Nathan Simmons, Ben Pauli and Jon Dvorak present their group’s 20% Project — developed during 20 percent of their business class time — to develop a website full of student written- and video-reviews of books to encourage high school students to continue reading for fun.
Nathan Simmons, Ben Pauli and Jon Dvorak present their group’s 20% Project — developed during 20 percent of their business class time — to develop a website full of student written- and video-reviews of books to encourage high school students to continue reading for fun.
May 8, 2014



Each Friday this spring semester, Carroll High School business instructor Chelsea Bissen wrote a simple directive on the whiteboard - "Be a problem solver."

The directive was part of a new piece Bissen added to her curriculum this year. "The 20% Project" required students to spend 20 percent of their class time - one day a week, Fridays - working on a project about which they were passionate.

Bissen was inspired by Google - recognized as the No. 1 place to work - which started the 20-percent project, encouraging employees to spend one-fifth of their time working on anything they wanted - as long as it related to technology. This policy bore fruit with the development of Gmail and GoogleDrive, among other applications.

"The idea has gone wild and crazy through the education world," said Bissen.

The idea is that people are more motivated to work on something of their choosing, said CHS senior Brooke Fleener.

But Bissen added a twist to her version - the students had to work in groups, and group members were not all from the same business class.

"I wanted to have them learn to collaborate with people who were not with them in the same class period," she explained. "In the real world, they're going to have to use technology to collaborate with people who aren't always in the same room."

This collaboration proved the most difficult pice of the project, said Fleener and fellow senior Cody Davis.

"It was hard to get everyone on the same page," Davis said.

"Patience is huge," Fleener agreed. "There were times I felt like I needed to take over, but I had to step back and listen to other ideas, which is hard when you're not actually meeting."

Bissen pulled together groups that included seniors working with freshmen, and students involved in different extracurricular activities, who may never have talked otherwise, but discovered they shared a similar passion, be it reading, social media, fitness, video games, education, music, animals, volunteering or sports.

Fleener and Davis agreed that the project was a great learning experience, promoting skills they will use in their future careers. Fleener plans to attend Iowa State University to study apparel merchandising, and Davis is heading to the University of South Dakota to study finance and accounting.

It was also a learning experience for Bissen, who attempted to be as hands-off as possible to let the students grow on their own.

"It's really about not giving a lot of guidance as a teacher," she said. "If you leave them alone, they can have ideas that far surpass yours."

Each group included six to 10 students. They had the option to raise money for something related to their topic or to develop a program - a process that proved equally educational even if the students concluded that their program would not work at CHS.

In her second year of teaching at CHS, Bissen said, sophomore English teacher Becky Boes served as a mentor as the students moved further along in the process. Many of the students viewed Bissen's project as the next level of Boes' problem-solution projects which have been a staple of her classes for nearly a decade.

Bissen cited The 20% Project as a success, adding the she will likely conduct it again, though she is not sure if it will be assigned every year, every two years, or once every four years.

The students presented their projects last Friday in the high school auditorium. The event was live-streamed and live-tweeted online.

Projects included recruiting speakers for school assemblies, a student tutoring program, increasing fitness opportunities in the high school, starting a store for the business students to run for hands-on experience, promoting unique sports, running a basketball camp, a fundraiser for the art department, raising money for the local animal shelter, establishing a online technology resources database, establishing a student book review website and an online play list development application.

It is up to the students if they continue to pursue implementation, said Bissen.

"You're seeing leadership rise," said CHS principal Tammie McKenzie. "Many of these projects we can sustain."