Friday, August 22, 2008

Overcoming frustration with projects

Many times, I have assigned a project and then at the end was left scratching my head over why it was not what I thought it would be. It seems many students do not get the big picture of projects and perhaps the expectations are not communicated in a way that they understand.

My view of projects: After the first year of using cool tools for projects, I had to stop and think was this really any better? If the project just tells information that students would use a poster for normally, then perhaps it need not be a tech project. It has just become a very expensive poster. If the goal is to place it online to elicit response from outside the school, then it is time well spent. These projects seem to take more time than a poster or other conventional project would. I view projects as a way to tell a story, to justify reasoning, to own an experience, to reflect on what they learned in the classroom...

So what are stumbling blocks and their solutions in regards to projects?
  • Many students do not know how to break down the tasks needed for the projects. All students (even academic) need a checklist of the specific information they need, the pictures, graphics, music required, or the information they have to provide in the project. Checklists also allow you to gauge timing. Students know that they must be at a certain point of the checklist by a certain class period. Tie a project progress grade to it. The journey sometimes is as important as the final product.
  • Create your rubric from the checklist and give a copy to the students in advance. It is important that they know how they will be graded.
  • If the project requires different elements to it, students can write up portions for homework. This allows you to keep track of how they are progressing. It also prevents students from writing in class as they go which takes time. Class time should be entering information. At home, work could be for finding and/or putting the finishing touches on that work.
  • It always takes some students a little longer than others. You also never know when a project is lost or it does not save at the end of the period. Provide the length of time it should take to complete and add a few days or a week. That does not mean that students get to continue to work on it that long in class (many will take advantage). It means that students can continue to come in during activity period or work during study hall. Offer an incentive for finishing early. Things happen, if they happened to us, we would ask for an extension - build one in.
  • Show a variety of tools that can be used for a project. Insisting on just one puts some students at a disadvantage. Think of multiple intelligences - some students are great at posters, some dioramas, others writing... It is not about the tool, it is about the communication. In every rubric their is a section for engaging and compelling presentation. Some students can do that writing on a wiki, others choose a podcast, while others have great imovie ideas. Make the project be a communication of big ideas.

Tags: project based learning, technology, education

1 comment:

Melissa Fedigan said...

Some very good ideas to consider. How do others make projects work? I would be interested to follow this discussion.