Sunday, August 25, 2013

A letter to parents and students about the 20% project

Dear Students and Parents,

As you are well aware, one of the things that makes AdVENTURE successful is the Project Based Learning approach we have embraced. However, all of these projects are mostly teacher driven. We study the standards, come up with the questions and develop projects/problems for the students to solve. Students then decide what they need to know, do some research to learn the content and set about solving the problem or creating the products to come up with solutions. What is oftentimes missing from this equation is the passion for learning new things. The quest to study outside of class and to bring in new materials to study, not for the sake of getting a grade, but because there is a real investment in the outcome. This is where one of the unusual projects we’ll be taking on this year at AdVENTURE Science will come in.

This is a major project-based-learning assignment that spans the first semester of the school year (tentative due date Jan 21) and encourages students to pursue a creative interest they might otherwise not experience at AdVENTURE.

Before we get into the details of the project, please read my previous post, "What is the 20% project?"

How does the first semester 20% Project Work? 

We will start by brainstorming ideas for a project proposal. My only requirement in this is that it has ties to S.T.E.M. Since this is about individual passions, students will be working alone. Don't worry, you will have plenty of other opportunities to work in teams

Once the students have an idea of what project they want to pursue, they begin writing the proposal. This is how the student will “pitch” the project to me, the rest of the classes and the community. In this proposal, students will answer the following questions.

  • Idea:  
What is your project?

  • Motivation: 

What is the inspiration for this project?
Why did you choose this project? 
Why is it important to you?
What is your goal?
Why is this project worthwhile?
What do you expect to learn from this project?

  • Practicality: 
What will you have to show at the end of the semester?
What is your timeline for completing (or launching) your project?
What major milestones will you need to accomplish? By when?

  • Accountability
How will you determine if you are making successful progress?

The Blog 
Each student is required to write a semi-public blog post that discusses their progress. Every two weeks, they will write about their work, what they learned, what challenges they faced, and what they anticipate in the future.

I would like to see each team find an adult mentor who can help guide and inspire it. I hope parents will play a role in finding an appropriate mentor for this project. The mentor will serve to offer advice and provide informal leadership. Please visit the Mentoring Opportunity link.

20% Days 
Throughout the school semester, students will have one day a week (Wednesdays) to work on their projects. Students may choose to work at home and use the scheduled 20% time as a productive tutorial period, meeting period, or writing period. I will often offer mini-workshops during 20% time related to student needs.

The Final Presentation 
At the end of the semester, each student will give a five-minute presentation to students, teachers, and community members where they will show off their work. This will be carefully written, choreographed, and rehearsed to produce the best presentation they have ever given. These TED-style presentations will be recorded and added to the students' digital portfolios.

Here is a link to highlights of 20% projects created by Mr. Brookhouser's English sophmores in New York:

By now, most of you are wondering how I’m going to grade the 20% project. As discussed in the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About what Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, extrinsic motivators like grades tend to discourage the innovation and creativity I’m looking for in this project. I want my students to be inspired by the project itself, not by the grade they’re going to get on it. That said, I am going to assess students on the objective elements of the project. The 20% project grade will be dependent on the following elements with rubrics.

  • The Proposal (Is the proposal on-time, and does it address the required questions appropriately?)
  • The Blog ( Do you post regularly? Do your posts explain your own thinking and learning process? Do  your posts show where you are going?) 
  • Productivity (Are you spending your 20% time by actively and passionately working on your project? If not, we need to quickly adjust the project so you are working on something that is intrinsically motivating. This is less objective, but if I see students not being productive, I will intervene.) 
  • Final Presentation (Does your presentation meet all of the required elements? Did you successfully move from idea phase to production phase, and do you have something to show at the end of the semester?) 

What if my project is a failure? 

In this class there is a place for perfection. You will have ample opportinities in our other projects to demonstrate your learning and achieve perfection. The 20% Project is no such place. The world’s best entrepreneurs embrace failure.The only truly failed project is the one that doesn’t get done. I want students to strive to show off a successful project at the end of the semester, but I don’t want the quest for perfection to lead to an incomplete project.

I want students to follow the advice plastered on the wall of Facebook’s headquarters.

This policy doesn't work in all work-related environments. I wouldn't want to see this poster in my doctor's office or Boeing's production line. But for the type of creativity and innovation we are striving for, I find this idea compelling. If you feel that your project is a failure, I want to hear about it. What did you learn about it? Think about scientific work. If the hypothesis is proven incorrect, is the experiment a failure? Don’t strive for failure, but don’t be afraid of it either!

I am very excited about all of the different things we’re going to be doing this year in AdVENTURE Science. But I am more excited about being amazed, surprised, and inspired by the innovative projects you will produce in the 20% Project.

If you have any questions about anything, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.


Mariana Garcia

Inspired by: