Based on my belief that all students should have some exposure to modern learning methods such as PBL and Inquiry Based Learning. I have been trying to get a 20% Time Project Based Learning initiative off the ground in 2017 with my GR10 Maths class. One of the characteristics of these modern learning methods is increased freedom in the learning process. In this particular case, students get a full 20% of their class time to explore new approaches to learning with only scaffolding and feedback provided by the teacher and outside experts.
Students can initially find this freedom a little overwhelming, having been trained for so long to follow direct instructions when engaging in learning. What I will do for the rest of this post is summarise what we have managed to do so far this year and provide links to the various resources that have been created to guide the learning. My hope is by doing this, it will assist everyone involved in the project to reflect on the journey so far and plan for the rest of the year.
The beginning …
We started out by choosing a day of the week we could reserve for doing the project. We settled on Friday as it seemed the easiest way to do it, then Mon – Thur could be set aside for syllabus related work. We took the first two sessions to brainstorm topics and discuss the model we were going to use. We were guided in our efforts by two resources. The 20Time Project by Kevin Brookhouser and the Teachers Guide to Project Based Learning – Work that Matters by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. We also looked at examples of other inspiring 20% Time Projects on YouTube to better understand what we were trying to do. We then moved onto filling in documentation that outlined all the successful elements a good 20% project needed to have. It was at this stage that we first started to realize our uncomfortableness with this new way of doing things.
How does the 20% Project Work?
Core Concepts and Outlines
Getting comfortable in a different type of learning space …
By the 3rd week after the initial novelty of the task had worn off, there was definitely a bit of a feeling of, “okay so how do we actually do this”. I decided to attempt something called the “Bad Idea Factory” which I had read about in the resources mentioned above. The intention was two fold. I wanted us to feel more relaxed about doing something as creative as 20% Time in a room that was associated with a very specific set of behaviors – most of them quite rigid. The other was for the learners to lessen their inner critics by engaging in a deliberately outlandish exercise which would hopefully fire up the part of their brain that was more improvisational and free. I was surprised how quickly we relaxed into the exercise and achieved our objectives of creating a different type of atmosphere in the classroom.
Bad Idea Factory – Learning to unleash your Creativity
Justifying our Adventure & Blogging …
So after our interesting experience with the Bad Idea Factory – the paper plane launching being the highlight! My attention shifted to providing a justification to the learners for what were doing and how it would serve our purpose longer term educationally. I hadn’t read the CAPS documents in quite a while but I knew that the introduction had statements of broader educational goals that we could interpret in relation to our project. I made screenshots of the relevant sections and then asked the students to read these pieces, we then discussed their applicability to what we were doing with the 20% Time Project. We had some great discussions and the overall agreement seemed to indicate that what we were doing in this project, was very much in line with what was written in the documents. However there was a strong feeling that the more aspirational parts of the CAPS documents such as those listed below , were very rarely put into practice on the ground and so a touch hypocritical.
We also started to pay more attention to the blog part of the project. The first issue was just getting everyone actually setup with a Blog. Each week the learners would then write a post so that I could keep track of what they were doing. It would also allow me to give feedback as well as aiding them in the reflective process as they pursued their project goals. The first Blog post was on the CAPS documents and their applicability to this project.
Caps Documents and its application to PBL
Blog URL Collection: Google Form
The Messy Journey
Discussing the CAPS document
Getting up and running …
For weeks 5 and 6 the focus switched to actually getting things up and running. I was aware that we needed time to get ourselves used to this type of learning model, but I wanted us to shift our focus to actually creating things, even if it turned out that the initial ideas were impractical and not well suited to this type of project. Some learners felt comfortable with topics they had chosen, whilst others were still struggling with the freedom of being able to choose. I spent quite a bit of time having reflective conversations and referring back to the projects guidelines to help them finding a greater sense of direction. I also imposed a deadline for a project proposal that would detail all the important steps indicated in the planning documents. These would be things like project topic, audience,mentor, tools needed etc. We decided that due to the limited time available we would use the format of a 2 min edited video for the project proposal.
1st Differentiated Session
2nd Differentiated Session
Presenting Proposals …
As tends to be the case at any school, the last week, in which the the proposals took place was quite a chaotic one. Times were being moved around and random meetings squeezed in . Fortunately we were able to find some time for the class to present. What stands out for me looking back, was how nice it was to get a sense of what everyone had been working on. The previous two weeks were almost entirely self directed and I realised while watching the presentations I wasn’t completely up to date with all the projects. I enjoyed catching up with what everyone had been thinking about. I also thought that the informal feedback given by the class was useful for the various presenters. After that, we adjourned for the term and we would only meet up again in about 3 weeks. My hopes were that the learners would spend some time in the holidays working on their projects. However due to the rushed nature of the last day, we didn’t really have any time to discuss it. I did manage though to get a letter together for their parents, so that the holidays could be used to discuss parts of the project that would possibly benefit from parental involvement.
Video Proposal Collection: Google Form
Explanation Letter for Parents PDF / Google Doc Format
* A lot of the documents have been adapted from the Book: The 20Time Project by Kevin Brookhouser