Project Based Learning - Where Are Good Project Ideas?
During the Fall months we often receive a great number of visitors both domestic and international to our school, High Tech Middle. Often people ask "What makes a good project?" Early on in my High Tech Career, I would probably have said a great deal about student engagement, content, rigor etc. But, those thoughts my early projects were lousy.
When I first started teaching in a project based learning environment I was obsessed with planning and creating strict time lines for bench marks and worksheets to manage student outcomes. Not that this is bad, but I didn't allow projects to be critiqued by students before I started them. My early projects were well managed, had clear expectations but were, honestly, boring. I remember the at the end the year asking students to take home their projects and they asked, "can we throw them away?" At first I was saddened and said "I will keep them," but later found myself sneaking to the dumpster after school to throw them away.Some of by best or most loved projects are the ones that started as a simple idea; not complex and easy to articulate by both students and teachers.I now do small focus groups with projects ideas and pitches to get student input before launching them. I visualize the end product and then ask myself, would I keep this? If you ask me what makes a good project now I would say, "If it's not worth putting in my own home or on my coffee table, I don't do it. Projects should make people say wow, students did that?" My latest project took only three weeks to complete; is simple in design, with minimal project guide lines.The expectations were clear; create a worst case scenario book for early English Colonist to the New World. The book students are writing reflects their understanding of the life and challenges of Early English Colonist as well as an understanding of climate, geography and resources of the North Eastern United States. I didn't have to lecture or give long boring worksheets. They students were motivated to find the answers to questions such as, how to remove an arrow from your flesh, how to purify water, how to make candles and how to survive if lost at sea. Many of the students wanted to build the models to gain an understanding of how things really work. We had tee-pees in front of the school, students chipping away at arrowheads and students drying and preserving beef. The writing of this book allowed us to discuss writing clear, concise instructions and how to focus on a particular audience. Over all the class had a great time doing the work. I am proud of the project and the outcome. The student's New World Survival Handbook comes out on Amazon at the end of November. I still ask myself what are good project ideas? But now I know what I want, something I would put on my coffee table.