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.