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Using Google’s 20 Percent Time Concept in My Psychology Class

Psychology is a subject area about which most students are very curious. Thus, they generate many questions about the mind and human behavior. This was very apparent in my psychology course when I surveyed the students at the beginning of semester, asking what they want to know and hope to learn. Because this course at ACS is only a semester long, we only have a short time to investigate foundational elements of psychology (I modeled this part of the curriculum after the IB Psychology syllabus by investigating Biological, Cognitive, Sociocultural, and Abnormal Psychology). However, I don’t want students to leave the course without having the opportunity to investigate answers to questions with which they came into the class. In response to this, I developed the Personal Project which incorporates Google’s 20% time concept and builds their sense of curiosity, an important habit of mind in today’s world.

This Personal Project allows the students to investigate a question they have had or pursue an intellectual curiosity related to psychology. I calculate 20% of class time (based on the number of classes we have in the semester) and set whole periods aside (at approximately two week intervals) for the students to work on the project. This semester that’s about eight 82 minute periods. Of course, some home time needs to be dedicated to this project, as well. I do provide structure and have due dates within this process, however. These are the steps I outline for students on the project overview (the project rubric is in that document, as well):

  1. Chose a topic area where you’d like your investigation to focus. (I differentiate this aspect and leave this open for the students to define a topic in which they are interested. I do provide a list of topic areas that I and previous psychology students have found interesting to help students that are stuck).
  2. Generate a research question that will guide your investigation and get it approved by the teacher. (This part of the process is very important and will drive the research the students do. I work closely with them to develop a question that will have them working higher level thinking skills, not just a summary of a topic or question that leads to a simple yes or no response).
  3. Write an annotated bibliography for at least 5 sources relevant to your research question. (I feel this is an important academic process since I can check that they are thinking deeply about the sources they are using. This is a process they will do often in university, so it’s good practice for that, as well. This part of the process is assessed as a formative task).
  4. Chose the type of product you will create to show the findings of your investigation (product possibilities: documentary style video; website, podcast, online magazine style report, VoiceThread, research report, TED talk-like formal presentation) (I differentiate the product, as well. I want the students to push creative abilities and build technology skills in this project, so I guide them to technology-based products that have strong creative elements in them. This is not an exhaustive list of possible products, however. If a student has a different product idea, they can definitely pursue that upon approval. I only allow 3 students to do a traditional research paper style product since this doesn’t really push creative abilities. They must give a good reason for wanting to do a traditional research paper. I provide links to examples of each product type so students can make an informed decision).
  5. Write an outline or storyboard that organizes your content in context of your product. (Organization and planning! This part of the process is assessed as a formative task).
  6. Create a draft of your product for feedback from a class member. (Peer editing and feedback)
  7. Submit your final product and celebrate during a show and tell! (Students that choose to do the TED style formal oral presentation do it on the due date. After those presentations, the other students share their products. Self-assessment and reflection will also occur upon completion of the product).

Students have chosen some very interesting topic areas this semester and are working well through the process so far. They are showing excitement and motivation to work on this since they are in control of what they are learning and creating. My role is as a guide, helping them work through the process, refining their understanding of the topic and related research, providing feedback, and assisting with technicalities relating to their product production.

I plan to implement this concept with my IB Geography Higher Level course in the second year of the class when we are learning the options. Students need to know three options for that course. I will facilitate two of the options, then the students will chose a third option based on their personal interest. I will structure the time and process similarly to how I’m doing it in my psychology class.

If you are using the 20% time concept, I’d love to hear your comments and how you are facilitating the process in your course!

Reflecting on #beyondlaptops

On April 19-20, 2012, I had the great opportunity to attend the Beyond Laptops conference at Yokohama International School in Yokohama, Japan. The conference was organized and facilitated by Kim Cofino and was attended by approximately 55 educators, administrators, tech directors/tech integrators, and curriculum coordinators from Asia. Great conversations occurred over the two days, and Kim did a fantastic job to facilitate the process so the diverse needs of the group could be best met. The most useful discussions for me where the ones where groups discussed and presented issues related to where they are at in the 1-1 technology implementation process (I’m currently at a school that’s been 1-1 for a while, but I’m going to a school that’s starting its 1-1 program in August); a  Q & A panel with a group of YIS students, and a jig-sawed discussion about our expectations of each other (administrators, tech coaches/IT directors, curriculum coordinators, and teachers). From those discussions, here are my take-aways.

Image by Kim Cofino (Superkimbo) on Flickr

Balance between tech and non-tech

One of the students in the student panel Q & A  stated that they still enjoy doing work that doesn’t involve technology and that we need to find a balance between tech and non-tech learning processes. In the same way that vinyl records still hold a much more warm and rich sound than their digital counterparts, we can’t ignore warm, effective learning processes that don’t necessarily need digital technology. Teachers that are resistant to technology for learning say that all essential learning processes can be done without technology. There is limited truth to that (they often don’t recognize how they world has changed and why we need to shift from the industrial model of education). So, we as future-oriented educators need to make informed choices as to what the best tool for the task is while keeping an eye on the future, developing skills with technology that will help build successful frames of mind and skills in students that will help them be successful in the technology-rich world in which we live.

Another student in the Q & A declared that she doesn’t want teachers to be replaced by technology since teachers bring the passion and that’s still important for learning. I think this was a very telling statement that regardless of what we can get technology to do, the face-to-face educator-learner relationship factor in learning will always be critical. Yes, our learning spaces can be transformed; our school day schedule can be transformed; we can better break down the walls of our classrooms and schools and interact more with other learners and experts globally; the amount of content and how we process and generate content in learning can be transformed, but the basic human interaction and connection that occurs between educator and learner can’t be outsourced to technology. Our human-ness begets this need.

Balance in Professional Development for teaching tech tools and developing transformed learning cultures

Image by ClayOgre via Open ClipArt Library

A substantial and important side discussion that occurred at the conference was about what should be emphasized at a PD conference like this. Most of us in the ed tech community frequently say these changes needed in education aren’t about the technology tools. They are about learning. But at ed tech conferences, tools are what seemed to be emphasized. More emphasis needs to be placed on developing the learning cultures that are essential to moving our educational systems forward and making them more relevant to today’s learners (Check out this passionate response by Jabiz Raisdana about this acculturation issue). I agree with this acculturation issue, but we can’t ignore discussions of what effective use of tools look like and even taking some time to share and up-skill people’s use of tools. I think the balance of these two elements is what needs to occur.

In rolling out or being in the early stages of a 1-1 technology program, the technology device(s) and apps tend to take front-and-center in PD and training. This is unavoidable since many teachers need the direct assistance in how to use technology tools effectively. At the same time, however, we need to be sure that PD in this context focuses on transforming the learning culture of the school. If schools don’t address this shift in learning cultures, real change won’t occur. Many teachers will just end up using the technology the same way they taught previously, doing things the old way through new technology (like distributing handouts electronically instead of on paper).

Image by Kim Cofino (Superkimbo) on Flickr

Student involvement

Kim had students from YIS involved in the discussions with the teachers on both days and had a special Q & A session with the students on the second day. I think it became very clear to all of us that having students directly involved in these discussions and decision-making processes about their education is absolutely essential. The students provided impressive and insightful comments and feedback in these discussions. In the Q & A, one of the students stated how their ideas and opinions should be just as important as administrators, teachers, parents, and board members. Kudos to the kids for advocating for themselves. They are right. And, I will work to ensure that students get more involved in these kinds of decision-making committees at schools in which I work.

Professional development

The changes and transformations that need to be made in education, including using technology tools effectively and transforming learning cultures, can’t occur without the majority of the members of an institution understanding the how and why. Getting people to this point requires professional development. Most international schools have technology integrators (or technology learning coaches, digital literacy specialists, or whatever you want to title the role). People in these roles, including myself, work tirelessly to assist colleagues and students in developing their effective use of technology for learning. However, this assistance can only go so far when it comes to subject or grade level specific aspects related to the curriculum. For example, my teaching background and experience is in the social sciences and humanities. So, when I work with colleagues in these departments, I do a much more thorough job in connecting the use of technology with learning objectives in the curriculum. When it comes to math, science, or even PE, that assistance weakens in making the connections with learning outcomes in the curriculum since I don’t have academic background or expertise in those areas.

The idea that came out of the conference is that of a Tech Pilot or Pioneer group. At least one person from every subject area/department and grade level would join this team. This team would then go on a retreat early in the school year with technology learning coaches/curriculum coordinators to develop their understanding of essential technology learning tools and new learning culture ideas. These people would then be the first level of support for their immediate subject area/department and grade level colleagues. Technology learning coaches/curriculum coordinators would continue in their roles and provide continued assistance throughout the year. The full Pilot/Pioneer team would surely meet throughout the year to debrief and continue learning together. This model is supported by recent data collected at my school where a substantial percentage of colleagues said they preferred to learn from a colleague who has used a tool before. This makes sense since there is a more intimate curriculum connection between these subject area/department and grade level colleagues. For this model to work, however, it needs to be clear to the community of who all is involved, and the goals and expectations of all members of the professional learning community need to be clearly delineated.

Social Media and Digital Citizenship

YIS was finishing its Digital Citizenship (DC) Week during the conference. The Beyond Laptops participants were invited to attend the end of week assembly where students summarized all of their learning about DC over the year. It was great to see the students talking soundly about these important issues that face us every day as we navigate through our digital worlds. The use of social media came up often during the conference, as well. During the Q & A with the students, quite a few comments were made about social media. One student said that blocking social media only causes anger and rebellion. Another student stated that social media makes it very easy to share resources with each other. Another student even stated that using Facebook and having an open network at school helped her to learn how to manage distractions that can come from such mediums. I think all of these comments show the importance and emotion that surrounds these great tools that help us to communicate and collaborate. Yes, they can be problematic for some students, but that’s where we as educators come through and develop Digital Citizenship awareness to help students understand how to navigate their digital landscapes effectively. Moreover, schools and educators need to harness the power of social media themselves as ways to reach out and connect with both their immediate local and extended global communities. Schools and teachers need to model this effective use, not block it and deny its existence.

Overall, it was great conference with great conversations. A lot of work still needs to be done so that technology is being used effectively for learning and so that more relevant learning cultures are developed and sustained in our schools. As Dana Watts stated in one of the break out meetings, everyone just needs to Suck It Up to ensure these things happen! The #beyondlaptops Twitter back-channel feed can be seen here.

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