20% Time with GR10 at WGHS (2017)


Based on my belief that all students should have some exposure to modern learning methods such as PBL and Inquiry Based Learning. I have been trying to get a 20% Time Project Based Learning initiative off the ground in 2017 with my GR10 Maths class. One of the characteristics of these modern learning methods is increased freedom in the learning process. In this particular case,  students get a full 20% of their class time to explore new approaches to learning with only scaffolding and feedback provided by the teacher and outside experts.
Students can initially find this freedom a little overwhelming, having been trained for so long to follow direct instructions when engaging in learning. What I will do for the rest of this post is summarise what we have managed to do so far this year and provide links to the various resources that have been created to guide the learning. My hope is by doing this, it will assist everyone involved in the project to reflect on the journey so far and plan for the rest of the year.

The beginning …

We started out by choosing a day of the week we could reserve for doing the project. We settled on Friday as it seemed the easiest way to do it, then Mon – Thur could be set aside for syllabus related work. We took the first two sessions to brainstorm topics  and discuss  the model we were going to use. We were  guided in our efforts by two resources.  The 20Time Project by Kevin Brookhouser and the Teachers Guide to Project Based Learning – Work that Matters by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. We also looked at examples of other inspiring 20% Time Projects on YouTube to better understand what we were trying to do. We then moved onto filling in documentation that outlined all the successful elements a good 20% project needed to have. It was at this stage that we first started to realize our uncomfortableness with this new way of doing things.
How does the 20% Project Work?

Core Concepts and Outlines

Formal Proposal

Getting comfortable in a different type of learning space …

By the 3rd week after the initial novelty of the task had worn off, there was definitely a bit of a feeling of, “okay so how do we actually do this”. I decided to attempt something called the “Bad Idea Factory” which I had read about in the resources mentioned above. The intention was two fold. I wanted us to feel more relaxed about doing something as creative as 20% Time in a room that was associated with a very specific set of behaviors – most of them quite rigid. The other was for the learners to lessen their inner critics by engaging in a deliberately outlandish exercise which would hopefully fire up the part of their brain that was more improvisational and free. I was surprised how quickly we relaxed into the exercise and achieved our objectives of creating a different type of atmosphere in the classroom.

Bad Idea Factory – Learning to unleash your Creativity

Justifying our Adventure & Blogging …

So after our interesting experience with the Bad Idea Factory – the paper plane launching being the highlight! My attention shifted to providing a justification to the learners for what were doing and how it would serve our purpose longer term educationally. I hadn’t read the CAPS documents in quite a while but I knew that the introduction had statements of broader educational goals that we could interpret in relation to our project. I made screenshots of  the relevant sections and then asked the students to read these pieces, we then discussed their applicability to what we were doing with the 20% Time Project. We had some great discussions and the overall agreement seemed to indicate that what we were doing in this project, was very much in line with what was written in the documents. However there was a strong feeling that the more aspirational parts of the CAPS documents such as those listed below , were very rarely put into practice on the ground and so a touch hypocritical.

We also started to pay more attention to the blog part of the project. The first issue was just getting everyone actually setup with a Blog. Each week the learners would then write a post so that I could keep track of what they were doing. It would also allow me to give feedback as well as aiding them in the reflective process as they pursued their project goals. The first Blog post was on the CAPS documents and their applicability to this project.
Caps Documents and its application to PBL
Blog URL Collection: Google Form

The Messy Journey

Discussing the CAPS document

Getting up and running …

For weeks 5 and 6 the focus switched to actually getting things up and running. I was aware that we needed time to get ourselves used to this type of learning model, but I wanted us to shift our focus to actually creating things, even if  it turned out that the initial ideas were impractical and not well suited to this type of project. Some learners felt comfortable with topics they had chosen, whilst others were still struggling with the freedom of being able to choose. I spent quite a bit of time having reflective conversations and referring back to the projects guidelines to help them finding a greater sense of direction. I also imposed a deadline for a project proposal that would detail all the important steps indicated in the planning documents. These would be things like project topic, audience,mentor,  tools needed etc. We decided that due to the limited time available we would use the format of a 2 min edited video for the project proposal.

1st Differentiated Session 

2nd Differentiated Session

Clarifying Expectations  

Presenting Proposals …

As tends to be the case at any school, the  last week,  in which the the proposals took place was quite a chaotic one. Times were being moved around and random meetings  squeezed in . Fortunately we were able to find some time for the class to present. What stands out for me looking back, was how nice it was to get a sense of what everyone had been working on. The previous two weeks were almost entirely self directed and I realised while watching the presentations  I wasn’t completely up to date with all the projects. I enjoyed  catching up with what everyone had been thinking about. I also thought that the informal feedback given by the class was useful for the various presenters. After that,  we adjourned for the term and we would only meet up again in about 3 weeks.   My hopes were that the learners would spend some time in the holidays working on their projects. However due to the rushed nature of the last day, we didn’t really have any time to discuss it. I did manage though to get a letter together for their parents, so that the holidays could be used to discuss parts of the project that would possibly benefit from parental involvement.
Video Proposal Collection: Google Form
Explanation Letter for Parents PDF / Google Doc Format

*  A lot of the documents have been adapted from the Book:  The 20Time Project by Kevin Brookhouser


With the crazy end to term one we didn’t get a chance to talk too much about how learners could use the holidays for their projects. Also, when we came back to school , the first week was a shortened week and the second week I was away with the GR9’s on a camping excursion. This meant about 4 – 5 weeks had passed, since our last class meeting on 20% Time. I realised it would be important to have a session reconnecting to the project and affirming the reasons for why we were undertaking such an adventure.

Getting back on Track – Session 8 

In order to guide the session, I made the slideshow embedded above. The main idea was to emphasise that the project was a journey and  just undertaking the process was a worthwhile exercise . It was also understandable if you were feeling a bit overwhelmed by the amount of freedom and choice available. I pointed the learners back to their own curiosity as a compass. I outlined strategies and ways of thinking that I thought would be helpful. We then looked at short video clips of successful 20% Time Projects and proceeded to discuss and critique what we had seen. By the end of the session it felt like we had accomplished our objective of reconnecting to 20 % Time.

Reflection – Session 9 (12 May)
The focus of this session was to reflect on the progress we had made so  far and to emphasise the importance of the weekly blog task. The learners were given a variety of tasks they could do that would be reflective in nature, the image of the whiteboard gives some examples. Quite a few learners carried on working on their projects with one group managing to build an impromtu video stand out of a cardboard box and scissors,  then proceeded to film the first bit of a stop animation.

Mentor Focus & Timelines – Session 10 (19th May)
I started this session with a focus on the part of the project that deals with finding a mentor. We discussed some important considerations to keep in mind when trying to establish these types of relationships. The importance of being respectful and using the appropriate tone and formality.  The concept of approaching people from different generations and how one’s approach might change was also briefly discussed. I asked the learners to post a more detailed timeline of their project in this weeks blog post. I felt it was important to shift our focus to how we would take advantage of the last two weeks of term, after exams. This time period and the 3rd Term is when the actual “doing” in the project would get done. If we failed to plan for that time efficiently now, it would signifigantly limit what was possible.
The main part of the lesson was devoted to watching the video below, where a young student described the value of mentor relationships and the  process of how one goes about trying to create one. This video really is amazing for me because of the sense of ownership (agency) the student has for his learning. My mind wonders what a classroom would look like if I could empower my students to believe in themselves in the same way. The irony is, I can already see their potential is not particularly different. It’s just a matter of them seeing it too!


Penultimate Session T2  (23 June)

Last Session Term 2 – (26 June)  – Discussing what makes a good blog post by critiquing a blog entry I had done from a Maths Workshop I went to recently. Our intention was to improve the quality of our weekly blog posts. Free time for working and planning for the rest. 

Beginning of Term 3 28th July 

Getting oriented for the term ahead 

4th August
The Focus on this weeks session was to do just get up and do stuff with little intervention from me. Some learners worked in the computer room, while others worked in the class or outside on getting there projects moving forward. I also keep forgetting to turn my camera on and  now writing this I underestimate it’s value in remembering things!

Somewhere in Term 3 – less scaffolding was given in this term and learners basically just worked on their projects and got feedback as things went. Below is one of  the few group sessions we did, which was more of a reflection.


The beginning of Term 4 
The 4th term was reserved for getting ready for final presentations and the presentations themselves. They happened  on Monday the 23rd of October and we used about two and a half hours to get all the presentations done. It turned out to be a fun event, with an atmosphere of inquisitiveness and celebration. All in all, for the entire 20% time project, we used around 25  lessons of class time (+-20 hours). Some students used only this class time, however some of the best projects used considerable amounts of the students own free time.

Highlights Video of the whole process – 2nd half dealing with the presentations

Reflections by Students and the Teacher who organised it 

Final Debrief after Presentations


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