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.

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.

Excitement for the unknown

20% Time: week one reflections.

I’m working with a teacher to implement “20% Time” in her English Language Arts class.  This is really exciting for me, as this has created the opportunity for me to collaborate with Ms. DiDonato (ELA teacher) and got me back in the classroom working with students.  This is her second school year launching 20% Time with a group of students.  She’s iterating on this project, looking to make it bigger and better.  I’m participating weekly to experience the process, the conversations, and to notice “pain points,” challenges, successes, and gain perspective.  We’re working together to help this group of students explore their interests, develop a project, and write/reflect weekly. While we also create a plan to scale 20% Time.

It’s fun work.

What we did:

We discussed the 20% Time concept.  We showed some videos to engage them, explained the connection to ELA standards for writing, and discussed overarching expectations. We explained that there was no “map” (or procedures) for the project; rather, guidelines for weekly writing, reflection, and commenting on classmates writing.  We started “interest finding.”

Finally, the most exciting aspects for the students were these two concepts:

1. Learn anything you want.

2. It’s okay to fail.

The excitement, joy, and anxiousness were written all over their faces.  We’re embarking on this journey, and we know it’s leading to growth.

To be continued.

“Nothing in common”

This might work.

Tell your students to find two things with seemingly nothing in common.

Then, have those students name, draw, photograph, bring in, etc. those things.

Partner students up.

Now, have the partners switch their things with “nothing in common.”

Now, prompt students to think, brainstorm, and write to find the commonalities between his/her partners two things with nothing in common.

Finally, after a few minutes, have students close the activity with a discussion among the class to share out their ideas.

This can be linked to a writing assignment or just for fun.  It might help teach empathy and perspective, promote dialogue and discussion.

It might be fun.

It might fail.

What do you think?  Leave a note in the comments section.