Today we opened up our 20% Time projects for public comment. In the school cafeteria, for two hours, students, teachers, parents and administrators came in to see the project ideas. We call this the Idea Showcase, a chance for kids to talk about their project ideas with an authentic audience and answer questions about the projects that they may not have thought about before. Over a hundred spectators browsed the projects over the two hour block of time.
The kids really rose to the occasion. Many were not ready when they woke up this morning, but worked hard to polish their presentations and materials in time to be effective advocates for their project ideas. Watching the kids interact with the adult visitors was especially interesting. Kids often have difficulty talking to adults about their work, but today the kids seemed to be engaged and verbose about their ideas. They were really able to enter into discussions about learning, and what they hoped to accomplish, on a deeper level than many would expect.
The projects represent a vast array of ideas. These are the ideas that the kids really wanted to pursue. A conversation with one parent went something like this:
"When you guys first started this, I wasn't sure what you were doing. There didn't seem to be much direction for the kids," the parent said.
"That's true. We encourage but try not to steer at the beginning. The kids have to come up with their own idea," I replied.
"Well, we ran into some real roadblocks during the last few months. I figured that those were things she (her daughter) would have to deal with. She solved the problems but she wasn't really sure how to at first," mom said.
"Yes, that's exactly it! It has to be real-life learning. We don't know the solutions to a lot of the problems we face and we have to figure them out as best we can," I said.
"Well, looking around at the projects, I get it now. This is amazing. All of these project were the kids' ideas," she said.
"Yep, they are. It's different from the way we normally think of school. If I give a kid a paper to fill out with answers that I know are supposed to be there, then that is MY work, not the kids' work. But here, all of these ideas, this clearly is the kids' work," I said.
"That is so true. I look around and I'm surprised by what these kids are doing," she replied.
"We are surprised every year when we start 20% Time," I said.
The level of thinking and problem-solving that these kids demonstrated so far is astonishing. Several have tweaked or changed their project idea because they really hadn't thought through their idea before and realized that they were not passionate about it. For those kids, they learned that the search is one of the most important parts of the project.
The Idea Showcase was validating for the kids and it's validating for us as teachers. What the visitors shared was that the kids were in command of their own learning and seemed excited to be pursuing learning about which they are passionate. The kids got to have positive interactions with adults who were both inquisitive and complementary. They came out of the showcase more confident and assured that their projects were worthwhile and valued. We, as teachers, again saw that kids can really do great things when we get out of their way.