How do you ensure a strong opening of your project? A good project launch can really get the students going, and thinking and creating early on. Here are some tips to help make your project go well.
Tip 1: Start with something interesting.
A rather common entry doc is a letter format, and that is fine, but just handing a letter to students and asking them to read isn’t the most engaging. Consider starting off with something before you hand out the written expectations for the project. Here are some examples:
- For the project Poet’s Garden, (basic idea: create a garden at the school that creates an appreciation for both poetry and evolution) before I ever tell teachers the idea of the project, I say, “Let’s walk around this building and talk about how we might be able to use ALL the spaces as learning/teaching spaces” We take a tour and brainstorm. THEN we look at the entry doc, which is a sort of letter.
- I’ve seen teachers start debates in class with a simple question that tied into the overall project. They would get lively conversation going in the classroom, then introduce the project and its parameters
- Videos are a favorite: Watch the video, and then converse. I used this to start a project on Global Warming, and asked the students what they thought of her thesis for a lively conversation. It was great because I didn’t have to make anything. Another teacher will show this video that she and a friend created for a physics project, and she may just show the video, then ask the students: what is this project about?
- Want to go big? Go on a related field trip, and/or have an outside expert come and give your students the task.
Tip 2: After the first or second project, decentralize the Need To Know process.
When teaching students the NTK process, the first time you do it, it’s not a bad idea to stand in front of your class, listening to what they say, and you writing or typing what they know or what they need to know. It is slow, but it allows you to describe the process, and it gets everyone on the same page. If you continue to do the Know/NTK process this way in every other project, students quickly get bored of waiting to speak their turn, and for you to type. In later projects, consider having them do their NTKs on a google doc or sheet of paper in their groups, where they can talk more, and listen to you less. Instructions then become rather simple: “You now have 3 minutes to catalog everything you know about the task. Go!” If multiple groups do NTKs on the same document, then they can borrow NTKS from other groups. It’s not cheating: it’s crowd-sourcing! One caveat: it takes several projects for students to create their own problem statements, so you might need to heavily facilitate that for some time. Here is a template for NTKs:
Tip 3: Plan the First Week with some wiggle.
At many levels, project launch and my first week of a project can be rather formulaic. My project Launch goes like this:
Entry Event (see tip 1) → Read entry doc or project parameters → document knows → previous knowledge (2nd column in NTK template) → NTKs → Problem Statement → Next Steps → Work Time.
The work time allows student to engage in the next steps that they just identified. If your project design is interesting to the students, then you will see lively conversation here, and creative work. Including the work time, the above often takes 2 to 3 class periods, depending upon how long the entry event goes, and how long you have them work. This work time is also part of the “wiggle” – because it might determine what you do next.
After that, you might see a first week that looks like this:
Report out learning from work time → revisit K/NTK → identify skill from NTKs that must be taught, and teach it (workshop, lecture, lab, whatever) → apply new learning to project in groups → prompt for making contracts → revisit K/NTK/NSs → continue teaching to NTKs.
You might see how this process can continue, using need to knows and next steps as means for providing instruction, and helping students manage their own research.
Good Luck! May your projects fly.