For years I have wanted to offer the students what Google offers its engineers–20% of their time to pursue a passion.  I finally decided to implement it today at the midpoint in the year.  There are a few catches and “rules.”  They have to connect what they do to one of the disciplines commonly included in “Social Studies” and they must use skills that are listed in our curriculum.  It is a catch, but in reality almost anything can be connected and any work they do can be linked to many of the skills listed.

When I met with the kids there were many blank stares…the concept of academic freedom was foreign.  I have already had one kid tell me they were opting out.  I thought I already gave them a lot of freedom in my class but after seeing the stares, I realized that I still dictate the parameters of their learning.

To say I am worried is an understatement.  They will get the Friday of every five day week…we will negotiate for other weeks.  That is approximately 20 days.  They have been asked to keep a record of what they are doing, present once quickly at the mid-term, and share in more detail at the end of each quarter.  No rules for what they have to produce or how much.  Now I don’t have students who are begging for this.  At this point in the year every project we do is still a shock to their system.  Many kids are not sure how they will think of something to learn about.   I do expect intellectual wandering the first couple of weeks, and my guess is that I won’t see full engagement for at least 3-5 weeks.

I have read some accounts from other classes doing this and how their room quickly fills with the products of their 20% time.  I am not being pessimistic, but simply realistic when I say that won’t happen in my class.  Whenever I read posts from folks that write about how they just let the kids onto piece of technology and watch them lead the way I always think about how reality is a bit different for me.  It takes months and months of purposeful unschooling before my kids can just bust out and be amazingly creative historians on their own.   This is a project that I am not doing to allow them to pursue their passions, but to begin to find a passion.  I am not expecting a photographic exhibit, or 3-D models of new waste water treatment plants.  I don’t think there will be any novels published, or robots made.  I think there will be a lot of dabbling in this and that.  Have you ever seen a documentary of a sea turtle coming out of it’s shell?  It is a slow process that can take days.  That what I hope they do…slowly chip and break away at their “shell” and by the end of the year emerge as an independent kid who can drive their own learning…and maybe they will have discovered a passion along the way.

I am really excited about starting this.  As I ended the meeting I simply told the kids, “You have 20 days of freedom, do something spectacular with it.”  I may have been a realist above, but I am also a bit of a dreamer.  That’s why I am positive in June you will be reading a post about how this project changed my kids, changed me, and how along the way some pretty spectacular things happened.  I can’t wait to get started.


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