The fun projects

I am in meeting and the discussion turned to how to incorporate STEM activities into our classes.  One teacher commented that she would live to do more but our new schedule doesn’t allow for it.  She said, “I don’t even have time for all my fun projects.” 
I agree that the move this year to block scheduling has made it very difficult to get through the district curriculum.  This block schedule contains nearly 90 minutes LESS per week of time in science classes.  Over the course of the year we have lost weeks of time which has forced all of us to cut activities in order to cover more material.
But it was the fun projects comment that got me thinking.  What is the purpose of projects in my class?  Are they simply there to add a level of fun to the learning? If that’s the case, why is the rest of my class so boring?  Why are the projects the only way to have fun in an academic class?  Or, maybe even worse, are the projects the only part of my class that the students find any meaning in?
When I started teaching, I definitely used projects as the fun part of my class mostly because I didn’t know how to make the rest of the course entertaining without literally putting on a show.  But as my teaching practice has changed, projects are used to get the students to use critical thinking and creativity to find novel solutions to problems.  
As I working through this, I am having a hard time determining if the problem is that projects represent the only fun part of our course or that the rest of the course has been weighed down with too much mundane.  I know it seems like the same thing, but if the rest of the coursework had greater meaning and engaged students, projects could be used simply as fun learning.  
How do you use projects to enhance the learning in your classroom?
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2 thoughts on “The fun projects

  1. Laura

    In the past, a project or two was 1) fun for the kids (maybe) and 2) a slight slowdown of class for the teacher or 3) a way to take a grade and without a test. If the project was completed mostly at home, I often questioned whose work I was really grading.

    My school is also on block schedule, and as I have moved further into the flipped class model, “projects” have become “products” and there has been a slight mind-shift among my students. Products are done in class, rather than at home. Students use notes taken from our videos, as well as additional research done both at home and school, to complete their product. Products are not always a single item, either. I have tried it incorporate a menu of activities/products on at least two units to cover more ground. Groups are varied also, individual, pairs, and 3-4's.

    With the block schedule and this shift, I have found that my scope & sequence is not as wide as other schools might be, but it is much deeper. I am happier, but more importantly IMHO, the students have a very confident feel about their learning as they show what they learned in more ways than just a test.

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  2. MSeigel

    Thank you for your comment and I absolutely agree with you. When I talk with my former students over Facebook, the projects are the things they remember most. But, more importantly, they talk about what the learning they took away from the project. Sometimes it is about Chemistry, but more often it was about mistakes they made and how they learned from them. I believe that is truly what projects teach the students: to learn from their mistakes.

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