Sunday, December 18, 2016

Pitch Day 2016

Pitch Day is one of my favorite days of the school year. It is the day when the kiddos pitch their Genius Hour ideas and explain what they hope to accomplish with their project. We hear all kinds of ideas, many of which I had never thought a 13-year-old would be capable of doing. I learned long a go that kids will blow away our expectations when they are given the opportunity to learn what they want. Indeed, we have seen projects that college students would have trouble completing. It all comes down to the students' passions. What is it that motivates them? That passion is what we as teachers must tap into in order to get the most out of our kiddos. Genius Hour does just that.

The presentations overall were pretty good. In the past, the students presented only to a committee of 3-4 adults. This year, because of logistics, the kids pitched to two adults and their classmates. Because students were in the room, it was a bit less formal than in the past. However, that informality did not detract from the ideas that the kids presented. Project ideas ranged from service projects to projects dealing with the arts. Some kids wanted to build and some wanted to code. We have animators, YouTubers and writers. 

Jack, who goes spear fishing every month with his family, wants to design a new propulsion system for a spear gun. He believes that the current system is too difficult and things he can innovate a new way for spear guns to work. Each month when he is fishing with his family, he will test the iterations of his project to see what is working and what needs to be tweaked more. He will post pictures and video to his blog so we can see his progress. 

Halle is an artist, musician and skater. She believes that the price of musical instruments and other items that kids want are way too expensive for the average kid. Her dream is to open a storefront where young artisans can make instruments, create art, make skateboards and other items that they will sell at a low cost to kids. She talked about creating a business plan and raising funds. That is ambitious. Halle may start with an Etsy store while she is working on her bigger dream. 

Destiny had the idea to create jeans that change colors. She will have to learn the science behind that technology and how to work with denim. She may need to learn how to sew. She is fascinated with the idea of customized and personalized clothing and has already talked to Halle about selling her jeans in Halle's store. 

Joaquin is all about shoes. He has lots of shoes and treats them like trophies. His idea is to create a spray that will prevent the shoes from getting dirty without compromising the integrity of the shoe. He knows that there are similar products on the market but no spray is good for all shoes. His will be.

Macy is a musician. She can play music just by hearing it and she plays multiple instruments. She also sings. Her idea is to develop and showcase her talent and create a YouTube channel to document her story. Music is her passion and this project will be a great outlet for her. 

These are a few of the projects that the kids will be doing. In this blog over the next five months, I will be highlighting more of the projects that are in process. As always, kids will be keeping their own blogs to tell the stories of their learning. This promises to be a great crop of Genius Hour projects and I'm excited to see the progress that these kiddos make as the year goes on. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

"I Can't Wait!"

Every day, we begin class with a writing prompt. Kids write quietly to the prompt for ten minutes. Often, kids will want to write on another topic. I welcome those decisions. After all, the writing is theirs and as long as they are writing, I'm happy. Last week, one student used the writing prompt time to discuss his Genius Hour project. "I can't wait!" his journal began. "I am so excited to do my project!"

I love when kids are jazzed about doing their work in class. I have talked to them incessantly about owning their work, making decisions in class that personalize the work that they do, and getting more out of the classroom experience because of those decisions. The whole idea behind Genius Hour is to give kids time and space to learn the things that they want to learn, the things that excite them, the things that will make their lives more rewarding. We probably will not have any scientific breakthroughs (though you never know) and we may not have the next Edison or Tesla, but each child has chosen a project that will bring them personal fulfillment along with skills and knowledge along the way.

I have seen the preliminary ideas and I'm very excited for many of them. Some kiddos are going to soar from the get-go. Some kiddos are going to have to tweak their ideas; they just don't know it yet. That is part of the learning process. Many kids have already changed their ideas. When they do, they approach me like they are disappointing me. The conversation that we have is interesting because I tell them that they should never settle on an idea about which they have doubts. Normally they are stunned. These kids are still getting used to the idea that they have the decision-making power for their Genius Hour projects. This power is something that they have to get used to and they will. It is my job to get them comfortable with being in charge of their learning. This evolution occurs every year. In March, kids will tell me, "Yesterday, I changed a part of my project because I ran into a dead end." Right now, however, they don't see themselves with that kind of control. They'll get there sooner or later and I can't wait until they do!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Creating the Pitch Presentations

It is important for kids to learn presentation skills. They don't get nearly enough opportunities to refine those skills in school. Kids are deathly afraid of public speaking as are most adults. In order to get kids more comfortable with presenting their ideas, they must do it often. Pitch Day is the perfect opportunity to work on those skills. Our Genius Hour Pitch Day is on December 13. While it will not be a life and death situation, it is a high stakes event. The very fact that kids will be presenting their own ideas to adults and other students increases the degree of difficulty.

One thing that these kids need is confidence. I am a firm believer that learners who are confident learn more because they are more willing to take risks. These kids are becoming more confident and that is a beautiful thing to see. We have had several class activities during which kids share their ideas with peers so they have already had their ideas validated by other students. Now they have to crystallize their ideas into a 3-5 minute presentation that speaks to the origin of the idea, the plan and the desired result. These kiddos will be ready.

To that end, we spent a block in the computer lab creating our visuals for Pitch Day. Our conversation before beginning was to make sure that the visual was engaging and to limit the words on each slide. After all, we are going to want each student to talk to us, not read slides to us. The art of presentation is to use the visual as a springboard for conversation and not lean on it like a crutch.

The skills that kids will work on while creating and delivering these presentations are many and they are just as important as the curricular skills that we teach them. Proper social interaction, creativity, public speaking, appropriate audience behavior, organization, and showcasing important information are all skills that they will use at some point in their lives outside of school. We have to focus on them as much as we do reading and writing. Our kids will be better for it.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Accessing Our Creative Genius

Every week at the beginning of Genius Hour, I show the kids two or three videos of amazing ideas. I call this little time slot "Creative Genius". It is a good time to show kids that people are out there thinking up simple, elegant solutions to everyday problems. First they see a problem, then they try to find a solution, testing each iteration of the solution along the way. Finally, they have a viable solution to the problem. This is what Genius Hour is all about. I want kids to access their talents and abilities to create, innovate and solve problems.

Often kids don't think they can make their mark on the world. After all, they're just kids. By showing them all of these ideas, I try to broaden their knowledge base and stretch their imagination. Maybe they hadn't thought of the Power Puff Lamp or Shoes that Grow, but they can think of many other solutions to problems. I want kids to aspire for more than they thought they could achieve. I want them to perceive themselves as inventors, creators, and innovators. They have to change the way they see themselves in order to be confident enough to take that leap. Thus far in school, most kids believe that they are the passive recipients of knowledge. We have to give kids the opportunity to try, fail and try again.

Over the past few years, I have seen kids gain confidence in themselves during their Genius Hour experience. Their perceptions change. They are no longer just students; they are also writers, techies, YouTubers, inventors, chefs, and builders. Kids realize that if they were able to dazzle with their Genius Hour project, they can do anything. This kind of learning is difficult, much more difficult than traditional school learning. Not only do kids have to complete the assignment, they also have to construct the assignment.

In a few weeks, we will conduct Pitch Day, a chance for kids to share their ideas and goals with others. I am incredibly excited to watch as kids take their first step toward independent learning. They will crash. They will fail. They will get frustrated. Doesn't that sound like the learning we do as adults? They will also try again. They will succeed. They will have those "A-ha!" moments. They will be so interested in the projects that they created because they are based on the kids' passions that they won't every quit. This is a long journey that we are on and we are only at the beginning.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Preparing for "The Pitch"

Over the last few years, Melissa and I have learned that we have to give kids lots of time to come up with their project ideas. One year we tried to rush things, giving kids only a couple of weeks to think. Well, that didn't work very well; we had a lot of kids change projects because while they were doing their project, they discovered their real idea. Kids naturally have a lot of starts and stops. Some will latch onto an idea before we introduce Genius Hour. Some will struggle for weeks. We have to accommodate both kinds of learners. So we give time. We give time for kids to converse, wonder, think and imagine. We ask kids to start researching their project idea because after their initial research, kids will either confirm that their idea is awesome or realize that their idea isn't for them.

Over the last few weeks, we have been doing a lot of idea-generating activities. These activities are important because kids need exposure to many ideas and they also need time to reflect and talk to others. Through these conversations and reflections, they begin to flesh out their ideas. This is what learning is all about, attempting new things and reflecting on those attempts. Do all of the kids have ideas at this point? No. Do all of the kids have some idea of the talents they want to use for their projects? Nearly all do.

In a few weeks, kids will pitch their ideas. In the past, because of our situation, we were able to have pitch committees of adults who saw these pitches, like in the television show Shark Tank. Because of my current situation, I don't have those resources at the ready so we will do things differently. My goal is to have Pitch Day work a bit differently than the past but not too differently. I may be able to get another set of adult eyes to help me form the Pitch Committee. I may not. The structure of my new school may not allow the time resource for that adult. That's okay. Each student will give a 3-5 minute pitch presentation. They may use any technology they would like to help us visualize their goal. They will present to our class and any other adults I can get in the room during that time.

Feedback is important for the kids. The committee has always given the students feedback on style, substance, and presentation. This year, kids will still get feedback. Some of that feedback will come from me, some will come from other adults in the room and some will come from the other students. Now, most of our kiddos have not had the opportunity to make many presentations so this is a skill that is under development. We will model a good presentation, we will help kids prepare and we watch them excel. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing our students accomplish something that they didn't think they could do. They get such a boost in confidence and begin to see themselves differently. They begin to see that they are in charge of their own learning and that they have more control over their learning than anyone else.

Not only are kids learning the content that their projects will require, but they are also learning secondary and tertiary skills. Kids will learn to prepare, to speak in front of an audience, to walk with confidence, to create an effective visual, to offer and accept feedback. Sometimes these skills may make up the foundation of the kids' careers later in life. By including a variety of skills for the kids to learn, we are making sure that kids see their potential as learners. Through completing their Genius Hour projects, we think that the kids will fulfill this potential.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Eureka Moment!

Our kids are still working on coming up with great ideas for their Genius Hour projects. When I surveyed the kiddos the other day, about half knew what they wanted to do while the other half was still searching. Melissa and I learned years ago that the idea is the key to the projects. If a kiddo is cavalier about the idea, then the project will flop. The project must center around an idea that the student is passionate about. We're looking for that "Eureka Moment". For instance, a few students told me that their idea this year was "fundraising". When I asked what they would be raising funds for, they had no idea. Their project did not have a purpose. We talked about the purpose behind the idea and I think that these kids understood. They may or may not continue along the fundraising track. They will consider the purpose of their project more carefully now.

Since the Bad Idea Factory, we have done a couple of exercises to help kids dig down to their real interests and passions. One survey asks kids questions like, "What are a few things that you have always wanted to do physically that you have not been able to do yet?" and "What are a few things that you have always wanted to learn about but have not had the opportunity yet?" When kids think in these terms, about things they'd like to learn or accomplish, instead of an idea for a project, then the idea they come up with should be more meaningful to them. 

This past week, we did a sharing exercise. Kids grouped up and interviewed each other about their project idea. I was hoping that when the kiddos talked about their ideas, there would be conversation around those ideas and brainstorming would occur. Sharing ideas often leads to more and better ideas. I think that happened in several cases during this exercise. I also had the kids browse the Bad Idea Factory. There are so many good ideas, or ideas that could lead to good ideas, on the wall. I had kids write down all of the ideas that they liked. Needless to say, kids turned in lists that features about a half dozen ideas each. The purpose of our idea exploration session was to expose kids to all kinds of ideas. Who knows, maybe an idea that they talk about or see will lead them to the idea that will ultimately become their project. We know that will only happen if we talk about ideas, share ideas and expose kids to as many ideas as possible. Only through a deep dig into each child's passions combined with exposure to lots of ideas will kids ever reach their "Eureka Moment". 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Bad Idea Factory

In previous years, Melissa had always done The Bad Idea Factory in her classroom. This year, we did it a bit differently. The huge whiteboard in my room often becomes a place for conversation among students. Sometimes when the kiddos walk in, there is a question on the board and they put answers up over the course of the week. A few weeks ago, we turned that space into our Wonder Wall and the kids had a lot of questions to post. The space has become communal and conversational. The Bad Idea Factory was no different.

I ran things just like Melissa did in the past. I introduced the concept of ideas germinating and morphing into other ideas. We talked about how someone can take one idea and come up with something completely different because their mind was able to move from Point A to Point D. Kids understand this and they have good ideas. Often the problem is that we don't ever ask them what their ideas are. Genius Hour depends on the kids' ideas. Those ideas are the entire content of the Genius Hour program.

"Think of things you're good at, you'd like to make, you'd like to invent, problems you would like to solve," I told the kiddos. "Write them on the slips of paper and post them to the board." They did. The ideas kept coming and coming. Now, sometimes we have kids who are a wealth of ideas; they cannot get enough slips of paper. Others come up with one or two and "can't think of anything else". We push those kids just a bit more to really dig down, read the ideas that others are posting, and try to come up with more. Often they do. When we are done posting, the kids take a few minutes to browse the board. There are a lot of laughs and a lot of "that's cool" comments. 

As the days went by after we did the Bad Idea Factory, many of the kids realized that those were not bad ideas on the board. They were really good ideas. We talked about that in class, how things that we initially think are bad ideas are, upon reflection, pretty good ideas after all. We talked about how self-editing can be devastating because if we don't even put forth an idea, we'll never know if it can work. One girl, Destiny, even took it upon herself to change the word "bad" to "good". Now, on our whiteboard wall, we have The Good Idea Factory. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Podcast: Harmonized Learning Episode 56

In this episode, we talk about parting ways at the end of last year, our new jobs and Don's Genius Hour program (with Melissa as consultant) at East Naples Middle School in Naples, FL. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

We Are Underway!

Since August 15, I have been mentioning 20% Time and Genius Hour to my kiddos in the hopes that it would raise questions in their minds about what we will be doing. They asked and they kept asking. Finally, last week, we kicked off our program. I tweaked the presentation that Melissa and I used to do in order to fit my new situation and spent a full 90 minutes talking to the kiddos about the potential of this project. It was obvious from our conversation that very few of my kiddos have experience with anything like this. That is to be expected. In schools, we normally don't give kids voice and choice. We try but the curriculum and pacing guide usually rule the day and so we must "cover" material. Genius Hour is the opposite of that. In Genius Hour, kids get a chance to really delve into a topic of their own choosing, construct a project around the learning that they want to do and make almost all of the learning decisions along the way.

During our kickoff, a few kids immediately had ideas. Most did not. Part of the challenge for kids in a Genius Hour setting is coming up with a good idea. In a classroom setting, the teacher normally tells the kids what they will be learning so kids are trained to be passive receivers of the assignments. For most, Genius Hour is the first time in their lives that they will be active learners who will drive the project ideas. This change will be frustrating and painful for most of the kids but they will be so much better off when they emerge on the other side. Genius Hour is amazing more for how we train the students to become lifelong learners than for the actual projects that are completed. 

Many kids had "How..." questions. I just kept saying, "Trust in the process. We just go one step at a time." The program that Melissa and I designed and implemented is a deliberate process-oriented program that will help the kids develop one step at a time. Students will figure it out and take off at different times this year. That is awesome. The kids who are more confident in their learning will soar early while the kids who are more teacher-dependent will take longer to take flight. Because each student is a different learner, each student gets exactly what they need in order to become more independent. 

Explaining all of this to the kids in addition to watching a couple of TED Talks (Ken Robinson's "Are Schools Killing Creativity" and Daniel Pink's "The Puzzle of Motivation") had kids' heads spinning. That is great! I want the kiddos to use their brains to make sense of what they saw and heard. I want them to unlearn many of the traditional school behaviors that have been ingrained in them and try something new. For many, this is a scary proposition but we learn the most when we're uncomfortable. These kiddos were uncomfortable!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

It's On Again!

For the last several years, my teaching partner, Melissa Hellwig, and I have implemented a pure 20% Time program with our kids in Webster Groves. The program took off and soon we found ourselves immersed in all things 20% Time even to the point of conducting PD sessions and conference presentations. At the end of last year, with my move to Florida and Melissa's new job as an assistant principal, we thought that our journey together was over. Well, not just yet.

In a week or so, I will introduce Genius Hour to my kids at East Naples Middle School in the hopes that they will achieve as much success as the kids in Webster Groves. I have a good feeling that they will. Melissa has agreed to consult on our program. She will help me tweak Genius Hour to my new kids, school and situation. I am ecstatic because I know that so many of the improvements that we have made to the program over the past few years are the result of conversation and "thinking out loud". We have a synergy that really seems to make us better thinkers and idea generators.

When we talk to teachers about the differences between Genius Hour and 20% Time, we note the difference in project time. 20% Time, we say, is a year-long investigative project. Genius Hour projects are usually for a shorter term. This year, my first year at East Naples, we will do Genius Hour projects. I still have not worked out the logistics to make the kind of program that the two of us, working together, we able to carve out in Webster Groves. I am taking our advice by starting small and expanding over time.

The logistics are tricky. This will be a long-distance collaboration and fortunately we are techie enough to make it work. We still plan to tweak the program together, podcast occasionally together and even Skype Melissa in for the high-stakes days (Pitch Day, Idea Showcase, etc). This collaboration will be new for us and interesting as an educational experiment. Needless to say, we are stoked to be working and creating together once again.

I have already tweaked our Genius Hour blog, Harmonized Learning, to reflect some of the changes. Please follow along to see our new journey this year. My kiddos have been gradually accepting the fact that they can make many of their learning decisions. As they grow into more independent learners, I am confident that these kids will buy into the program and showcase their genius in ways that surprise us all. Every year we are "wow'd" by the learning that kids do. I know that this year will be no different.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Lifelong Learning

Chris, a student of ours two years ago, came back at the end of his freshman year to talk about his latest project. Since 20% Time, he has taken on science-related independent-study projects like the one he did for his 20% Time project. He is interested in biology and took on the Bio Project this year. The video above tells the story of Chris' independent-study project.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Learning After the Bell

Yesterday at 3:15pm, the last bell of the school year rang at Hixson Middle School. After dozens of tearful goodbyes, the kids left and we stood in an eerily silent hallway reflecting on the amazing year that we had with this group. While getting our rooms cleaned out and ready for the next teachers, we received an e-mail from Anna's mom. Anna, along with Hannah, was doing the Headbands for Hearts project. Anna's blog. Hannah's blog. Today, the girls went to Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital to deliver their creations for the children who are cancer patients.

The staff at the hospital was blown away. Here is a portion of the e-mail that we received from Anna's mother.

Just wanted to share that Anna and Hannah just came back from delivering their headbands to Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. What an awesome experience that was for them!! They met with 3 staff members (nurses and also the public relations consultant) to have their pictures taken and to talk about their project). 

Cardinal Glennon would like to highlight the girls on their Facebook page and also on their internal publications.  What they loved about their project was how it was student driven and how it was all about kids helping kids (gives me goosebumps just thinking about that). The nurse that Anna had started communicating with a few months ago also commented how she loved that the communication came from Anna and not a parent or teacher. 

This is exactly what 20% Time is. Kids discover their passions. In this case it was creating things and helping others. Kids are driven by their own interests and goals. They use that intrinsic motivation to achieve those goals. That is a game-changer. Sometimes the learning even occurs after the last bell. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Podcast - Harmonized Learning: Episode 55

In this episode, we talk about our recently-concluded Student TED Talks, a former student's 20% Time project and what lies ahead for us. Follow us on Twitter (@dayankee and @melissahellwig4).

Hannah B's Student TED Talk

Steph's Student TED Talk

Dylan's Student TED Talk

Marshall's Student TED Talk

Andrew and Noah's Student TED Talk

Sonia's Student TED Talk

Jamie's Student TED Talk

Connor's Student TED Talk

Libby's Student TED Talk

Taylor's Student TED Talk

Colin's Student TED Talk

Celia's Student TED Talk

Whitley and Lauren's Student TED Talk

Tahj's Student TED Talk

Caleb and Trevor's Student TED Talk

Jack's Student TED Talk

Anna's Student TED Talk

Derrick's Student TED Talk

Dana's Student TED Talk

Linsey's Student TED Talk

Miles' Student TED Talk

Emily's Student TED Talk

Timmy's Student TED Talk

Andrew W's Student TED Talk

Emma's Student TED Talk

Ava's Student TED Talk

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Cardboard Boat Regatta

In science class, kids are working on building boats out of cardboard for our Cardboard Boat Regatta. Next week we are going to the city pool to see if the boats will float with kids in them. Kids will have to prepare, plan and build boats that will hold up to three kids and sail to the finish line. Here are some photos from the planning and building stages.

Carnival Probability Game Day

20% Time has changed the way I teach and I can never return to the dark side! When you take on something like 20% Time, it is impossible for it not to bleed into your teaching environment.  20% Time completely changes the way you think about running a classroom.  Don and I completely run PBL classrooms. It is crazy how invested the students get into project based lessons.  Below I shared some projects we are doing at the end of year in math and science.

Carnival Probability Games in Math: In groups of 2 or 3, students created carnival games that had a 2-stage probability. We then visited another an awesome math teacher to let my students play his students' games for 20 minutes. Then we exchanged kids to head back down to my room where his students played our games.  It was such a fun experience and even better because we exchanged with another class.  My kids were so excited about another class coming to play our carnival games!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Emily is a voracious reader. If given the opportunity to do anything in her free time, she would always choose reading. Our team sponsors a teen lit review (link here). Emily started writing some reviews on the blog and, wow, they were spectacular. After going through a few 20% Time ideas like writing a novel, she came back to what she knew she should be doing, reading and reviewing books. Emily created a blog on which she reviews the books she reads. She is being discovered by other teens who appreciate her opinions and her quality writing. If she keeps up with her blog, she could be a force in the YA Lit world. Check out Emily's review blog, The Teen Blogger, here.


Scarlett took a meandering path to her final 20% Time project. She began with an idea of raising awareness in our community about air pollution and what individuals and families could do, primarily through planting trees, to combat the situation. She later changed her idea to writing a novel with an environmental theme. Any proceeds from the novel she intends to donate to organizations that combat pollution. Scarlett seems to have found what she was looking for: an idea that incorporates her talents and interests. Her blog link is here.

Monday, May 9, 2016


For some reason, this year's group of kids is all about building computers and gadgets. This is the world in which they live. Timmy is no exception. He first came up with the idea of writing a novel. He is an exceptional writer and we were all on board for that idea. However, a few months in, he changed his project idea to building a desktop computer tower. He seemed to be more interested in computers as the year went on because his buddies were all doing computer-related projects. Together, they learned quite a bit about the hardware, software and coding of computers. Take a look at Timmy's blog here.


Jack is a hockey player. He's been playing hockey for five years. He has constantly had to upgrade his hockey stick because he kept growing. He wondered, what if he could create a hockey stick that grew WITH kids? Thus, the Neverending Hockey Stick was born. Jack has been working on this idea all year. He has created, tested and tweaked his design to come up with a workable prototype. You can check out Jack's blog here.


Dylan has many ideas. He had about a half dozen viable ideas that he wanted to pursue. Finally, his love of technology won out and he decided to design and build a Hotspot Backpack. This backpack would allow people to connect to the Internet no matter where they were. No longer would people have to search for a signal; they would be carrying around their signal with them. It was a great idea. He did have some bumps in the road but was able to navigate them effectively. You can see Dylan's blog here.


Linsey is a dancer. She has been dancing for years. One of the things that frustrated her was that during a performance, it was so difficult to do costume changes between sets. There was not enough time, the necessary materials to make it easier were not there and it was very difficult. Her idea was simple but important. She intended to create a small, portable kit that would allow kids (and adults) to change quicker between sets. She knew what was needed because she had been in those situations before. Her experience guided her through the creating of these kits. Her blog is here; take a look


Taylor had a little trouble getting started on her 20% Time project. Her problem was that she had too many ideas. Sometimes it takes a while for the real idea to surface. Taylor decided to create a line of baked creations. She has always had a love for cooking and baking and 20% Time gave her a chance to pursue this passion in school. A few months ago, she teamed up with another project on team. She was now baking cupcakes for the other young lady to use for fundraising for her project. This was a natural connection that these two girls saw and they pursued it. Taylor also had fun designing and creating her logo and marketing campaign. Her blog is here.


Andrew knew what he wanted to do for his 20% Time project from the moment we had Kick-Off Day. He had been building life-size cardboard characters in his spare time but now he saw that he had the chance to perfect his craft. Andrew designed and built several characters. He used our team 3D printer to create and build ball-and-socket joints custom made for his project. His was an interesting project and a unique one at that. Take a look at Andrew's blog here.

Caleb and Trevor

Caleb and Trevor were fascinated with the Raspberry Pi. They thought that they could engineer a tablet that was run from the Raspberry Pi. They figured that with the proper equipment, they could figure out how to build a portable computing device on their own. After a lot of trial and error, these two boys seem to have figured it out. They are currently building a prototype of their device and may have it done in time to show it at our Student TED Talks on May 18. You can see Trevor's blog here. You should also look at Caleb's blog here.


Ian knew that he wanted to do a 20% Time project about sports. He was not sure what sport since he excels at so many. After some soul-searching, he decided that he wanted to make bats that were custom-fitted for kids who play baseball. This was an interesting project idea since custom bats are usually outrageously expensive. He wanted to do it better and cheaper. As his project went on, his interest waned. He had trouble getting access to equipment and materials. Finally he had a breakthrough and he was inspired again. Read about Ian's journey here on his blog.


After a lot of thought, Libby decided to do her 20% Time project on eating disorders. She had a personal reason for doing this project; a relative is fighting an eating disorder. Libby decided that she may be able to help others in their battle with eating disorders. She has been driven all year because of the "why" of her project. As the year progressed, she saw some natural overlaps with other kids' projects as well. Last month, she teamed up with Hannah who is doing the Puppy Mill project. Together, they made dog treats and sold them as a fundraiser for Libby's project. We love seeing kids team up with other kids. They find ways to piggy-back on others' projects or find likenesses between projects. This kind of collaboration is one key to the success of these projects. Libby's blog is here.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Lauren and Whitley

Lauren and Whitley had high hopes from the beginning of their project. They wanted to design and build a portable device to filter and clean water for safe drinking. With all of the news about polluted water in the world, including the debacle in Flint, MI, the girls thought that this would be a useful project that could have an impact on the world. They started off strong, contacting leaders in this field and gathering a lot of advice and information. They collaborated effectively and made significant progress. We are really interested in hearing their student TED talk in two weeks. Lauren's blog is here and Whitley's blog is here.


Ava had the idea of building a car with a middle seat. She thought that visibility would be better from the middle of a car and that a car would function better with the driver in the middle of the car. Ava is one of those kids who tries to rethink everything and doesn't just think that something should be the same because "that's the way it's always been". Ava has been building a prototype lately and has made significant progress in her project. Her blog is here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Andrew had difficulty coming up with his winning idea. In fact, he refers to his first idea as "the idea that must not be named." After a while, his love of computers won out. He decided to build his own high-end computer. He and his band of friends are computer whizzes. He thought he could find all of the necessary parts and build his own computer. It would be the best computer for him because it would be designed and created by him. Well, he is in the building stage right now and is racing against the clock to have his build finished in time to show it at our Student TED Talks on May 18. Andrew's blog is here.


Sonia had a big idea! She decided early on that she wanted to make a jet pack. She has always wanted to be able to fly, to be weightless. She is a great science and math student so she had a better shot than most at figuring out the engineering that would go into such a big undertaking. All year, she has been developing plans and ideas until early last month when it was time to build the prototype. She has run into glitches, as all inventors and creators do. But Sonia is persistent. She has grit. She will be working through any problems that come her way to get her project off the ground (see what I did there?). Sonia's blog link is here.


It seems like Celia knew what she wanted to do as her 20% Time project from the get-go. She is self-motivated and driven and it was no surprise that after we introduced 20% Time to the kids, she immediately started developing her idea in her head. By the end of the first month, she had a long range plan for her project. After all, Celia is a planner. Her considerable work sprang from her imagination and problem solving skills. Celia created The Little Red Rider, an electric skateboard. Take a look at her blog here and be amazed by her work.

Monday, May 2, 2016


Anna's project morphed into a creative service project. She is good at repurposing old clothing into new things so she decided to upstyle old clothes into headbands. These headbands will be donated to the local hospitals' cancer wards for children there to wear. This project not only requires a high level of creativity and skill, it also requires Anna to foster the relationships with the hospital staffs and figure out the best way to make her project work. So far she has created dozens of headbands and is making a difference in the lives of others. Her blog is here.


Mason has been working tirelessly on his project, The Iron Canvas. His idea was to figure out a way, through coding, to incorporate drawing into computer programming, gaming and other computer-related tasks. He has had to brush up on a few computer programming languages and tinker, fail and tinker some more. He is making good progress and should be ready to give a very informative Student TED Talk on May 18. You can read Mason's blog here.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Andrew and Noah

Andrew and Noah are designing the NEW Suit, an exoskeleton to be used for a variety of reasons like helping less able people do things they could not previously do or making the wearer stronger. Yesterday, they went to midtown St. Louis to a mechanical design shop. They talked to some of the designers there about their idea and got some feedback. Check out Andrew's blog to see his perspective of the trip and some great photos and videos that he uploaded. Take a look at Noah's blog to get his views about the trip and see some of his photos too.

Podcast: Harmonized Learning - Episode 54

In this episode, we talk about the upcoming Student TED Talks, Rosalie's published novel, a cool field trip that two of our boys took yesterday as a part of their project, and upcoming PD sessions. Follow us on Twitter (@dayankee and @melissahellwig4) and subscribe to this podcast on iTunes.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Island by Rosalie Garzia

Last year, Rosalie decided that for her 20% Time project, she wanted to write a book. She blogged about her quest to create a story that was engaging enough to draw readers in and keep them interested until the end. This is what all writers attempt to do. She is a very good writer. Rosalie excelled on the writing assignments in English class. She was imaginative, creative and communicated in a narrative that was descriptive and robust. We were confident that if she pursued her dream to publish a novel, she would!

During her Student TED Talk at the end of last year, Rosalie talked about the progress she made, the drafts she'd written and the struggles she had during the writing process. It was an honest assessment of where she was in May 2015. She said at the end of her talk that she wanted to continue to write the novel and get it published. She was determined.

A week or so ago, another district teacher tweeted to Melissa (@melissahellwig4) that Rosalie did indeed publish her novel. She was able to finish the writing and editing and also go through the publishing process. The publishing process is a learning curve unto itself.

This is the whole point of 20% Time. We want kids to find their passions and pursue them even when they are not in school. The work of 20% Time should be something that kids want to do, not have to do. In this case, Rosalie has a passion for writing. 20% Time was the way for her to pursue her passion in the space of a classroom environment as well as beyond the classroom environment. We are supremely excited for Rosalie as she begins her career as a published author. We are so very proud of her.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Podcast: Harmonized Learning - Episode 53

In this episode, we talk about Checkpoint Assignment 1, blogging and our upcoming Student TED Talks. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and follow us on Twitter (@dayankee and @melissahellwig4).

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Reaching Out

When Melissa and I travel around sharing our 20% Time philosophy and program, we meet many dedicated teachers who want to take on this kind of classroom transformation. One such talented educator, Christine Zirges @christinezirges, took our message to heart and has started spreading the 20% Time message in her own school. She has partnered with teachers in her school to make the environment one that is receptive to this kind of learning.

Last week, she tweeted a picture of herself and another teachers holding copies of our book, Cultivating Genius. The rush we got when we saw these amazing educators with our book was awesome and surreal. We appreciate the warm reception for our book and hope that it helps transform more classrooms across the country. We are humbled and amazed at the work that so many teachers are doing on a daily basis.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Podcast: Harmonized Learning Episode 52

In this episode, we talk about Checkpoint Assignment 1, our new book, Cultivating Genius: The Why and How of Creating a 20% Time Learning Environment (linked here) and our professional development opportunities this summer. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes and follow us on Twitter (@dayankee and @melissahellwig4). 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Learning from Students

Every year we are astounded by what the kids learn during 20% Time. They learn and incorporate dozens, if not hundreds, of new ideas, technologies and apps into their projects. This learning is not confined to just their projects or our team. Word gets out and others want to tap into the knowledge bank of the team. One such instance occurred today.

A couple of weeks ago, our amazing FACS teacher, Christy Burton, came up with an idea. She envisioned a way for kids to design and 3D print cookie cutters for a baking unit. She found a design site called Cookie Casters and, after a bit of brainstorming, decided it would work well with her classes. We have a student, Celia, who mastered our 3D printer earlier in the year. It seemed like a natural that Celia would lead the FACS classes in learning how to use Cookie Casters to design cookie cutters. She tinkered with the site and evaluated the work flow to our 3D printer and created a presentation that she would use to teach the FACS classes. 

This morning, we excused Celia from her first three classes so that she could go to the FACS room and teach the kids how to design cookie cutters on the Cookie Casters site and save them for export to our 3D printer. Christy messaged to me about how well Celia was doing with the classes. Indeed, she is a natural. This is just one example of utilizing the talents of our kids to teach other students essential skills. We applaud Christy for coming up with the idea and both Christy and Celia for the execution of this project.

Celia's 20% Time project is at a crucial point. Take a look at her progress here.

Monday, March 7, 2016

So Many Talents

One of our students, Grace, is designing the Cool Band, a device that will help relieve the pain of migraine headaches. She has been researching the cause of migraines and what some possible solutions might be with regard to holistic treatments. She believes that with a mechanism that fits over one's head and exerts pressure on different points of the skull, the pain can be relieved.

This is a very cool idea and she is putting a lot of work into her project. One thing that we discovered along the way is that Grace is a pretty good graphic designer. She came up with an awesome logo for her project and may use it as the logo for her device. This is just another example of students discovering talents that they have. The kids have to do so many different things in order to have a successful project and discovering hidden strengths always happens. Check out Grace's project blog at Here is her logo:


Friday, March 4, 2016

Podcast: Harmonized Learning - Episode 51

In this episode, we talk about the RCET Conference, a teacher in a neighboring district who is implementing 20% Time, and how PBL has permeated our classrooms. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and follow us on Twitter (@dayankee and @melissahellwig4). 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Spotlight: Samantha Alul, Fox School District

When Melissa and I conduct professional development sessions, we often later hear from those teachers who were in attendance. One teacher, Samantha Alul from the Fox School District, wrote us this note after implementing her own 20% Time program in her class.

I attended a presentation you led on your 20% project and wanted to share this with you. Often as teachers we don't get to see the ripple effect of our work, but thanks to your presentation inspiring me to adopt this project, my students are turning into global citizens and, most recently, they are sending two homeless teens to New York with their choir. I am so grateful for your influence. Just wanted you to see the influence you are having on kids you don't even know.

We are always happy to hear from teachers attempting 20% Time and like to spotlight their work. 20% Time is a huge undertaking but the rewards for both teachers and students are immense. Samantha found this out during her own journey. Her kids did some remarkable things that changed how she thinks about education. She wrote to her technology specialist who had arranged the PD session that she attended, telling him of her classroom successes. Here is her story.

Sometimes, the most powerful lessons are not a part of the planned curriculum.

Today was by far my proudest day as a teacher. I watched as 4 of my boys organized a fundraiser to raise money to help homeless teens attend a class trip as a part of a completely self-directed, grade-free project on activism and innovation.

Four twelve year old boys single-handedly planned and executed every single aspect of the fundraiser from proposing it to our our principal for approval (an intimidating task at 12 years old), creating order forms, organizing and recording orders and money from the entire school, calculating profits and making phone calls to place the order (there is no one more nervous than a 12 year old making a professional phone call, btw).

As one of my student's eyes welled up with tears realizing what a powerful impact he and his friends could have while calculating his profits, I realized that THIS is the true goal of education, and THIS is why I teach.

So thankful to be a teacher and have these great kids in my life. John Prezzavento, the 20% project has officially changed my classroom.

We applaud all teachers who attempt to change their classrooms to incorporate more student choice, personalized learning and project/problem-based learning. The benefit to kids is unparallelled. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Making a Model

Today, Andrew was making a model for his Exo Suit, the NEW Suit. Sometimes in class, we go high-tech with devices, apps and websites. Sometimes, it's just tongue-depressors and a hot glue gun. Andrew is making a scale model of the suit that he and his partner, Noah, want to build beginning this weekend. The suit they want to build will be life-size and be able to fit either one of them in it. We are excited by their progress and hope to see more soon. You can visit Andrew's blog at and Noah's blog at

Friday, February 19, 2016

Podcast: Harmonized Learning Episode 50

In this episode, we talk about the Idea Showcase and some upcoming  20% Time events. We also give a shout out to our Avery Elementary colleagues who ran their own 20% Time Pitch Day this week. Kudos to them! You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and follow us on Twitter @dayankee and @melissahellwig4

Photos from the Idea Showcase

Friday, February 12, 2016

Podcast: Harmonized Learning - Episode 49

In this episode, we talk about EdCampSTL, the METC Conference and our upcoming Idea Showcase. Subscribe to this podcast on iTunes and follow us on Twitter (@dayankee and @melissahellwig4)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Pitch Presentation Videos

When we talk about Pitch Day, teachers often ask, "What does it look like?" We take photos of pitches, write descriptive posts about pitches and yet we still have not provided a good enough idea of what the pitch is like. We asked three of our students if we could videotape their pitches to provide some of our colleagues with a much better idea of what a pitch presentation is like. Below, you will see the pitch presentations of Ian, Mason and Linsey.

Ian's Pitch Presentation

Mason's Pitch Presentation

Linsey's Pitch Presentation

Monday, February 1, 2016

Photos of our Donors Choose 20% Time Grant

A few weeks ago, sent us an e-mail telling us of a funding opportunity from Merck Pharmaceuticals. Merck was funding 100% of any science-related grants in the St. Louis area that were submitted to Donors Choose by January 15. Well, we never turn down free money so we asked the kids if any of them were doing any science projects for 20% Time. Many were. We opened a spreadsheet and kids added the items that they needed for their projects. We submitted those products on our grant and a few weeks later, Merck funded us. Two days after Merck funded our grant, our kids had their tools in their hands. It was an amazing, seamless transaction and the kids are huge beneficiaries of this company's generosity and the awesomeness of the people at Donors Choose. We are incredibly appreciative.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Podcast - Harmonized Learning 48

In this episode, we talk about the Idea Showcase, a gallery walk event showcasing the student projects thus far. Subscribe to this podcast on iTunes and follow us on Twitter @dayankee and @melissahellwig4

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Reaching Out to Learn

Whitley and Lauren are doing a 20% Time project that entails developing a desalination device and water purification system. They have been busily researching and working on this idea for several weeks. Their Pitch Day presentation knocked the socks off of the Pitch Committee and we expect great things from them this semester. Yesterday, as part of their research, they contacted an organization, Water Is Life, through a Google Hangout.  The girls spoke to Ken Surritte, the President of Water Is Life. Ken was at his office in Oklahoma and the girls were in the technology lab here at school. Through the use of technology, the kids can learn from anyone anywhere in the world.

Because of their contact with Ken, Whitley and Lauren were able to learn about the pressing need for drinkable water, gain access to resources that they never knew existed, and chart a more solid course for their project. The girls had their idea validated by one of the world experts on water. They returned to class more confident, more excited and more passionate about their project than ever before. Events like these, where students learn from others around the world, are extremely valuable for the information they learn as well as the confidence they gain by seeing themselves as independent learners.

Each of the girls is blogging their learning. The blog links are here: Whitley's Blog; Lauren's Blog.

Whitley and Lauren getting ready for their GHO with Ken Surritte of Water is Life.

Lauren and Whitley showing the items they received from Water is Life.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Podcast - Pitch Day!

In this episode, we talk about Pitch Day and the Pitch Committees. We also touch on our upcoming Idea Showcase. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and follow us on Twitter @dayankee and @melissahellwig4

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Different Pitch-Day Perspective

One of our former students, Harry Gallagher, has graduated high school and moved on to work in the coding world. He has visited a few times over the years and the last time he was in, we asked if he'd like to be on the Pitch Committee for this year's Pitch Day. If you're a regular reader of our blog, you know that Pitch Day is when the kids present their 20% Time project ideas to a committee, a la Shark Tank. Well, Harry was all too happy to participate.

When Harry was on Harmony Team, we had not yet started doing 20% Time. When we told him about 20% Time, he became a big cheerleader and offered to help with anything we needed. Harry saw the value of 20% Time for kids, especially since he was a student who would have benefited from 20% Time the most. He is exactly the kind of learner who would take full advantage of 20% Time and all of the creative, problem-solving independence it offers.

Harry participated in Pitch Day as a judge on the Pitch Committee. He later blogged about the experience. Please read Harry's blog post, 20 Percent Time in Schools, and Why This Changes the Game to understand a young adult's perspective of 20% Time and traditional schooling.