Saturday, October 31, 2015

20% Awesome

Getting Inspired

At the Ottawa GAFE summit a couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of listening to +Kevin Brookhouser present his keynote about 20% time in the class. It was beautiful, inspiring, and heart-warming (I had tears in my eyes more than once during the talk).

I have freedom to choose what problem I'll learn how to solve.

If you're not familiar with the concept, 20% time (or genius hour, or whatever you want to call it) is the idea of asking students to create something that they're passionate about. They need to plan and implement their idea, and it has to make an impact. The student work was inspiring - they were able to make a huge impact on their world with the projects they dreamed up.

Sharing my Project

That was on a Sunday morning, and at the end of the day, I had the pleasure of presenting my own 20% time project. As part of my work with +Amplified IT, I have the freedom and flexibility to create my own projects. With one-fifth of my work time, I can pursue a project. It's not goof-off time: as with the student projects, it needs to have a clear goal, progress needs to be made each week, and in the end, it needs to have an impact.

What I Learned

I'm proud of my project - it solves a problem faced by many educators around the world, and offers functions that were previously impossible to automate. In creating it, I learned a whole lot about coding a functional user interface that doesn't look terrible, which was a piece of the puzzle I had been struggling with for the better part of a year.

My team doesn't necessarily understand how this program accomplishes its task, and that's okay: they don't need to. In fact, most of its users won't ever know how it works, which is actually a blessing, since there are some pretty horrible lines of code powering this thing. But what my team sees, and what they understand, is that there is so much value in these types of projects. It's not a tool that's being sold - we're not making money off this project - but I'm able to apply what I've learned to solve some pretty big challenges. And in the process, we've been able to make an impact for educators.

What I'll Do Next

I don't yet know what my next project will be. That's one of the freeing parts of having 20% time - I can get inspired to solve any particular problem I run into, or those that my friends face. I can also take inspiration from my PLN, and solve some problems they might face. Whatever I choose to do, there are a few key characteristics of my next project:

  1. I won't know how to solve it when I start. This is something that makes a project challenging. I'll understand the problem, but I won't understand the solution. I'll explore, try out ideas, and keep the ones that work while discarding those that don't.
  2. I'll fail more than once. If I were able to complete the project without any difficulty, then it's not really much of a challenge, is it? My next project needs to be something hard.
  3. I'll share it as much as possible. As part of my open-source approach, I'll want to share my project as much as possible. I do need to confront the economic reality of life (and I do need to eat, as well), but the investment of time and energy into my project will pay off in other ways, too.
  4. I'll take risks. Playing it safe isn't the point. I can work on something and ultimately have it fail. Learning from experience is the kind of success I'm after - whether my project turns out well or not.

20% time projects are about pushing the limits of my understanding.

20% time projects are about pushing the limits of my understanding. I enjoy the challenge, the risk, and the freedom to fail my way to success. Each project presents its own unique challenges and obstacles, but in meeting and accomplishing the goals I set out, I'm able to push myself as a learner. I'm thankful to have the opportunity to keep learning as part of my own professional practice. I'm sure that students who take on this challenge feel the same way.