There were no guidelines or rules, no right or wrong answers, and students didn’t even receive a grade.

So how did Brownstown Central High School teacher Melanie Preston get her class to complete research projects this trimester?

Simply by letting them do whatever they wanted to do, she said.

Preston, who teaches an Advanced Placement language arts course, decided to use a teaching method developed from a business practice made famous by Google.

By incorporating Google 20 Time in the classroom, students spent 20 percent of their time — one class period a week for the past six weeks — working on a project of their choice.

“We had 20 Time Tuesdays, and they spent that time coming up with ideas, researching what they’re interested in and finding ways to do something with what they learned,” Preston said.

It didn’t matter what topic students picked, how they learned about it or what their final project ended up being, as long as they did something productive with the time, she added.

The idea behind Google 20 Time in the classroom is to encourage students to explore personal interests and foster innovation without restrictions or the pressure to get an A.

Students did not have to write essays, take tests or complete traditional homework for their projects, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t plenty for them to do.

Preston said the Google 20 Time projects are about helping students develop lifelong learning skills and an appreciation for independent learning, instead of being spoon-fed education.

“This is completely new for them, and it’s taken some time to get used to the idea; but I haven’t had one student complain,” she said. “It’s been really exciting to see them get excited about what they’re doing and to see what they have come up with.”

Pitch Perfect night

Famous ideas that have come from the Google 20 Time initiative have included Gmail, Google Docs and other Google applications that are used daily by businesses, schools and individuals worldwide.

Preston’s students chose projects on a wide range of topics and issues, and recently presented their work to teachers, administrators, family and each other during a Pitch Perfect night. The open house event was set up in the school library, much like an academic fair for students to pitch their ideas.

Junior Jordan Trowbridge said she has always had an interest in makeup and likes creating unique and over-the-top looks. She partnered with friend Caylen Fortino, also a junior, to study professional makeup techniques with the idea of putting together a series of instructional makeup videos to post on YouTube and other social media sites.

“We both have a passion for makeup, and Halloween makeup is so much fun,” Trowbridge said. “So we watched a lot of videos online and came up with our own ideas.”

Vampire and zombie looks are very popular and can be easy for anyone to do with a little help, she added.

As part of the assignment, students also had to seek the advice of an outside mentor who is knowledgeable on the topic. It was a way to encourage networking and reaching out to others, Preston said.

Although they hadn’t been able to talk with anyone yet, Trowbridge said she was hoping they would in order to get more ideas for their videos.

Being able to work on a project that interested them was a great way to learn, Trowbridge said.

“It wasn’t like homework because you wanted to do it,” she said.

‘Some good advice’

Student Cynthia Edwards decided she wanted to be able to help her fellow students solve problems they might be having in their lives. She saw a need for some kind of forum for students to be able to ask questions about issues they are facing.

Through Google 20 Time, she came up with the idea of creating an Internet advice blog where teens can send in questions anonymously, and she answers them.

“I want to be a psychologist some day, and my friends always say I give good advice,” she said. “So I thought this would be a good way to see how I like doing it.”

But Edwards knew she wasn’t an expert on everything and wanted to have someone else offer a different point of view. Since some questions may require a male perspective, she recruited friend and classmate Phillip Ollo to help with the project.

They expect to get questions on homework, studying, choosing a college, relationships and dating, bullying and problems at home. Students will be able to submit questions, and Edwards and Ollo will answer them on the blog.

“Everyone needs some good advice at some point,” Edwards said.

Ollo added, “We think it will be very beneficial because not everybody wants to talk to a parent or teacher about some of these things.”

To find a mentor to help them with their project, Edwards and Ollo successfully reached out to New York psychologist Dr. Harriet Mosatche, who runs the Internet site Ask Dr. M. The site allows children, teens, young adults and parents to email questions that Mosatche and others then answer on the site.

“We were so excited that Dr. M said she would serve as our mentor and help us get our own advice blog started,” Edwards said.

They hope to have the blog up and running soon.

‘A lot of fun’

Both Edwards and Ollo said they thought the Google 20 Time method is a great way for students to think creatively.

“It’s been a lot of fun, and I would like to do something like this again,” Ollo said.

Students Morgan Thompson and Lexie Striegel also decided to focus their project on helping others. Their idea is to collect personal hygiene products to distribute to students in need. Not having access to such items can be embarrassing for students and lead to bullying and students feeling isolated from their peers, they said.

“Being teenagers, it’s difficult to get the word out, but we are still hoping to collect many items so that, by the end of the school year, we will have enough to distribute to kids in need throughout our schools,” Thompson said.

They are asking the public to help by donating items such as deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, soap, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, toothpaste and toothbrushes and feminine products.

“Any donations are greatly appreciated,” Thompson said.

She said they plan to set up boxes around the community. In the meantime, the students placed one in the guidance office at the high school.

Preston said she is proud of the work her students have done and hopes to see them continue their efforts to learn more and improve the world around them.

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Name of project: Raising/Hatching Chicks

Name of student: Sara Martin

Purpose: To better understand the gestation of baby chicks and learn how to teach the process to preschool children

Why she was interested in this topic: Related to a possible career in mission work (teaching others to be self-sustaining)

Name of project: Personal Hygiene Product Project

Name of students: Lexie Striegel and Morgan Thompson

Purpose: To get personal hygiene products to students and families in need

Why they were interested in this topic: They saw a need in the community

Name of project: Eating Disorders

Name of student: Hannah Gallion

Purpose: To educate middle-schoolers about eating disorders

Why she was interested in this topic: Saw a need for teens to feel good about themselves and be able to help their peers

Name of project: Pen Pal Project

Name of student: Madison McGinnis

Purpose: Communicating with pen pals from various countries

Why she was interested in this topic: Interest in learning about various cultures

Name of project: Paintball Masks

Name of students: Matthew Lucas and Kordell Stahl

Purpose: To determine the best way or a new way to combat an issue with paintball masks

Why they were interested in this topic: They have an issue with mask condensation.

Name of project: Private/Public School Athletic Tournaments

Name of students: John McKinney and Clay Brown

Purpose: To devise a way for private and public high schools to play in separate tournaments

Why they were interested in this topic: Issue they see relevant in Indiana high school athletics

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“This is completely new for them, and it’s taken some time to get used to the idea; but I haven’t had one student complain. It’s been really exciting to see them get excited about what they’re doing and to see what they have come up with.”

Brownstown Central High School teacher Melanie Preston, on allowing students time to research whatever they wanted