Up for Debate

Every year I poll my students about what they want to explore and accomplish by the end of the year. We create a list of class “goals” I post on the board and keep up all year long. I find by giving them some input, they work harder and are more interested in what we do. This year, for the first time ever, my classes overwhelmingly voted for debate as a platform for learning. They wanted to research, talk about and take positions on topics that were important to their lives. Well, we just started navigating those waters…

I started with implementing Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week assignment to get them thinking and writing about current event topics. It started a little shaky as students really just wanted to blast their opinions rather than looking at the arguments put forth and commenting on them using source material as evidence. I think fiery opinions are the challenge with implementing debate- students are very opinionated, but up until this point have not been asked to find credible sources to back up those opinions. After some modeled annotation and writing, students began to find their footing and the analytical skills necessary to argue against or for a position using evidence. In addition to Gallagher’s AOW, I began each class with a TED Talk that sparked an arguable position. This was a particularly fruitful exercise as most of the topics were not ideas or events the students had thought about. Below is my list, but there are myriad talks that would be useful depending on your students.

David Milliband

Duarte Geraldino

Noy Thrupkaew

Sir Ken Robinson

Julia Galef

Next up was to view “The Great Debaters,” not the full movie, but the pieces that showed preparation and presentation of debate with some journals about techniques observed in the movie. I found this movie to be invaluable in showing the students what true debate is and how to build a successful arguments utilizing different appeals. Following the first clip of the movie, I asked students to nominate their top five choices for classroom debate. The topics were similar to topics we had already discussed, but they also brought some new ones I had not introduced to them. Below is their list of top topics.

  • Gun Control, Immigration Policy, The Paris Climate Agreement, Funding/Defunding Planned Parenthood & Birth Control, Required Standardized Testing, Gay Marriage Rights, Taking down Confederate Statues, Universal Basic Income, Death Penalty and Freedom of Speech/Right to Organize

Now comes the work of helping students understand how to deeply research their resolved positions and put together the foundation of good debate. I enlisted the aid of my librarian. We are currently compiling resources and an approach to helping students utilize the research to develop various appeals for their side of the debate. Stay tuned!


Love this idea for the classroom! The Food Memory Narrative — Moving Writers

If you’re anything like me, those few short weeks between fall and winter breaks are nothing short of an anxiety inducing shopping/baking/grading/wrapping/tying-up-loose-ends extravaganza. Each year, the time sandwiched between breaks seems like too little or not quite enough. But a few years ago, I cooked up a new dish called Food Lit. Food Lit was inspired […]

via The Food Memory Narrative — Moving Writers

Eating the Elephant


I realized this morning I have been remiss in my blogging efforts. I have retreated into my first love…writing in journals. There is something about a slim Moleskin notebook and my favorite pen that just gets me. I am of that generation where computers were just emerging and everything was still done old school paper and pencil. I use technology when it is important and helps extend something I want to accomplish, but I am not a “tool for the tool’s sake” user. Hence most of my reflecting and ideating exists only in my journal collection. Recently though, I have been asked about some of the interesting happenings in my classes and when I was looking for one of my blog posts to send links to, I saw I had not posted any of those thoughts or resources.

One of the projects I am known for in my school district is the 20 Time Project (Innovation Hour). In the past two years, it has continually refined. Last year was my most successful group of projects yet. I learned the importance of showing students what resources are out there and helping them figure out how to get them. Project-Based Learning is the darling of school focus right now, but I don’t think the powers that be often think about how difficult PBL can be in a public school. Public schools have very little monetary resources for anything other than testing and remediation, are mired into a lockstep curriculum and often have staffs not quite as willing to go maverick when faced with punitive backlash if test scores drop. There is the added layer that many of the teachers in public schools have been there a long time and are used to weathering the storm of new vernacular and hot approaches. Not to say there are not great administrators (I have been particularly lucky) and forward-thinking educators out there, but it is the exception not the rule. I also think teachers can get overwhelmed because they try to eat the elephant all at once rather than little bites at a time. Beyond the resources and regulation, there is the basic structure of a public school with its desks in neat rows, white walls, strict bell system and industrialized view of education. All of this from environment to curriculum stack the odds against the success of PBL in public schools. It can work, but it takes a lot of patience, planning and willingness to adapt everything…sometimes on the fly. It works for me, but that is because those requirements are pretty integral to my character.

So, you are probably thinking blah, blah, blah, where are the resources? In thinking about the 20 time successes and failures over the past two years and what I have seen thus far this year, there are some definite must-dos and some still sort of gray, maybe this will work with this group of students, maybe not areas. I think one of the most important things you can do to get this project off the ground is communicate to parents clearly about every aspect of the project. I send a parent/guardian letter home the first day of school. Here is mine (adapted from Kevin Brookhouser’s original).


The very next thing that has to happen is immersion of students into the world of what 20 time can be. I do this through TED Talks, examples of entrepreneurship, volunteerism, passion-based projects…just everything you can get your hands on. Below is a link to my Youtube channel for 20 time inspiration. Feel free to subscribe; I update it when I find or create a new resource for 20 time. There is also a link to a previous post where I outline TED talks I use and how I use each one.

Honaker’s 20 Time Youtube Channel

Resources for Innovation Hour project

Something new this year I really liked was speed dating during brainstorming. Basically, after a couple of weeks of talking about the project, looking at inspirational ideas and viewing advice from last year’s students, we made a list of a few of our ideas and why they were important to us and then we moved around the room with stopwatches. Each student rotated through each other with only five minutes to introduce their ideas and respond to each other. This got the creative juices going and by the time we came back together as a large group, they were excited. This led into them starting to think about their pitch proposals. Pitches are an integral part of the process because it forces students to think about the viability of the project and to start doing some of the research necessary to any project’s success. They must pitch “Shark Tank” style and also provide a hard copy of the outline of their proposal. Each audience member fills out a praise and possibilities feedback form as exit tickets.

Pitch Requirements:

  • Outline of Project- what are you doing?
  • Who will you work with
  • Why is this project worthwhile- personally important to you, beneficial to society, passionate interest
  • Who is your audience/client base
  • Estimated budget (must show you have researched actual costs)
  • Timeline- how will you complete your project incrementally (think backward design, what is your end goal, move back from there)

Often after pitch proposals, students adapt and change their projects. The next class after proposals, I teach them how to set up their progress blogs and for their first post they must respond to all the feedback they received. This allows them to take a deep look at what their peers, community members and teachers thought about their idea. At their hearts, many students want to make the world better and sometimes when I introduce this project, they think they have to do something service-oriented. This year alone I had conversations with three students who pitched projects that were altruistic, but I could tell their passion was not in it and this type of project is never successful if the student does not love what they are doing. This is the moment when you have to step in as the guide and make them really question their purpose for choosing a particular direction to ensure they land on something they will not hate after two months of working on it. My students use WordPress blogs because I am familiar with the format, but you could use whatever you are comfortable with. The blogs are incredibly important so you can keep tabs on student progress, give them feedback and see the cool stuff they are doing. Blog requirements are outlined in the attached parent/guardian letter.

Once you get to this point, it is pretty much smooth for the next couple of months. My students get every other Friday to work on their projects and I spend those class periods helping them write grants, reading and responding to their blogs and floating around to check in on their work. These are very self-directed classes so they offer lots of freedom for the teacher to have individual contact with the students. Around November students are required to compile a status report. I implemented that last year to alleviate the problem of getting to the end and finding the project will not work out. It is a sanity check for myself and the students. It also makes them take a hard look at challenges they faced, how they overcame or didn’t and where they are on budget.


Last year, I realized that shortening the projects to one semester hindered some of my groups from finishing what they started for a number of reasons. My first year students complained a full year was too long so I went to a semester with presentation in the Spring. When it started becoming apparent some groups would not finish in December last year, I adapted. The groups that finished before break could have their 20 time Fridays throughout January and February to prepare presentations and tie up final project requirements. the groups that needed more time could continue actual project work , but would need to complete presentation and final requirements outside class. It worked beautifully. The kids that needed more time to finish their Frisbee Golf Course (funded through a student-written grant) construction had it, the young lady working on zoo murals with 4th graders (funded through a student-written grant) had it and the group that completed their Out of the Darkness walk and fundraiser had time to wrap up their presentation and final requirements. The extra, flexible time allowed students to finish up whatever way made most sense for them. Projects wrapped the week of April 14th. Students turned in all final requirements and participated in our school’s Titan 21 Exhibition night to present to the student body, as well as faculty and community members.

20 Time wrap-up

Requirements for the end of 20 Time projects:

  • Final video reflection describing outcomes and advice to next year’s 20 timers, 3-5 minutes
  • Final presentation at Titan 21 night April 14th, must be interactive
  • Final reflection on 20 Time model- blog that outlines what worked and did not work about the project, not yours personally but 20 time in general (timetables, pitch proposals, class time, blogs etc.)

In two years through these projects, our community has gained a set of murals on permanent display at Mill Mountain Zoo, a Frisbee Golf course, two novels published through Lulu, a suicide awareness club at HV, an Instagram channel about the beauty of Roanoke and myriad other amazing accomplishments. This project continually shows me what school could be. Below is a link to my collection on Digital Is, an incredible website from the National Writing Project that houses resources for teachers. NWP awarded me my first grant for this project that helped buy our first video camera to record all this great work. I will be forever grateful!

Digital Is 20 time collection


Bite-sized doodles, big ideas: Visualizing TED2016 — TED Blog

Doodles are more than just idle scribbles; they can distill complex ideas into useful packets of knowledge. During TED2016, artist Mia W. McNary translated 18-minute talks — on topics like what it means to be a global citizen, the psychology of introverts vs. extroverts and a prosecutor’s case for justice reform — into playful and…

via Bite-sized doodles, big ideas: Visualizing TED2016 — TED Blog

Let the remixing begin!

Mentor Text: The Twin Peaks poetry of Liz Worth Writing Techniques: Poetry Manipulating existing text for creative purposes Pop culture analysis Creative response Editing Background: I’ve already admitted to how I feel about magazines in this column. They’re these wonderful collections of information and inspiration that call to me on a regular basis. I read […]

via TV Poetry — Moving Writers

Sometimes Choice Frustrates

I had this great idea. I am going to let all my students choose everything they read and write- even the kids taking the AP Lit exam. It would be awesome! Students completely excited about reading and writing because they have ultimate autonomy. I. Was. So. Wrong.

At the heart of everything I do is choice and voice. I value freedom in what I do so, why wouldn’t my students? I think to an extent that is true, but for so long students have been mandated as to what to read and write that they don’t really know what to do when they are given utter freedom in school. I have learned this week there is a time for structure, a time for leading, and a process to giving over control. It cannot happen immediately. There is that first moment where students are celebrating, but then they flounder and don’t know what to do.

A little backstory. I embarked on this year determined to have my AP students choose what they wanted to read. A young man I met in Louisville at an independent bookstore told me about something called the Tournament of Books. An idea took root. The real-world tournament of books is kind of like March Madness, but for books. This year’s winner- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I picked it up at the bookstore, and it was a worthy champion. I decided to run my own TOB in the classroom. Students would choose one book they absolutely wanted to read in class this year, research it, compile a sales pitch, and fight for their title. I imagined this space where book love reigned. Unfortunately, as we got into it over the past couple weeks, I became increasingly disappointed with their book choices. We had a roundtable discussion about books we have loved over the years. I thought this would spark their imagination, but instead it reminded them of all those great books they read in middle school before high school squelched their love of reading. As they excitedly vetted their choices with me, I realized they were picking books my daughter had read in 5th and 6th grade, books that were serialized, and generally unacceptable for a college credit class to garner any kind of deep discussion and study. I wrestled with what to do to help them because it was not that they wanted an easy book. It was more they did not know how to choose a challenging book they would like because choice was not a concept they had dealt with before.

Enter Shelfari. I was surfing around looking at book lists and happened upon somebody’s shelfari- a virtual bookshelf through Amazon. I was intrigued and started my own “bookshelf” as an experiment. As I was populating my bookshelf, an epiphany came to me- I could create a possibilities bookshelf for my students to shop as they were choosing their book for our tournament. I am not going to lie, it took me hours to set the shelf up, import information, and write pieces of the  book profiles. I am still not completely finished with the “ridiculously short summaries” section. Regardless, I introduced it to my classes on Thursday. And, they were impressed. I showed them how to go to the shelf, click on the covers and look at the book profiles which include summaries, character lists, themes, awards won, and reviews. A discussion sparked about why I chose certain books, which were my favorites, and how I found books that I had not read. I am hopeful for a really good title fight on Monday!

Lesson for the week- choice is important, but so is guidance on how to make informed choices. Sometimes we have to be the sage before we can be the guide.

Resources for Innovation Hour project

Sitting in my library looking out on the quiet street, my thoughts have turned to curriculum planning for next year, which is only a few short weeks away. I have thought a great deal about the 20% Time project for last year and started to develop some resources to help me stay more on track with this new crop of students I will meet shortly. As I implemented the 20 Time model last year, I found TED Talks, and Youtube videos to be particularly helpful along the way. Below are the links to the the resources I used, as well as a short description of how I used them.

“The Puzzle of Motivation” by Dan Pink

I used this TED Talk on the first day of class as an opener to talk about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, as well as a segway into discussion of the Innovation Hour project. I followed this up with Chris Kesler’s Youtube video “What is Genius Hour?“.  I will also show our own Innovation Hour video this year since I now have student examples.

Another important step to getting this project off on the right foot, is to provide students some real-world examples of people following their bliss and finding success. Last year I showed Apple’s ipad commercial, “Slow Roll,” that features a Detroit entrepreneur working to revitalize his city with bike tours. I also showed them the Holstee Manifesto– another great resource for people running a company with passion. I plan to include the “Ben and Jerry” story this year as well after seeing it on the factory tour- two guys making ice cream in a gas station because they loved it, what better inspiration can you get? The point is to get students to see the value of doing something that you love and how the passion you have for an idea can drive success.

The next step once students decide on an idea for how they want to spend their 20% class time, is the pitch proposal. Shark Tank has become an increasingly popular TV show and Business Insider wrote an article outlining some of the most successful pitches. I plan to use this as a resource this year to help students prepare to pitch their ideas to peers and administration. Most students are readily familiar with the show though, and you could just talk them through a pitch. I also plan to use a clip from “Thirteen Going on Thirty” where Jennifer Garner pitches her magazine idea to the think tank. It is a fun clip and focused less on funding, and more on concepts. This will help some of my students who plan less business-like projects.

The next few months are spent with students doing the actual work of the project. In January, we turn to presentation planning. After experimenting with a number of TED Talks last year, I have whittled down my list to what I consider the most important ones and students plan presentations. Here they are in the order I think they should be shown and discussed:

“How to Live Before You Die”– Steve Jobs

“8 Secrets of Success”– Richard St. John

“What Fear Can Teach Us”– Karen Thompson Walker

“Teach Every Child About Food”– Jamie Oliver

“Start with Why”– Simon Sinek

“Choice, Happiness, and Spaghetti Sauce”– Malcolm Gladwell

I also like the videos on Toastmasters. They have approachable tips for students about public speaking, AND they will come and speak to your students if you have a local chapter and ask far enough in advance. Unfortunately, I asked too late last year and was not able to schedule a speaker, but they have promised to come next year with enough advanced notice!

Each video has something to offer for presentations, from structure, to catchphrases, to opening and closing effectively. Students are used to giving presentations to a comfortable group of peers, but many have never spoken in front of a large audience. This is scary, but happens a lot in the “real world” which makes public speaking an important skill for them to leave high school having acquired. Preparation and practice are two things I can’t stress enough. They need dry runs, videos of themselves to critique and lots of feedback before the actual event. I fell down on this some last year, but plan to be ready next year!

My thoughts on 20 Time Projects


Finally a few minutes to view the Innovation Hour presentations and I was more impressed watching them after the fact than while I was there. So much great work by students came out of these projects, but viewing the montage video has helped me think more about what I want to do differently next year. The video below was produced by one of my fabulous students, Madeline Cobbler.

First, I want more time to prepare for the presentations and more time for reflection about the journey of the project. I will introduce this project again in the Fall, but with some changes. Student project work will finish at the end of the first semester. This will allow a more focused amount of time for the students to plan their timelines. There was definitely some dead time this year. Progress updates will be bi-weekly and I will give the option of keeping a notebook or blog so students that enjoy the act of writing rather than using technology have more freedom in how they express their learning to me. The Innovation Hour will happen in February next year to coincide with our school-wide Titan 21 night where all students showcase interesting work being done in various classes. This will give a wider audience for Innovation Hour presentations. I found throughout the year students were fueled by outside interest in their work. Whenever I brought people in to talk to them about their projects, they found renewed passion in what they were doing. I want to replicate that effect more next year. The goal of this project was always to allow students the freedom to pursue something they were passionate about and give them the tools and time to bring that passion to fruition. In many ways I consider this first year a success. Students found things they were interested in and some even found paths for their future.

For me, I started out trying to complete my own 20 Time project, a collection of blog posts chronicling my adventures with my daughter in the kitchen, but often I found myself overwhelmed trying to chart my classroom journey while maintaining my personal project. I realized I missed many moments on both fronts. Next year, my goal will be to give voice regularly to what I have going on in the classroom, and work on my food blog as worthy occasions arise.

Innovation Hour


The curtain has fallen. The stage has cleared. Our first year of 20 time projects has closed. This week marked our 20 time showcase event, Innovation Hour. Students have been viewing TED talks, discussing public speaking styles, and preparing their final presentations of their yearlong journey with their 20 time projects. It has been eye-opening for me to see how they feel about their project progress and what they want to say about it. I noticed that similar comments kept cropping up. The theme was “this was not what I originally planned, but I am happy with how it turned out.” No matter what the outcome, students learned something about themselves, collaboration and long-term planning along the way.

Here are some of my lessons learned:

1. Make the time span for the actual project shorter and the presentation planning time span longer.

2. Practice more- in class, on stage and with technology.

3. Be more clear about the blog purpose early on.

4. Show the video feedback from this year about failure and end games.

5. Bring more community members in and facilitate more mentorship.

6. Require a research element.

7. Require more frequent status updates and opportunities for progress sharing with wider audiences.

8. Keep schedule of one full class period every other week for 20 time.

9. Enlist HELP with evening showcase event.

10. Set a 3-5 minute cap on all final presentations and schedule 3, rather than 2 hours.

11. Start year with Dan Pink TED talk about motivation to set stage for project purpose.

12. Schedule Toastmasters early!

13. Directly instruct about various presentation technologies.

I am sure there are more, and I am sure I will add to this list as I disseminate all the data and student video reflections over the next couple of weeks. I plan to create and post a video montage of our actual Innovation Hour, as well as snippets from the video reflections to help other teachers interested in trying out a project like this. I will also plan to post my own, more complete reflection as I round out my first experiment with a project of this magnitude. I am proud of what my students accomplished and what they taught me about implementing ultimate choice in the classroom!