30 April 2012

Their 20%

Our district requires a research project in the science classes.  This sometimes manifests as a science fair project, but because I was new to the district, I totally missed the deadlines and didn't get the information out in time to have my students prepare something of quality.  So, suddenly it is the last 9 weeks of school and I have to squeeze in this project at the same time as the sophomores (half of my population) are doing their English thesis papers.  I didn't want to burden them with a science project that forced them to study something they have little interest in so I turned to Google.

Google is known for thinking outside the box (actually they redefined what a box is) for the creative projects of their employees.  One thing they are most known for is their 20% time.  One day per week employees are allowed to work on anything that they want to learn and are the most passionate about.  From that time has come Gmail, Google Docs and Google Street View.  Well, if it can work for Google, why can't it work in my classroom?

So starting 2 weeks ago, my students have been given every Friday to work on a project of their choosing.  The only requirements that I gave them was it has to be something they are interested in, they must demonstrate what they learned, and it can't be easily learned through a Google search.  Thus far, some of the projects are:

  • learning how to bake 10 different types of cookies
  • decorating cakes
  • time travel
  • connection between color and taste preferences
  • hair braiding
  • perpetual motion machines
  • Rube Goldberg devices
  • Ben and Jerry's ice-cream
  • relationship between the size of a combustion chamber and the distance a potato will travel in a potato gun
  • meteorology
  • agronomy
  • lock picking
  • the physics of the wiffle ball
  • a history of St. Mark's cathedral
Some students are working in small groups, but most are working by themselves.  All of their work is being stored in a Google Docs collection so I can see their progress and I regularly check in with them on Fridays.  Some students dislike it because it is so open-ended and they just want me to tell them what to research.  But my biggest surprise was from one of my best students who wants HS to simply prepare her for college classes.  She openly said she loves this project because she finally gets time to learn more about a topic she hasn't had time for because school work gets in the way.

I don't know what this project will bring.  All I do know is this year has been about trying new and radical ideas in my classroom and this is just one more stepping stone in that journey.