In school, I always questioned the purpose of group projects. Where is the learning? What is the teacher’s role? Project time felt like free time for me as a student. I get to just sit and chat with my friends and pretend to work, I used to think. This mindset lasted for a brief moment, until I realized that the teachers were actually observing and assessing us during these projects. In my Humanities class, the teacher would frequently check in on my group to assess our work progress and coexistence. He wanted to make sure that everyone was pulling their weight and staying on task. He also provided us with feedback on our work so that we could revise it in order to exceed the graded objectives. I also noticed that my Biology teacher would take the time during group projects to highlight the great things that we, the students, were doing during the work periods. It felt good to know that my hard work was getting noticed. I also liked being held accountable by my teachers. It didn’t take long for me to see the value in group projects. They weren’t time wasters, but instead were opportunities for growth and development in the classroom.
As the neuroscience of teaching tells us, students learn by doing. So, as an experienced educator, I make sure to engage my students in the learning process at every turn. Sometimes this happens through class discussions, in-class activities, or group projects. As I learned when I was a student, group projects can be great tools for learning when implemented effectively. I try to make use of group projects at least once during every unit in my classes. I find that great projects allow students to be actively engaged in the learning process by discussing a problem, brainstorming solutions, designing and creating something, and then sharing their results with others. Critical thinking, creativity, coexistence, self-awareness, ownership, and growth mindset are all crucial skills that are practiced and applied during the completion of group projects.
Today in my study skills class, the students worked on a group project that we began last week. The students, working in groups of 5-6, have to design and make an interesting and aesthetically pleasing window display that teaches viewers about something related to the sixth grade curriculum. This project allows the students to take ownership over part of the classroom while also highlighting their own work. The students completed their blueprint, created a plan for how they would spend each work period until the due date, and assigned roles to each group member earlier this week. Today, the students worked on bringing their designs to life. They were drawing periodic tables, discussing how to make their displays fun and nice to look at, working together to create posters, asking each other for help and suggestions for improvement, working through problems faced, and overcoming social challenges. It was amazing to watch them work today in the classroom. Even when they had disagreements or issues with one another, they solved them on their own without my involvement. I was so impressed.
What stuck out for me most today, was noting the progress and growth the students have made since our first group project of the year, which looked more like a giant automobile pileup than a productive use of time. The students were solving their own problems, staying focused on the task at hand, interacting with each other compassionately and with care, and challenging themselves to complete work that exceeded the graded objectives. They weren’t simply trying to just complete the task today, they were holding the bar high for themselves. Both groups redid work on a few occasions as they were not proud of it. While it looked fine to me at first glance, they simply did not think it displayed their best effort and was not as accurate as it could be. Bravo to them for holding themselves accountable. The ownership and self-awareness my class has this year is phenomenal. I haven’t worked with a group of this caliber in many years.
I also loved listening to them work…
“Why are we changing from the blueprint?” one student asked his group.
“The plan was just a start. We then realized that we could make it better and are doing that now. Plans can be changed,” a student responded.
“Why don’t you guys work on the second window while we finish the first one,” a student said to members of his group.
“Hey, how does this look? Is it big enough? Should I add anything to it?” a student asked his group.
“Hey guys, I have this cool idea for a picture. Let me tell you about it and you can tell me what you think,” a student said to his group.
“Do you need help with that?” a student asked a member of his group.
WOW is really the only response to today’s work period. The boys worked so well. I could not have been more impressed. I closed class today by highlighting the awesomeness that I observed as they worked. I mentioned all of the great habits of learning I saw being applied, superb progress I noted, and fine teamwork at play. Group projects like this one allow my students to practice vital learning and life skills, grow as thinkers, students, problem solvers, and people, and be supported and challenged by their teachers and peers. Group projects are fantastic vehicles for helping students engage in the curriculum and learn to collaborate as a team. Life is about knowing how to work with and interact with others. Group projects provide students with opportunities to practice these skills while having fun and learning lots.