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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

3 Main reasons projects fail and how to fix them

As I prepare to get more into project based learning I decided it was necessary to look at what doesn't work so that I could properly plan projects that do. This of course is my take from experience and watching what others do work.

Problem: The project itself. I have seen all sorts of different projects throughout the years; some good, some bad, and some really bad. Where I think many teachers go wrong is in the very beginning the project itself is just simply not a good project. I am not going to show examples, but these are questions you should be asking when you come up with your project. It is authentic? Does it allow for student choice? How does it show their knowledge of the content? Is it possible? How much help/assistance will I need to give as the teacher? Is is worthwhile? Would I be willing to do this if I was a student? Does it really accomplish what I want it to?

Solution: Inquiry based student choice projects with teacher guided assistance. Give the students ownership over their work. Let them do what they are passionate about. I have a project that I do at the start of the year in geography where students essentially create their own country. They get to make the decisions. I have found it to be the best way to teach all the stuff I need to for the first term. In the end they have an authentic student project. I teach the content for the week and then they add to their country whatever piece we are going over. They get the content and then decide what they want to do with content as it applies to their country. They make all the key decisions. I provide the information, they have to evaluate, synthesize, analyze, and apply it to their country. Note: Every year I have to revamp a part of this to make it better. I am still figuring out the best way to do this project myself

Problem: I think where most people get it wrong is they assign a project and then 8 to 10 weeks later it is due. Along the way they will bring it up and say remember your projects are due in 3 weeks, 2 weeks, 1 week and so forth. They haven't broken it up into digestible bits. It is a huge chunk and too much to digest at once. Plus if never really revisited or worked on with deadlines you are setting your students up for failure.

Solution: Set up manageable deadlines that will naturally complete the process without a mad rush at the end. If I were finishing a room in my basement I wouldn't do it all at once. I would first decide what my plans would be for the room. Then I would determine my materials, supplies, and tools. I would make sure I could do it and ask for help if needed. I would then work on the framing, then add electrical and insulation. After that I would bring in sheet rock and tape and mud it. Finally I would paint it. That's how we do it in real life, so why don't we do it for students in our classes. For example; have students decide what they are going to do for their project one week. The next week have them write an outline and determine what they need(research, materials, supplies). Then have them finish a piece of it where either you or students can give them feedback so that they can alter and fix anything they need to. By making manageable deadlines you ensure that they are not only working on it, but properly finishing one piece before going to the next. Not only will more students complete their projects they will be much better because you have given them needed structure with helpful feedback.

Problem: Grading. I have seen many arbitrary grading systems where teachers will just say I think this is worth X amount of points. Many times students aren't given enough guidance on what they need to have in their project to make it good. They will rise to the level of the expectations. If there are no clues provided as far as what they need to include then they will guess and most likely guess wrong. If we revisit the finishing a room in my basement example if I was planning on sheet rocking the room but wasn't told what type of sheet rock(thickness) type of tape and mud I would go to the store and be totally frustrated. I wouldn't know what to do, so I would either guess and I may be right or wrong, or I just wouldn't do it. If you aren't giving your students a plan then you are setting them for frustration and failure.

Solution: If you want great projects you need to provide a rubric that shows students the elements of a great project. Again, they will rise to the level of your expectations. They want to know the specifications so they know how to build their project. There are many great rubric creators out there. Make sure you have the categories you want such as Subject Knowledge, Neatness, Creativity, etc...Not only will it help your students know what is essential in their project, it will help you grade them as well. You don't have to be arbitrary, you see if they met the criteria for each element of the rubric and then grade accordingly. It will make your life and your student's much easier and better.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff! One thing I do to help with grading so it isn't as subjective is to have an exit interview with the student where we discuss the project, what they learned and finally what grade they think they should get and why. Having the student write a narrative about what they have learned is something to do before the interview as well.