Monday, May 16, 2011

Effective School Projects

Winding Down the Year with Projects

If your class is feeling at all like mine right now, you're probably eagerly awaiting the end of the school year.  But with the high stakes in education these days, we can't afford to waste classroom time.  So what better way to take the focus off of the educator than to make the students the active agents in the educational process?  And how can we activate students in this way?  To create a student centered classroom, we can provide students with opportunities to create artifacts based on learning goals.  In other words, we can assign students projects.  Check out this list of project ideas to create fun student centered activities to use in your classroom today.  Here are some guidelines in giving out good projects:

  1. Give students an appropriate amount of freedom: for students to have a sense of ownership over their projects, they need a certain amount of creative freedom and control.  Yet, for the project to have educational value, goals need to be set and structure may need to be imposed.  Consider your students educational maturity level when setting project goals.  Students who are less mature will need more structure and more clearly defined project goals for the project to be successful.  
  2. Have a clear rationale: your rationale is your reason for assigning students the project.  Having students build a model of the globe theater is certainly a constructive project, but the rationale for having students build such a model, for devoting so much class time to that project, will be thin.  Make sure that your project is clearly building a skill or creating a knowledge base and align your project goals with your state learning standards to establish a solid rationale.
  3. Don't give students too much time: the more time that you give students, the more likely that they will squander that time  Often, the time will be squandered with misbehavior which could lead to fights or other serious problems in the classroom environment.  By giving students a little less time than you'd expect that they'd actually need, you will motivate the greatest number of students to immediately focus on the task at hand.  Also, if you find that students have been working hard, you can more easily extend the time than reduce it.  
  4. Set daily goals: by establishing expectations for each class period, you can help pace students who need more structure.  If you are concerned that your students are not progressing at an appropriate rate, set daily goals and communicate your expectations with your students.  This may prove particularly helpful with large projects that span the course of many periods. 
  5. Define group roles: If you find that your students need additional structure and oversight to complete the project to your expectations, you can create and assign group roles for which each member may be held accountable.  This removes the aspect of collective punishment that tends to accompany group assignments while simultaneously reducing the amount of coattail riding and piggybacking.  The only difficulty with this approach is actually devising balanced group roles for each project.  
Ultimately, the less time you spend defining roles and establishing expectations, the easier it will be to execute the project.  But if students aren't staying on task or following the schedule that you've imagined, it is your responsibility break the assignment into simpler tasks and motivate failing students.  By redirecting negative energies into constructive forces, your classroom will come alive with productivity and maybe after some successful executions, they will become responsible enough to have more productive freedom.

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