20% Research Project

Students watching TED Talks for their weekly 20% Research exercise.
Students watching TED Talks for their weekly 20% Research exercise.

They say the right job doesn’t feel like a job at all.

A hot phrase in education lately has been Google’s 20% Project.  When it’s applied to the classroom, some teachers call it 20-time.  Google (supposedly) gives its employees 20% of their time to research and develop their own projects, and this free time tends to produce innovative and successful products and services.  I believe the video game developer Valve has a similar policy.  I heard their desks literally have wheels so they can scoot around to work with whomever they want.
This 20% idea made its way into the classroom in the form of giving students time to research topics of their choice.

If you’re aiming for 20%, then this could look like a small chunk every day, or one day of the week.  What I like to do is give students a chunk of every Friday to watch an educational video or read an article and respond to it.  Their written responses include a summary and a personal response.  The resources I point my students toward are TED, CrashCourse, Vsauce (select videos), AsapSCIENCE (select videos), and Scholastic magazines.  The magazines tend to be a back up when a student’s tablet is out of commission.  Right now I’m scoping out PBS Idea Channel as another option.

Last year I gave students the option of writing the response by hand, or typing and submitting through Google Classroom.  Classroom organizes student work into folders for you, so it’s very easy to track down.
This year I designed a Google Form that has student cite their source, write a one paragraph summary, and a one paragraph personal reflection.

Last year, I graded each submission according to content, grammar, and spelling as I describe in my “Grading” post where I talk about giving multiple grades to each assignment, but this year I have to decide how to score or grade these because the separate grades proved too time-consuming for a weekly assignment.

I love to give my students a chance to choose a topic to research and time to practice researching and writing, and the kids appreciate this assignment for the freedom of choice.  The writing aspect seems less laborious when they enjoy the topic (who’d have thought it?).  I once listened to another English teacher explain a dilemma where she wanted to give her students freedom to research their interests, but one boy wanted to research a specific rifle.  She wanted to encourage his curiosity and student-driven learning, but respect policies, but she didn’t want to censor him.  I said, “We’re talking about the irony of structuring freedom”.  I don’t know how she resolves the situation, but I know if it were me, then I would talk to my principal about it in case I could get the green light or find a compromise, or neither.

Some more resources on 20-time:
The Research Behind 20% Time
The 20% Project (Like Google) in my Class


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