looked at it...if they can justify their reasoning and feel they can learn from it...go for it! Some delivered and some...not so much.
The first time I did the 20% project was in my Web Design class. I wanted to give students an opportunity to use technology in a way that they found interesting…some chose to create music videos, some opted to create websites to share their photography, some spent time blogging about makeup trends. I did the project without really knowing what to expect...or how it was going to turn out. My biggest obstacle...keeping students honest with their time on work days.
This year, my Accounting students completed the 20% project. I made a few adjustments from the prior year, which was mostly in my introduction and delivery of expectations (although I was still unsure myself what I expected from them!) with an emphasis more on choosing something that really interests them and stressing the fact that no matter what they choose, YOU CANNOT FAIL!
What I Told Students
They were encouraged to work independently or as a group. Of my 21 students this semester, only 2 opted to work solo. They were shown a video from Kevin Brookhouser’s YouTube channel as an inspiration. I had hoped that students would watch this video and realize the possibilities. However, I think my students were more frightened by the project ideas...the York students had some amazing ideas! And...I didn’t do a great job of encouraging my students to think big and take the risk of failing or not finishing.
What I Expected from Students
All in all, I wanted them to learn something. I wanted them to work independently, question themselves and others and learning something new...anything new. Software, communication skills, the importance of time management...anything they could take away and apply to another class, school, work, or life in general would be great.
What I Received from Students
Great things! I had a few really cool projects and it definitely helped several students to understand the importance of choosing group members carefully and the value of time management! 20% of your week in Accounting class is only 55 minutes. Realistically, 15 minutes are blown with class intro, chit chat and texting under their desk…
BUT, in the end, during presentations I heard many students say “I wish I would have…”, “I learned that…”, “Next time….”. Basically, that showed me that they learned something!
Most students were satisfied with their work. A few plan to continue their project because they can’t stand the fact that it isn’t done! (Awesome!)
What I Would Change
When you watch Kevin’s video introducing his student projects you are blown away by the scale of some of the projects...many involve members of the community, both young and old. I would love to empower my students to go bigger! Now I just have to figure out how to do that! ...How to really do that.
What the Students Would Change
I sent a Google form out to all students after they presented their projects asking just a few questions about the project in general...was is valuable to you? Would you want to do it again? How would you change it? What was good? Bad? Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) many students provided feedback that they would have liked to work independently so they didn’t have to compromise their ideas as part of a larger group. Opposite of that, one student suggested coming up with a class project so they could take one idea farther, with more hands on deck.
Am I Going to Do it Again?
Yes! Although I have not figured out how I am going to set it up this time around….I guess that is what summer is for! I know that I want to encourage my students to think differently (“outside the box”). Students are often scared to fail or do something wrong yet the idea of this project is that neither of those are possible… Students are so used to losing points when they do something wrong that conveying the message that there is no real right answer, has proven to be more difficult than it sounds.
Note: I would truly LOVE to work in an environment like this, and I wish we, more often, had the freedom in education to do this kind of thing in our classrooms. I do believe, without a doubt, that in both situations great things would come of it. ~Becky