Monthly Archives: October 2014

Freedom Time – Genius!

failureSince my last post much of my thinking time has been absorbed by those frustrating year 8s!

I am determined to shift their thinking and get them excited about learning if it kills me. The time has come (and gone) for establishing my annual professional goals and so focussing on this group I pondered what social and thinking skills I might be able to make a difference with.

I had read, or heard, something somewhere about the Google 80-20 approach to work. Apparently Google employees are paid full time and expected to complete their assigned tasks but are given freedom for 20% of their work time to work on any project they like. This stimulates creativity, encourages collaboration and creates a positive working environment. This idea connected in my brain with another idea I have been playing with for a few years now – Genius Hour.

So I pitched a proposal to my Year 8s. I would give them Freedom Time for 20% of our English Allocation (1 period a week) and they could work on any project of their choosing. They would have 5 weeks to produce something and then share what they produced with the group. I set the challenge of a Tedtalk style but I knew this was setting the bar a little too high for our first run through. The other 80% was my time and we would work (without complaining) on the curriculum designed by the teachers.

Last week we completed our first cycle and had our first round of presentations. I am lucky enough to be in a team-teaching situation in this session so I was able to have a professional conversation with my colleague to reflect on the experience and plan how we might move forward.

Over the first cycle of Freedom Time:

  • all students had thought of a topic to research or task to complete (some were writing stories, some learning new languages, some researching famous people);
  • most students learnt to write specific, achievable goals for each session;
  • many students were able to identify factors that affected learning;
  • about half the students made a presentation, some were as simple as just telling the group what they had done.
  • However, the presentation day crumbled into semi-disaster … some students became disengaged and could not sit still and listen. They talked and giggled despite the teachers making it clear this was not appropriate behaviour. This annoyed some of the other students and one in particular gave voice to their frustration and told the group how disrespectful it was;
  • only 2 students attempted to make presentation using visual materials;
  • few students had actually ‘produced’ anything.

Interestingly when we had a debrief afterwards students told me how important Freedom Time was and how much they could learn from it. “we learn to manage our time”, “we are interested in the tasks”. The outspoken student from earlier played Devil’s Advocate and said that it was a waste of time because some people just used it as an opportunity to laugh at people or to show disrespect.

I do believe that we need to repeat tasks in order to gain mastery. We do learn from our experiences. So, my colleague and I have started round two today!

  • We have divided the class into three groups based on their ability to work independently. Students initially used words like “good” or “smart” group but we quickly dispelled this with some honest discussion about how well they had used their time, how well they solved problems, what tools they had used to plan their projects. If we are not going to be honest and own our behaviour then we are missing the point about Freedom Time and learning about learning.
  • Groups will only present to the members of their group not the whole class … this will mean the most independent group will peer assess, they seemed genuinely excited by this prospect.
  • At the end of session one all students have a project and many students have planned out what they need to do over the next 4 weeks.
  • By grouping the students the way we have, my colleague and I can provide much more support to those students who need it.

This is still a work in progress but I sensed the atmosphere in the room was more positive today. Most of the talk was to do with the various projects and some of our almost independent group really surprised us with their focus.

I’m looking forward to presentation day in five weeks … stay tuned!