Project Work, Stage 3: Creation (Doing the Work)

Welcome to the third in a series of four posts about the four stages of project work I’ve been trying to improve in my International Problems class. While IP is a social studies class, these four project stages are easily applicable to a variety of subject areas.

In the first post, I wrote about the information-gathering stage - think of this as the period of time during which students are researching whatever the topic of their project is.

In the second post, I wrote about the planning stage, which I have often neglected in my classroom. While it can be difficult to coax students into slowing down enough to plan, it’s well worth it.

This brings us to the third stage of project work: creation (otherwise known as doing the work).

With this most recent project, I didn’t structure this creation time too heavily. I figured that since we’d spent time brainstorming and researching specific questions, and then planned our projects, that the actual creation part would go pretty smoothly. And it did... mostly.

This is always an interesting part of the process for me, because I’m constantly trying to decide what to actually do while students are working. I tend to rotate between the following:

  • Roaming from table to table, hovering over each group and encouraging on-task behavior

  • Responding to the raised hands of specific groups that need help

  • Working at my desk

When you’re transitioning to a project-based environment in your classroom, this project-work phase often feels awkward. For those of us who are used to spending most of our time at the front of the room, directing the flow of learning, open-ended work time feels scary and unpredictable. I often fear that everyone in the room will be off task.

And you know what? Some kids are off task. And that’s okay. Well, it’s not okay, but it’s also not the end of the world.

As I’ve moved my own classroom further along the project-based continuum, I’ve started to think more and more about how adults in the Real World work. And, having spent last year working in a non-classroom job, I got a first-hand experience of working in the Real World. Turns out, adults are often off task, too! So when I see students off task during this unstructured work time, I tend to be very understanding. I just give them repeated reminders to put away their electronics, close their YouTube tab (unless they’re researching topical videos, of course), and get back to work. It’s what I’d tell myself if I were distracted at work.

The one piece of specific guidance I gave kids while they were working on their projects this time around was toward the end of the five or so days I gave them. I projected an image of the project rubric on the screen, and asked them to go through the rubric with their partner to see if they thought their project was adequately addressing each criterion. (Stay tuned for next week’s post, in which my classes’ minds are blown when I show them how I would evaluate a sample project based on that rubric.) This guidance is a step in the right direction; however, it’s also true that many students have no clue how to look critically at their work and examine whether or not it meets criteria. Hmm… Going to have to keep working on this.

The other sticking point for some students during this stage of actually creating the product was the learning curve of the technology. I gave students six different digital tools to choose from, linked them to a few tutorial videos, and set them loose. Many opted for Prezi, which was a tool they'd used in other classes. Some did video projects using WeVideo. A few went further outside the box and used Buncee or MySimpleShow or ThingLink. While some groups sailed through using the tool they'd chosen, others needed multiple visits from me to help them troubleshoot. And this is all fine - it's good stuff, really - but I do wonder what else I can do here to make this part of the process run a bit more smoothly.

While this creation phase of the project work went just fine, my biggest takeaway is that I’d like to teach students some time and project management skills in our next project. While some students handle that unstructured time just fine, too many students just did not accomplish much at all during the class period and ended up needing to cram the project in at home.

What project work strategies do you use in your classroom? How do you help your students maximize their time?

Erin DickeyComment