You see an amazing science project online and decide to tackle it with your students. You purchase the materials and arrive to class early so you can set up the project. As your students arrive they can see your enthusiasm and they start getting excited too. 'This will be a project they will never forget,' you think. Thirty minutes later your students are out of control, the classroom is a mess and your blood pressure is way above normal....not to mention you are pretty sure that your students are NOT learning anything of importance. What happened? Is this another Pinterest fail?! Should we throw in the towel for these so-called group learning projects?
According to research, project-based learning is one of the best ways to enhance student learning. Students who practice solving real-life kinds of problems in collaborative environments will remember content longer, score better on tests, and learn valuable communication skills that will be useful beyond the classroom setting. (Click here to read the full article about project-based learning on Edutopia.) If project-based learning is so important, we must determine to manage our projects well and utilize technology effectively. Over the years I have learned a lot from my students about what works and what will make me lose my mind. I hope the following tips help you in your next project.
Tip 1: Hope for the best and prepare for the worst
Preparation is key to a successful experience with student projects. So many amazing projects and activities go south due to lack of preparation. Before starting a project with your students be sure you have thought through the following things:
-What are the learning objectives? How will students meet these objectives through the project?
-How will you assess the students to see whether or not they met the objectives? Do you need to create a new rubric? On that note, it would be important to make sure students have read and understood the rubric BEFORE beginning a project so they know how to achieve the expected learning objective.
-What could go wrong with your project? What if the internet cuts out? How will you compensate for students that don’t come prepared? Having a backup plan you can go to in case of disaster will, at the very least, give you a peace of mind.
-Communicate in advance. Notify students and parents to remind them of their responsibilities.
(My students working on Christmas crystals and data table creation on their computers.) Click here for this activity
Tip 2: Be clear, calm, and consistent
There is nothing more frustrating than preparing a wonderful project and then feeling like it was ruined due to poor student behavior. But poor student behavior can be contributed to our lack of communication or a lack of our follow through. After preparing for your project, think through possible opportunities for students to misbehave. How might students try to press the boundaries?
Describe the boundaries BEFORE you begin the project and clearly describe the consequences for anyone who breaks a rule. Students want to feel like you are fair and by explaining your expectations and the consequences in advance they will have been fairly warned. (Note: I have found that even my high-school students benefit from very specific instructions and guidelines. For example, "We will walk quietly past the other classrooms to the top of the stairs. You must stay with your project partner...." Some instructions might seem obvious or like common sense, but if I outline my specific instructions beforehand students can't use the excuse that they "didn't know" what was expected of them.)
I wish I could tell you that by clearly communicating your expectations your students would all behave like little angels. My experiences tells me otherwise! Brace yourself for bad behaviors...then you won't be surprised when you have to hand out a consequence. When a student steps outside of the boundaries, stay calm. They are not trying to ruin your life. Simply institute the consequences that you outlined beforehand. A calm teacher holds all the power in their classroom!
Your students should have all received a warning when you outlined the expectations and they need to see that you will be fair and can be taken at your word. The problem is that sometimes my best behaved and brightest student crosses the line. If I want to maintain order in my class than it is vital that I discipline my students in the same way. My most difficult child should receive the same consequence (and tone of voice I might add) as my "easiest" student. Otherwise, students will believe that I have favorites and it will become a contest to see who else can get away with breaking the rules!
I hope these classroom management tips help you during your next project! If you are planning on integrating technology into your next project please check out my post about technology integration which includes helpful links to some of my favorite technology tools.