What to Expect From Middle School Projects
Project Teacher Expectations
Projects beat lectures hands down at the middle school level. Some middle school students have short attention spans. Sometimes the students' need to be social comes to a climax during class time. Projects allow for hands-on learning and productive discussions. In addition, Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences suggests that students learn in many ways. Projects can involve all or some of the learning modalities.
What a Teacher Can Expect
Successful projects can capture a student's creativity, bring deeper learning and allow for thought-proving discussions. In addition, I find that the concepts students learn when they complete a project "stick". The key to having a successful project is for the teacher to connect the project to state indicators, to complete it in a timely manner, and to assess it fairly. A teacher who spends a great deal of time planning a project will reap the benefits of the learning that occurs and the quality of products completed.
However, an unsuccessful project can create chaos in the classroom and bring classroom management problems for the teacher. Middle school teachers know that student behavior can include poking, pinching, bouncing, burping, tapping, fidgeting, etc. They sometimes "do" almost every annoying behavior imaginable, and they may begin misbehaving if a project is not organized.
With that said, I still do projects all the time. I employ classroom management strategies and engage students in learning while they are completing the project.
Top Five Elements to a Successful Project
Careful planning is so important to the success of a project. These are five key elements for a great project:
- Successful individual and group projects start with a great step-by-step project sheet. A project sheet will explain the project and tell students exactly what they need to do. When students know exactly what is expected of them, they will not become overwhelmed.
- A grade sheet or rubric should be given to students right along with the project sheet. Students can look at the rubric or grade sheet and know exactly how to be successful.
- A model product should be available that students can look to for guidance while working on the project. Many students are visual and need to "see" what a quality project should look like.
- For group projects, the success will many times depend on how the groups are organized. Teachers need to spend time thinking about who should work with whom. And, each student in the group needs a "job" or task.
- For larger projects, teachers should send home a note to parents explaining the project and the tasks need to be completed at home. The note should include ways parents can contact the teacher with any concerns.
Since students are in our classrooms to learn, I think that teachers should have a variety of teaching strategies in their "repertoire bag." Projects should definitely be one of those strategies that a teacher can use over and over again.