When we started 20% Time, it was a tougher transition on me then it was for Don. I had trouble with the freedom and autonomy that the kids needed during this project to be successful, which is crazy since this whole project was my idea! As I started wrapping my head around the project and managing my own feelings of needing to be in charge of every part, it was as if a weight was lifted. I was able to focus in on the students and their learning. I realized that I had been running a teacher-driven classroom where I needed to be the one who knew all the answers, stood in front of the class and always had all eyes on me. I felt so selfish. I can say this is the moment that I knew that we were doing something special with learning and my current idea of education had been changed forever.
Student autonomy has become such an integral part of my classroom in all subjects, not just 20% Time. I love it in my math and science classes too. I don't even think I could have every single person in class create the same product to turn in anymore; it turns my stomach! Everything looking the exact same, with the exact same parameters, etc.? This isn't showing me who my student is or what they can do. I want to allow my students to meet the learning goals in the way they can best express themselves. This can look different for every single student and you know what..........THAT IS OK!
I love watching students work through problem-based learning problems, truly being invested, finding solutions and making real world connections. In math this week, while using scale factors (one of our math targets) students scaled Barbie's measurements to the height of a member in their group. At the end of this exercise, we ask that the students write a professional letter to Mattel stating their findings and their opinions. We are finishing this lesson with some videos about a Barbie who has been scaled to a real-life person, sharing their findings and opinions and having a conversation about self-image. It is an awesome lesson (that I took and adapted from someone else!) and it touches across all aspects. I love watching these types of lessons come to life! After we are finished, I asked which students would like their letters mailed to Mattel and we sent them off! Below are some of our students hard at work getting their Barbies drawn.
I know it looks awfully crazy but I can't imagine ever going back to my old teaching style. Like I said, once you get a taste of what this kind of teaching can bring out in your students, you will never turn back. The excitement it brings to your students, it will also bring to you. So......take a step outside of your comfort zone, even if it is a baby step, and give it a try. What do you have to lose?