20%time “Thanks, I can’t wait to start this project….” First two weeks…how to

Four years ago I heard Google Engineers present their 20% projects to a room full of educators. I left inspired by their projects, their passion and the idea of giving time to problem solve in an area of individual passion.  

 The next year, I implemented my first round of 20% projects in my Marine Biology class. This class was chosen because my audience were seniors, and there was no AP or State exam at the end of the year. Time was actually on my side. #saysnoteacherever

 Fast forward 4 years, and 20% time has become a staple in my courses. This year is the first year I am doing 20% time in my Regents Biology Class. (That will be a separate blog post…..)

 How does one even start implementing 20% time in their class? What will that look like?

 In my class, every Wednesday is a 20% day. #20time


 I have students that range from “I have no clue what to do….” to students who will email over the weekend with “Thanks, I can’t wait to start this project….”

 I get a blended mix of both excitement and writer’s block.  For the most part, students are excited because it is the first time they are given freedom to do anything they want….really anything. (If they are bored with their project, it is their OWN FAULT.)

 However some students lack creativity (I blame CCSS). They can’t think outside the box (I blame CCSS).  I’ll even have students that literally have NO IDEA what to research. Instead of giving them this amazing idea I came up with, here is where I start:

 Teacher: “What do you want to learn?

Student” “What do you want me to do?”

Teacher: “I want you to learn something that connect your future career with the ocean.”

Student: “What do you want me to do?”

 This is where I usually tell them that their future employer is NOT going to tell them what to do and I am giving them a chance to research ANYTHING THEY want (with the constraints of the ocean…after all it IS Marine Bio class). And I tell them I’ll return in 5 mins and during that time, they need to write down a list of three things that interest them.

 Some students know exactly from the start what direction they want to go, and some students just need a sounding board to bounce ideas off of. I usually am the sounding board.


Ugh…the dreaded word for most teachers. However, I limit groups to no more than 3. Let’s be honest, no great job is done alone. They must bring in everyone’s individuals strengths into the project. All groups are subject to a peer evaluation.  


Once they know what they want to focus on, they must propose it to me.

 What do they want to learn? We are not masters of anything. What is something they are passionate about that they would like to extend their knowledge for?

 Who is the intended audience? I explain, it should not just be for me. I really deter them from writing papers, which usually has a limited audience. I want them to research and design something that can be shared with a broader audience.

 How does this connect with their future career?  I am making them connect the ocean with their future career, which may seem abstract for some. However, with a little guidance, they usually develop a challenging project that will give them a small taste of their future focus.


  1. Fill out proposal form
  2. Hand in on Google Classroom (every group member does this because of the connection with future career question)


 Students must design guidelines for their projects. How do they want their 20% evaluated?

 I start by giving them this template.

  1. They must have outside sources in APA.
  2. Must have a Technology component. Whether it is part of their design or their final project, what tools are they going to use to construct their product?
  3. Global Connection.
    1. Who is their audience? Who is this project specifically going to be shared with?
    2. Is there some sort of Global Survey that they will post publically to gather live data for their project?
  4. Quantitative/Qualitative Piece.
    1. Will your project have measurements or analysis?
    2. How will we assess quality?
  5. Lexile. All books and blogs must align at a certain lexile for the target grade level.
  6. Other components specific to their project.  This is the hardest part for them.
    1. What other components will your product have?
    2. Is there any part of the process that should be evaluated?


  1. Fill out Rubric using this  template
  2. Hand in on Google Classroom (1 per group)

When you give students the chance to think without providing teacher direction, this is what they came up with.

I could not be more excited for this proposal list:

    1. Traveling Tank – a tank with curriculum aligned lessons that will travel from elementary school to elementary school
    2. Student teachers – students that will design lessons to teach other classes
    3. National Ocean Policy for Dummies” – a breakdown of ocean laws in terms for everyone to understand.
    4. Desalination engineering prototype
    5. Dress the Issue” – fashion line
    6. Alternative Sustainable Cookbook – cooking that uses only sustainable fish and gives alternatives for the common ingredients that are being overexploited.
    7. Biodegradable fishnet prototype
    8. Experiment testing the Effects of Salt Baths on Muscle Recovery.
    9. Ripples in the Wave – book of poems
    10. Tanked: writing a play
    11. Invisible Frequency Net prototype
    12. Marine Prosthetics
    13. FishBook App for our class
    14. Marine themed Buzzfeeds
    15. Ocean themed blogs
    16. Ocean themed children’s books



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