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Engaging in 20% Time for Lifelong Learning

By Casey Pickett, English Faculty

Engaging in 20% Time for Lifelong Learning

From the time I was in kindergarten, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. As a child, I spent Screenshot 2016-05-24 08.51.18countless hours in my basement forcing my four siblings to be my students while I taught them whatever lessons my teachers had taught me earlier in the day. So, as I entered my Masters in the Arts of Teaching (MAT) program at Northeastern in the Fall of 2013, I couldn’t have been more excited to FINALLY learn my craft. I showed up to my first class ready to write down the formula for becoming a good teacher. I was expecting my professor to tell me EXACTLY what I needed to do in order to teach my students everything there was to know about reading, writing, and analyzing literature. Throughout my 18 months in the MAT program, I never did get that formula. What I did get, however, was a constant reminder that my job as a teacher was to prepare my students to become lifelong learners. So, with lifelong learning in mind, I decided to have my students engage in a 20% Time project (based off of Google’s 20% Time policy).

The guidelines for this project were simple: 1) choose something that you are passionate about, 2) find a mentor, and 3) be willing to fail, reflect, and try again. Mindful of these guidelines, my 27 Survey of Literary Genre students spent 20% of their class time exploring topics such as food waste at St. Mark’s, time management for student-athletes, the effects of littering on the environment, how to predict stock market crashes, and how to design a cheap but fashion forward coat.

The students learned a lot throughout their work on their 20% Time projects. In fact, they learned so much that they were frustrated with me when I told them that they only had 5-8 minutes to present their learning in a Ted Talk. The frustration only grew when I explained that I wanted to hear about HOW they learned just as much as I wanted to hear about WHAT they learned. This project gave my students an opportunity to embrace the qualities of a lifelong learner. Throughout the year, I saw my students:

  1. Learn how they learn best.
  2. Take responsibility for their learning.
  3. Actively seek information and evaluate the source of their information.
  4. Apply their learning directly to their project.
  5. Recognize the need for help and find professionals who could point them in the right direction.
  6. Embrace failure, reflect on failure, and adapt their projects based on what they learned from those failures.
  7. Effectively communicate their ideas.

I used the Ted Talks as a way to assess whether or not they also saw themselves embracing these skills.

Now, I won’t pretend that this was the perfect project. Immediately following our first day of presentations, I talked to both of my classes about how to improve 20% Time for next year. I had already compiled a list of my own, which included ideas like finding ways to hold students accountable to their learning goals, introducing the project in a more engaging and effective manner, and finding a way to keep students connected to their peers’ work (class blog or class newspaper). My students immediately jumped in with their own suggestions, which included ideas like allowing students more time to pick their topic and finding alternative ways for students to showcase their work.

I will continue to reflect on these projects throughout the next few weeks to see which ideas of mine and my students should be incorporated into next year’s 20% Time projects. The one thing that I know for sure will be different next year is this: I will make the learning goal clear from the get-go; my students will immediately know that this project is about learning for the sake of learning.

I could continue to ramble on about my students’ exceptional work, but I’d rather let them share their learning with you. If you happen to find yourself at a table with one of the following students, I suggest you ask them about their experience with the 20% Time project — I am confident that they will have plenty to say.

(If a name & title have a link, you may click on it to see the visual presentation that accompanied the student’s Ted Talk)

Ty Gonsalves – Sampling in Hip-Hop

Lukas Hanenberger – Landscape & Litter Photography


Katherine Quinlivan – Cyber Security

Yuchen Wang – Genetic Modification

Zihan Wu – Making a Tracker Chip

Mei-Mei Arms – How Genetics Influence Decisions

Colby Bailey – Concussions in Sports

Megan Christy & Teresa Meyer – Time Management Strategies for Student Athletes

Jack Eames – Nutrition & Supplementation

Will Figueroa – Sport Specific Training

Nick Karlsson – Nutrition & Training

J.J. Levandowski – Finding the Perfect Pre-game Meal

Reid Monahan – Predicting the Next Stock Market Crash

Steven Sinchi – Homelessness

Gunnar Vachris – Maintaining St. Mark’s Baseball Field

Matt Hart – Compounding Interests

Cait Lochhead – Food Waste at St. Mark’s

Zoe Maddox – Privilege & Perspective

Clem McKeown – How to Play the Ukulele

Stephanie Moon & Rosanna Zhao – Affordable Fashion Design

Nolan Moore – How to Make a Puck Passer

Jason Zhang – Western Education: Why it Should Stay in America

Lucy Zheng – Turning Textbooks into E-Books

IMG_3118Casey Pickett teaches III Form English and works in the Athletics Department. She holds a B.A. and a M.A.T. from Northeastern University. She coaches JV Soccer, Varsity Hockey, and Varsity Softball.

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