5Q’s Version of “Twenty Percent Time”

It’s Friday in Gene Quezada’s 5th grade classroom and kids are engrossed in learning. Not to say that his students are not engrossed in learning Monday through Thursday, it’s just that this learning is something that each student has chosen. Fridays in 5Q are referred to as Choice Time.

Gene started having Fridays as choice time three years ago as a way of giving his students more say in how they used their time and energy to learn. The elementary school at AES had just implemented a Home Learning policy where students do not have “one size fits all” homework, but are encouraged to follow their passions while at home. The school was also two years into the adoption of a behavior philosophy called Restitution that asks students and adults to learn to understand why they make the choices they make based on basic needs that all people have in common. Gene had also read Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, where the concepts of autonomy, mastery and purpose are explored to support the author’s premise that we are all intrinsically motivated to learn and contribute to our communities. Gene showed his students this video of Daniel Pink speaking about his book.

The reasons why Gene has restructured his school week to incorporate more student choice supports the how and what a Friday looks like in his classroom. Gene shared that, “If we believe that kids should be responsible, then we should give them time to exercise choice in their learning. If we choose for them, then they can never be responsible for their own learning. If we believe kids should follow their passions then shouldn’t we give them time to follow their passions?” Gene also believes that time and space need to be provided in order for school and learning to be more than what the teacher says it is for the nine or ten months they are together.

Structure and reflection are necessary for this choice time to work. When Mr Q. asks his students to choose something that they want to investigate and explore, he has them ask themselves questions and work through a modified thinking routine called Think-Puzzle-Explore. Questions such as:

What do you think you know about . . . . ?
What puzzles you about . . .
What do you want to know . . .
What are you going to try to do . . .
How are you going to find help  . . .
What is your goal for today . . . .
How did it go? What’s your goal for the next session . . .

Gene realizes that students will change their topic several times during the initial month, but he finds that most students settle into a topic soon after and embrace it for the remainder of the school year. He has discovered that a timeline with due dates is important for students to have success and having those parameters gives students a framework within to be creative.

Technology is not the driving force for these choice time projects, but it does play a role in supporting the students and their work. Gene commented on the use of technology with this year’s class and said,  “This year a couple kids are creating a blog to share information about their topic, another is making a digital painting, and one other student is making a stop motion animation movie. However, many students are working with their hands to build and create things and use technology to document their work.”

Here is a blog post by a teacher in the UK who has implemented 20% Time in his elementary classroom. Check out this other site by a teacher who gives examples of how 20% time is used in high school classrooms.

Other teachers at AES have explored the idea of giving kids more choice and the opportunity to follow passions during the school day. Talk with Karen Snyder about the book, The Passion Driven Classroom, and how it mirrors the philosophy of 20% time. Spend some time on the blog by the author, Angela Maiers to learn more.

This year, some of the passions being followed in 5Q’s class are creating cookbooks, creating toys to be sold for charity, writing a How to Play Minecraft book, and writing a book of pranks, practical jokes and other misfit, just to name a few. Gene admits that it is hard to always trust that students will do what needs to be done, but he recognizes that “sometimes they just need time to do what they need to do.”

What are your thoughts about implementing something like 20% time in your classroom? How might this work in a grade level team? How does having access to iPads and other tech devices along with software, such as Evernote and Explain Everything, change a choice time scenario? What would the effects be if it was taken on by the elementary or K-12 for that matter? Please add your comments and get the conversation going.


Blog Meisters Supporting 3White

Melissa White was looking for a way to help her students receive regular feedback on their student blogs. She recognized the challenge of responding to every student created post in a timely manner. Her solution was to involve classroom parents in the process.

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The Blog Meister program began early in the first semester of the 2012/2013 school year. Melissa was looking for a way to provide and model clear and complete comments, check for errors that keep photos, links, or other elements from working, and to be on the look out for unkind or inappropriate language.

She wrote to all of her parents asking for volunteers and ended up with five participants. Melissa made the decision to not have any of the parents monitor their own child’s blog with the thinking that they would check out their child’s blog any way. The students were divided evenly among parent volunteers, given directions on what to do, and started viewing and commenting.

Melissa made a point of telling parents that their job was not to teach or correct, but to give feedback on what was written. She shared examples of what a comment could look like and asked that they make a comment on every post or as many as possible. To provide variety, she asked for new volunteers for the second semester and switched students around for parents who signed up for a second session. She thinks that switching by the quarter might be even better and plans to try that next school year when she introduces the program at Back to School Night.

Melissa ended the first semester by asking the Blog Meisters to create a handwritten note to their students in order to bring closure and have an opportunity to give some constructive feedback about their writing and commenting. She felt that this final effort was a valuable experience for students and mentors.

Next steps for the Blog Meister program include exploring the idea of involving extended family members, such as grandparents, to participate.

Melissa feels that this program is beneficial to her students because they have really enjoyed getting regular feedback on their blogs, it has provided them with a bigger audience, and has provided models for developing communication skills.

If setting up a program like this interests you, Melissa, mwhite@aes.ac.in, is happy to share more of her insights and experiences.  And of course, any of us in the tech room will more than happy to help.

Documenting Learning

I have been promoting the idea of electronically documenting evidence of learning in our elementary school. I made a choice to give the topic the title of e-portfolios, which I have now changed to e-documentation. The amount of push-back and stress that I received and felt by using the term portfolio was somewhat of a shock. The first grade team even said that they were opposed to the idea.

This resulted more from the history that teachers have with summative portfolios compiled in folders and binders that are painstakingly built and maintained. The farther away from the primary grades, the smaller the degree of resistance. Teachers recognize the value in documenting student work; the problem is that the process has always required so much time and effort. Check out this website from Harvard’s Project Zero that outlines Documenting the Process of Learning

With our pilot of 40 iPads covering 6 sections of each grade from ecec to 5th, we have been stunned by the amount of content that has been created throughout this school year and the amount of work that has been archived on blogs and web tools like VoiceThread . Documenting has taken place and doing it electronically has proven to be extremely easy and powerful at the same time.

I believe that the best reason for changing the language from e-portfolio to e-documentation is that it moves thinking away from documenting end products to documenting the procress of learning when learning is happening. With an iPad, an “AH HA” moment can be captured immediately and the image or video, with voice recorded, can be uploaded and integrated in a variety of apps and vessels. I recently asked two fourth graders to document the most important steps for them in writing their realistic fiction piece. They took time to go through their writer’s notebooks and review the work they did with each of the lessons that were presented, they looked through drafts to see the changes that took place as they revised and edited, and then they started to document. The students took photographs with the screencasting app, Explain Everything, and used the tools provided to record their voices and share what was important to them. This was their first experience with the app and had very little direction with how deep of a reflection they could make. Check out the videos and share thoughts and questions about documenting electronically.

A Shift Will Happen One Way or Another

Fear is a powerful emotion. It is the impetus of all of the “What if…. and What will happen….?” questions that come to the surface when something seemingly new and different is presented. It is what puts teachers into a cold sweat when they are asked to consider trying a new tech tool that could replace or enhance something that they are doing and potentially improve the experience for teacher and students alike. Fear causes teachers to hold on tighter to the illusion of the sense of control they are so conditioned to want and demand, because that is how it was when we all were in school. Fear keeps teachers from really seeing the change that is taking place in our society as a reality and not another phase in the proverbial pendulum of education. Read this opinion about connectedness that gives an interesting perspective on this idea.

I know this because I have been and still am to some degree that teacher. In my first year out of the classroom as a tech integrator, I am able to see the classroom experience from a different perspective. I am the one now who is asking teachers to try something new; to let me show them tools that could make life during the school day more interesting and engaging for their students; to show them that if they give up some “control” and allow students to have more independence and freedom that they can actually meet the needs of more of their students throughout the day. This requires a shift from teachers delivering information and all that is important to teachers facilitating learning by promoting and developing inquiry and thinking skills. A high school teacher writes of her experience with making this shift in her approach to time spent with her students and how this shift is something that she has always known was right for her and her students.

I was a conference this summer and a presenter put a quote on the screen that read, “You think integrating technology is expensive; try irrelavence.” I fear that teachers with very good intentions and who believe strongly in what they are doing are steadily becoming irrelavent by not embracing or at least acknowledging the world in which their students spend so much time.

Doodling to Help Process and Problem Solve

This five minute TED Talk by Sunni Brown emphasizes the age old art of doodling and works to remove the stigma that has been placed on the word and the action. Watch Doodlers Unite and think about how doodling can be used the classroom. The screencasting apps, like Screen Chomper and Explain Everything, for tablets are  great for doodling while recording lectures or discussions that are taking place during a lesson.

Recording Lessons For Independent Work

Here is an example of a recorded page from SmartNotebook. This is something that seems more difficult than it is and take very little time to do.

If you don’t want to upload it to Youtube and then post it on a blog, it is also possible to save a file saved to your computer and paste it into a shared drive or individual z drives for students to access at school.

Creating videos for students to review lessons or introduce them to concepts can also easly be done on and iPad with a screencasting app like Explain Everything. The three types of movies below could also be done by students as a way to show their understanding of a concept or teaching other students.

are vs our infographic2

Flipping the classroom does not mean that work has to be sent home to do at home. It can mean doing things differently in the classroom.

Re-Thinking Classroom Space

Adele Caemmerer and I presented to about 25 faculty members our ideas about re-thinking our classroom spaces in terms of the space being integral in the education of the students who experience it. We shared information from architects and teachers who have made changes to incorporate what we are now calling 21st Century Learning skills. We asked teachers to sketch their current classroom space and evaluate it based on 4 elements that we presented. Teachers were then asked to sketch their ideal classrooms, considering the space they have to work with. The ideas then began to flow, which we are keeping on a Google Doc so that more creativity, collaboration and communication can take place.
What ideas do you have about rearranging your space to most optimize movement, collaboration, creativity, sharing, and reflection? How does integration of technology fit into your thinking?
School Design
Modern Classrooms

Re-Thinking Our Classroom Space-edt 2 pdf

Mayo Clinic Study on Movement in the classroom 2006

CBS Report on Mayo Clinic Study