Creating an engaging project that promotes critical thinking while also allowing students to showcase their learning regarding various objectives covered throughout a unit is quite the challenging task. It can feel like planning a wedding in two weeks or finding out two days before Thanksgiving that you’re hosting the holiday for 25 people. Ahhh! It’s overwhelming and a bit scary, but after you take a few deep breaths, realize that you can do anything, solutions will come.
As teachers, we work tirelessly to engage and excite our students. We want them to love coming to our class. We want them to love learning because it’s fun. While not every unit we cover can make use of a project or activity that excites our students, we are always looking for some feature to our units that will help bring the learning to life. We want our students to want to learn and accomplish tasks because they are having fun. Competitions of all types can do this, but sometimes, at the cost of compassion and integrity. So then, how can we create the perfect project for our students?
- Pour over the content and objectives you are looking to cover in a unit. What are the big ideas and essential questions? How can you turn those essential questions into an exploration or project for the students? Extracting the big ideas from an upcoming unit will help inspire you to create that one perfect project.
- Know your students. What excites them? Do they like hands-on projects? Do they like group projects? Do they like to talk and discuss? Knowing what your students enjoy, will help you to design and construct a meaningful project for them.
- Begin laying out your unit. Map it out using whatever information systems management software your school uses. My school makes use of PowerSchool. Put everything together and map out your daily lessons. As you start to see it all come together, a project idea may smack you right in the frontal lobe.
- Create the best project or final assessment that you are able to at the time. You may not like your first few ideas, and that’s okay. As you process the information and your ideas, a better, more fun idea is bound to come into your mind. In order to get something new, you must start with something old first.
- If you’ve created your entire unit and still have no ideas for the perfect project, don’t stress or worry. Talk to colleagues. What projects or activities do they use in their classroom that engage their students? How can you tweak those ideas to fit your unit? Go online and see what other teachers are doing. Imitation is the best form of flattery, someone very wise once said.
- If you’ve come to the end of your unit and your students completed the original project or assessment you created, don’t fret and feel like a failure. Use the experience as a learning opportunity. Ask the students what they thought. Have them complete a reflection on the unit and final project. Ask them for ideas. Our students are often like untapped sugar maple trees, full of syrupy goodness. They may have ideas and suggestions for us. Some of my best ideas have come from feedback I received from my students.
- Revise your unit for next year, based on all of the feedback and ideas you’ve gathered during the implementation phase. By this point, you should have created a very perfect, engaging project for next year, and already been thinking about future projects you can do with this year’s class. Reflective teaching allows for growth and development to happen at a swift pace.
As I was putting together a recent unit on the foundations of government, I felt the pressure of creating the perfect project. I wanted to engage my students in the learning process. Nothing I brainstormed seemed appropriate or fun. So, I designed my unit with what I felt was the best possible final assessment idea, and then just let it be. After a few days of processing all of the thoughts and ideas swirling about my head, the perfect idea finally came to me. So, I revised my unit before I began utilizing it in the classroom. It felt good to put together something that I was excited about it. Positive energy is contagious, much like common colds are in the classroom. If we are excited about something as teachers, we will present it to our students in a way that will hopefully energize them as well.
Yesterday, I introduced the final project to the students, with much fanfare. They were excited to get started. Not only did they love the idea that it was a partner project, but they seemed super jazzed about the fact that they had total creative license over almost every aspect of the project. They had very few questions after I explained the project and went over the digital version of the project that I had put together on PowerSchool. Was that a bad thing? No, because I’m sure questions will come up as they work, and I will field them then. They couldn’t wait to get started. The creative and positive energy flowing around the classroom was palpable. The boys had smiles on their faces as they designed flags for their utopian state. The students had deep and meaningful conversations about where in the world their state should be located based on natural disasters, closeness to the equator, and other factors. They were thinking critically and creatively about the task at hand. I could not have been more proud or excited than I was yesterday. When I informed the students that it was time to pick up and prepare for their next class, you could feel, the energy level change. They were disappointed that they could no longer work on this project. Then, after class had ended, a few students were in the hallway discussing their plan for working on the project this weekend, outside of the classroom. They are so excited about completing this learning task and doing well on it that they are creating a plan to work during their only chunk of free time. Wow! I think that says it all right there. I created the perfect project for my students and the unit. It took time, energy, and much thinking and searching, but I was able to do it. Sometimes it comes down to perseverance and growth mindset. As we teach our students the value of utilizing a growth mindset, it’s important that we remember to employ one ourselves as we are working and teaching. Anyone can create the perfect project for their students and the unit being covered.
Below is the project description for the perfect project I introduced to my students in class yesterday:
Creating the Perfect State Project
Once you have learned all about the purpose of government, the roles of government, the features of a state, and the types of government, you will have a chance to apply that knowledge and create your own, perfect state and government. What will your state’s territory look like on a map? What will be the features of your population? What form of government will your country utilize? Be creative and have fun as you create a utopian place for all to live in harmony.
- Choose a partner that you feel you will be able to work with effectively, and report your selection to Mr. Holt.
- Create a unique, fictional island state, complete with government and population.
- Complete the Sovereign State worksheet with your partner.
- Watch Google Sites Video Tutorial to Learn how to use the Google Sites application.
- Create a Google Sites website to promote your country and inform others about its features.
- Share your website with at least two faculty members in order to receive meaningful and useful feedback that you can use to revise and improve your website.
- Finalize website and share it with the world.
Your finished and neatly organized Google Sites website must answer and address the following questions about your unique and fictional but effective state:
- Where in the world is your state located and what are its borders?
- What form of government will your fictional state utilize and why?
- What are the features of your population, including level of wealth, level of education, cultural traditions, and where people live, and why did you decide upon them?
- How are the leaders of government and assembly selected and voted upon, and why?
- How do elections happen in your state, and why?
- How is your state protected, and why?
- How are laws made in your state, and why?
- What are the roles citizens and how are citizens protected in your state, and why?
- What is the process by which someone who is not born in your state can become a citizen of your state, and why?
- Why should and would outsiders want to live in or visit your state?
- Students will be able to identify and describe the four features of a state.
- Students will be able to explain how the four roles of government impact a place and its people.
- Students will be able to synthesize and apply knowledge learned regarding the roles of government and the four features of a state to create a fictional but effective country.
- Students will be able to utilize the program Google Sites appropriately to create a working web site.
Your finished website must be posted and made live for others to view by the end of class on Friday, November 17.