Project Design

This week we are talking project design!  

Getting Started

Remember…a “project” covers a topic in a variety of ways and includes combinations of lessons, textbooks readings, articles, lab sheets, multimedia and online resources.

So, Where Do You Want to End Up?

When designing, it’s important to begin with the end in mind. Without clear goals your students will tend to wander and not connect topics and ideas. What are the 21st century skills you want your students to practice? What content can you include in this project? How do you plan on presenting the project idea and connecting to the outside world? Backwards design is not the only way to achieve great results. Allowing students to expand the initial project idea by exploring their passions gets students personally invested in their own learning. Check out these clips from a class at CMS.

I’ve Got Their Attention, Now What?

You have this idea…or let’s call it a passion. Or even better, you’ve heard your students chatting about something they are passionate about and you want to try launching a project through it. Great idea! You’ve had lots of ideas on how to relate this passion with the content you’re teaching and you’ve even made the product the students will be creating relevant AND real to the world today. A few adults from a business down the road are going to get a chance to see their work and give some feedback. You’re ready for your project launch day but then you stop and say…now what? What do I do after I tell my students about this amazing idea?

The steps after the project launch day are generally the same for any project…..

1. Present students with the Driving Question and let them discuss it, wonder and share thoughts about it, and perhaps brainstorm additional sub-questions that explore various aspects of it. (If it is truly open-ended there are multiple ways to answer and discuss.)

2. Analyze the task(s) required in the project. Tell students about the culminating products (these can vary so students can learn from each other) and presentations, if your project launch did not make it clear. Ask students to identify exactly what they need to do to reach that goal and identify the skills and knowledge they will need.

3. Identify resources that might help students gain the skills and knowledge they need — ask students to contribute ideas, but also tell them what they can expect to be provided by you.

4. Explain some of the details, either orally or on a handout, including due dates, grading, and routines.

5. Have students meet in their groups to start working on tasks.

The hardest part may be knowing when to let go. The traditional model of schooling involves a lot of spoon-feeding, hand-holding, and pouring-of-information-into-empty-heads. You may have to resist the urge to do things for students too quickly. Let them struggle a little — the right amount builds character. You’re also very likely to get a lot of questions from students about due dates, how many pages does it have to be, does grammar count, and so on. If you’ve provided a rubric, do not answer these questions right away because answering every time (and repeating and repeating) does not nurture a culture of independence. Instead, point to where students can find the answers for themselves.

For more on project design, check out the Buck Institute’s website. It has example videos from classrooms and takes you through the entire lesson design process. If you’ve got 5 minutes, watch this clip that is a great example of a project launch and group work.

Also provided below are project checklists and a group project contract already made for you!

Project Essentials Checklist

Group Contract

Project Work Report

Project Management Log


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