Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Ugly of 20% Time

RTwenty-percent time in class does have its ugly moments.  Currently, I am teaching a new elective called "My 14% Time." It is the 20% time model adapted to my middle school schedule. This class is composed of seventh and eighth graders.  Many  students are working on projects with a clear purpose. I have one student who is in the process of learning all about binary code. She is attempting to write her name using binary code by the end of the course. Another student is creating something I can't even explain (a phrase I find myself saying often) using Java 7. I didn't even know they made a Java 7 (or 6 or 5 or 4 or 3 or 2 or 1)! Yet another student is learning to speak Taiwanese with the goal of a video tutorial by the end of the course.
While all students have received feedback about their projects, as well as suggestions from me, it is noticeable that not all students have the motivation or passion necessary to work on a project every day for a semester.  I have found myself in the role of a babysitter--ensuring that students aren't just playing games for the period, but working on achieving the next SMART goal. Several seventh graders spent the period today switching from an irrelevant game to something that looked like their project (only when I was nearby). I have conferenced, suggested, and even restricted computer use until I could see concrete goals. Some students still don't seem mature enough for this type of self-directed class. And while several seventh graders do have projects that are interesting and purposeful,
far too many are playing the game of let- me- see- if- I- can- play- a- mindless- game- until- teacher comes- by. I enjoy the role of facilitator far more than that of a "sage on the stage." But what do we do when students aren't yet ready for the responsibility that is necessary for succeeding in a self-directed, teacher-as-facilitator course? I would like to keep this course open to anyone who would like to take it, but I also think it could improve the class as a whole if an application was prepared by students wishing to take this kind of class. This could give students a chance to think about a project idea before the school year begins. If the student is dedicated to a project and demonstrates that they commit to an idea for the semester, perhaps it is most suitable for this student. Maybe, even though we'd like to think that all students have the motivation and passion to pursue a goal, some students are not quite ready for this kind of independence. Some have not been introduced to enough to know what they are truly passionate about. When I think back to seventh grade, I can't honestly say that I was passionate about anything other than Jolly Ranchers and Days of our Lives. On the other hand, I'd never had the opportunity to consider what I really wanted to learn about. Maybe it is this opportunity that creates a spark for some?

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