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capstone project

28 Apr 20% Capstone Project: Fostering Student Passion and Vocation

By Porsia Tunzi, Teacher at La Reina High School and Middle School

Do you ever wonder how Google came up with Gmail, Google News or AdSense? I would argue these creations were developed due to Google’s commitment to innovation, creativity and freedom in the workplace… as well as a little something called “20% time.”

“20% Time”

One of the ways in which Google is so innovative and successful is through what has become known as “20% time” it offers to employees. Google employees are given 20% of their work week to a pet project outside their job description that allows them the freedom to explore and create something innovative at and for Google. Through this endeavor, Google captures a spirit of curiosity and creativity and, in turn, produces some of its most successful projects like Gmail.

This is great—but what does this have to do with education and curriculum building?

When we hear terms like “innovation,” “creativity” or “freedom,” we think of technology, medicine, engineering, and, perhaps, art. Education, on the other hand, often does not make the cut. Educators around the world work to change this in many unique ways. One successful way some teachers have embraced innovation and freedom in the classroom is through various adaptations of Google’s “20% time.”

“20% Capstone Project”

Two years ago, I began my own research on how to create and foster 20% time in my own classroom. I knew I wanted to give my students the freedom to explore and create projects they were actually passionate about that could also impact their own communities and world.

Over the past two years in my junior religion curriculum, I developed what I have now call the 20% Capstone Project. It is implemented over the course of Spring Semester (and briefly introduced late in the Fall).

The following is a brief explanation of the step by step process of how I implement this project within my own classroom. Keep in mind this project can be easily adapted in any academic course!

Step 1: (Before Thanksgiving Break) Introduce the concepts of ikigai, meaning passion and vocation. Let students reflect on the following questions: What do you love? What are you good at? What does the world need? What can you get paid for?

Step 2: (Before Thanksgiving Break) Introduce the concept and purpose of 20% time that is done at Google. Then, explain that students will be given one class a week (or 20% of class time each week) to devote time to their own goal or project. List and explain examples of past projects.

Step 3: (Before Christmas Break/Before the end of 1st semester) Bad Idea Factory: Let students come up with the silliest, worst ideas they can imagine. This takes the pressure off of figuring out the perfect idea and instead allows them to foster creativity without even realizing it. Some of these bad ideas may just be a GREAT idea.

Step 4: (Homework over Christmas Break) Brainstorming Guide: Give a guide that helps them focus their idea/s.

Step 5: (1st week of spring semester) Introduce 20% Class Time and Journal/blog check-in entries. When it comes to journal/blog entries, these can be weekly or bi-monthly and may include certain criteria that you check and grade to ensure they are making progress.

Step 6: (2nd/3rd week of Spring Semester) Solidify project idea and choose a mentor. There are certain aspects that must be included in their project (e.g. it must be other-centered; you must work individually (with a few exceptions); etc.).

Step 7: (4th/5th week of Spring Semester) SMART Goals: This assignment gives students an opportunity to create an action plan and timeline for the rest of Spring Semester.

Step 8: (End of 2nd Quarter of Spring Semester) Community Pitch: Students create a trifold brochure and present their ideas/projects to the larger school community in the gym/theater.

Step 9: (End of Spring Semester) Ted-style Talk: for their culminating assignment, students will give a 7-10min speech or Ted-style talk that reflects upon their 20% Capstone Project journey. A rubric is given before Spring Break.

A few intriguing past 20% Projects include:

• Inspired by watching The True Cost documentary in class, two students worked together (each in charge of different components) and got the entire school community to participate in a clothing swap called ‘Exchange for Change’ after school.
• Due to this student’s love of the environment, she created a website and product called ‘Green Prints’ to help the environment in some way. She sews homemade, reusable bags for all of your shopping needs!
• One student corresponded with 15 women on Death Row in California—she was moved to experience and witness the humanity of those who are some of the most marginalized in our world. (Safety precautions were taken.)
• Due to her love of drawing and the inspiration of one of her dear friends who passed away from cancer, one student created a therapeutic and meditative coloring book for adults — This way people could experience the healing power of art.

Check out these other 20% educational resources:

20% Project, by 20-Time In Education Inspire. Create. Innovate.
• Why “20% Time” Is Good for Schools, by Edutopia
• 20Time, by 20Time.org

Join us at the Western Catholic Schools Curriculum Summit this May to learn more!

Porsia Tunzi

Porsia Tunzi, a graduate of St. Mary’s College of California, began her post college career as a Bertelsen intern at National Catholic Reporter newspaper. After a brief stint in journalism, Porsia was drawn to the field of education. She began her teaching career at an all-girls, Catholic high school in Kansas City, Missouri as a Theology teacher and Service Learning Coordinator and has been teaching ever since, now at La Reina High School and Middle School in Thousand Oaks, California, as a Psychology and Religion teacher. Porsia is currently working on a master’s in American Studies at Pepperdine University.

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