Questions and Commitments

Ms. DiDonato’s class is officially one month along with 20% Time.  There have been a few pivots with project ideas, but no drastic changes from the student’s project proposals.

There have been many questions, ranging from “Now what?” to “Should I learn Python or Scratch?” to “Can I prototype this again with cardboard since styrofoam didn’t work?”

The consistency has been a commitment to research, production, writing, and sharing.

Every other week, students report out progress via their blog.  The “non-blogging” weeks students must read and comment on three classmates blog posts.  The commenting has been productive.  Students are sharing not only words of encouragement, but thoughtful suggestions, strategies, or ideas.  At the very least, these are exercises in digital citizenship, collaboration, communication, writing, and creativity.

Zoned Out.

When was the last time you that “zoned out?”

Unfortunately, many of us easily fall into the trap of picking up our phone to be entertained instead of having a moment to think or zone out.  The smartphone and all of the apps are doing exactly what they were designed to do.  Admittedly, I get sucked into the “vortex,” too.  I try to focus my time online learning new things, reading, listening, etc. But I’m still on my phone, and still, the distraction device, ultimately, wins.  It’s a weird way to use our downtime now.  There’s been numerous evidence pointing to the importance of zoning out or daydreaming; letting our mind wander.  Do we get enough time to just sit with our thoughts, observe, to notice new opportunities, to problem solve, or to be creative?

If you remember, share the last time you zoned out.  Share how you have recently had the chance to daydream, to create something just for fun, or “waste time” devoid of technology.

Finally, I wonder if we shouldn’t be so quick to redirect a student staring out the window during a lesson.  For all we know, he/she is listening and thinking deeply, but perhaps not about what we feel is important.

This might not work . . .

This might not work …

And that’s okay.  For our students, this is an exercise in learning how to learn, reflect, and produce.  For us, we’re learning how to inspire and work with the uncertainty, in addition to learning new things alongside the students.

Last week we met with students and discussed their 20% Time proposals.  Some of the proposals that students shared last week were:

“Creating a Masterpiece: Making a Movie Through the Eyes of a Beginner” in which the student is learning how to write a script and digitally film a sci-fi movie.

“Project Plan and Accomplish” in which the student is learning how to plan an event for a charity.

“A Writer’s Journey 2018” where the student is making an attempt at writing a novel.

“Positive Poems for You” – his short poem sums up his goal:

“As I make use of my 20% time,

To create a verse and perhaps a rhyme,

I hope to influence you in a small way,

To make a difference in this world today.”

“Alyssa’s Easy Steps to Learn the Piano.”  You guessed it, she’ll be creating videos that teach others how to play the piano.

There are so many more projects like students learning to code and create video games using Scratch, others who are inventing and prototyping solutions to problems they see, another who is researching personality and success, others that are documenting travel in unique ways, and the list goes on.

We are really excited about these student-generated projects!  

To get students started with finding their interests and passions, we borrowed A.J. Juliani’s and John Spencer’s “Interest Finding Charts”.  We also showed them an interest chart that I completed.  But, I also showed them how to combine interests and passions. For example, I combined my interests in the environment, the ocean, surfing, and photography and created a photography blog.  My hope was to help them see an example of how I combined many of my interests to learn more about digital photography, editing, blogging, and being in nature or environments that I enjoy.

Here are some resources that we have used so far:

20% Time Project Tracking Template detailed Google Sheet

Interest Finding Chart (elementary)

Interesting Finding Chart

Interest Finding Chart with reduced topics

Blogger for student weekly blog posts and discussions (We’re a Google District, so it just makes sense).

Here’s info on publishing student blogs. Right now our student blogs are only visible to students in our school district.

This might not work, but so far,  I think it will.

Surfing and Leadership

I was once asked to relate surfing to leadership.  I don’t recall the details of my response, but something made me think of this recently after a cold, winter surf.

Here are a few of the characteristics that come to mind.


Particularly in the ocean, a simple miscalculation can take a turn for the worse.  The ocean has a way of reminding you to stay humble.  Leaders reflect.  They are aware of their ability, and even then, not over-confident.  Leaders are humble and do their best to surround themselves with people that make the team better.


Surfers are part of a tribe. Surfing has a long history and culture. The entire process and lifestyle of surfing is often a commitment, but one that can be shared with friends and family. A career can be fun, certainly challenging, or even ultra-competitive in some industries, but the hope is that a career is meaningful, fun, and that within your career you’re part of a tribe.  Leaders build camaraderie.  Leaders make a commitment to a positive culture, foster relationship-building, and individual growth for the betterment of the organization and culture.


The ocean can oftentimes dictate conditions beyond one’s ability.  In surfing, it’s best to have an awareness for dangerous and challenging situations; it wise to not put oneself or others in danger.  Yes, one may still push and challenge themselves, but by listening to one’s gut and knowing one’s limits, you are not letting your ego make rash decisions.  During challenging situations, leaders stay true to their core and don’t let their ego get in the way. They approach conversations with authenticity and are mindful while engaged with others. Finally, leaders are always learning and willing to use new information to grow, change directions with a decision, and use new learning to make people and processes better.


Besides enjoying the surf, and focusing on themselves and how many waves they’ve caught – surfers take it all in – the scenery, the horizon, the swell, the gulls surfing the spray of a wave.  They’re aware of the current swell and understand the weather patterns that will create a future swell.  Surfers react in the moment to the wave their riding and the conditions they’re in.  But even more importantly, observant surfers are aware of who’s around them. They know where the little kids on the inside are paddling or swimming; they listen and look out for the whereabouts and well-being of other surfers.  Similarly, observant leaders care for and watch out for everyone.  Leaders take a humanistic approach to decisions. They have a deep understanding of the global picture of their organization.  Leaders make calculated decisions based on the conditions, people, and the “health” of the organization. Leaders are also keenly aware of and seek opportunities for the growth of the organization.

I’m fortunate to work with a dynamic group of leaders that embody all of these characteristics. They make me do my best and make me better every single day.

Pursue Your Interests

20% Time: week two reflections:

I had the opportunity to visit Ms. DiDonato’s sixth grade ELA class again last week for 20% Time.  It was awesome!

Students journaled, worked on their interest finding charts, discussed and shared ideas and bounced new ideas off one another.  Their ideas for projects were taking shape.  Some students were still deciding upon ideas to take action on.  Everyone still has time.

Via Hangouts, we also had an excellent conversation/student interview with one of the Google for Education team members, Peter.

Students asked him great questions about his college and career path, his current work, if he gets 20% Time (yes, he does and he shared a cool project for “social good”), and other examples of interesting projects Google has launched.

One of the more interesting questions was: “What did he think about all of the devices and time spent on the Internet by kids?”  Peter’s response was solid.  It was thoughtful, articulate, and mission-driven.

One of the most important messages that Peter conveyed related perfectly to our 20% Time project.  It was that every student should pursue their interests and passions because opportunities will usually find us.