This week, we asked the panel: “How do you decide how much class time can be spent on a project? How do you justify that decision?”
Tara is a science teacher from upstate NY. She has taught General Science, Biology, Environmental Science, and Earth Science.
I look at the objectives, and the pacing chart to see what I’m covering in the project and where it fits into the overall curriculum. Ideally, the project is not only an assessment at the end of the unit, but also a learning experience within the unit. I try to design my project to fit into approximately the time frame for those objectives and topics in the curriculum. If it takes a little longer, then I look at other places where I can adjust my schedule, within reason. I want it to be a thoughtful decision, not just running out of time.
I also try to break down the project into chunks and estimate how long each piece will take. My students are more successful if they can work in pieces in a given time. Finally, I judge by their attention and focus on the project as well. If they are engaged and focused, I may let it go on a little longer than if they are not using their time productively, or if their attention is fading.
Ellen Weber (PhD), Director – MITA International Brain Based Center
Your lesson target and your assessment criteria determine time spent on projects. Shift from lectures to targeted tasks as I did at secondary and university for instance, and faculty co-lead projects with students for most of their class time.
A clearly stated lesson target acts like a sticky note pinned up-front. Targets link lesson content to student experiences so they also rev up enthusiasm. Assessment criteria simply requires evidence of content achieved. How so? I distribute lectures as “cheat sheets”, rather than waste time talking. Together, we launch a step-by-step adventure to a targeted project. For instance, I distribute lecture notes on how to publish in return for an op-ed project that requires a publication submission.
Theory tells us students do better when they target and actively go after knowledge. Yet time runs out daily if we fail to pin clear targets and assessment criteria onto meaningful projects.
Dawn is a secondary Algebra teacher in Maryland with a B.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education and a Masters in Information Science and Learning Technologies.
If only there was more time, is often my whine, but there isn’t and around June aren’t we glad! While I am never sure about how much time to dedicate, I do try to get more out of the project time I have by having instructional breaks in between multiple day projects. Well in advance of days dedicated to a project, I present a preview and give students a starter task to be done at home such as gather data or make a rough draft of your design. I also make this assignment due a day or two before actual project days. Then on actual project days students are equipped to use their time in class wisely (or so I hope). After two consecutive project days, the project is put on hold for a day or two and we continue with normal instruction. I encourage students who have fallen behind the progress expectation to use this gap to catch up whether at home or during the intervention period we have built in our school schedule. We then will have a wrap up day. I also set the project deadline to be a few days after the wrap up day giving lagging students the opportunity to finish on their own time and no excuse for unfinished projects.
Jackie Cutcliffe (Room 213) teaches high school English in Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow her at Real Learning in Room 213
I used to use projects as a reward, a fun thing at the end of a unit. But now, my projects often “are” the unit, so they are an integral part of the curriculum, and not add-ons. The students and I will work together to set reasonable deadlines, and we also set “check-in” dates, when students need to submit updates to me, so I can assess their progress. If I see that they are engaged and working, not procrastinating, I will allow them more time. I don’t ever feel like I have to justify time spent, because the projects are designed to allow the students to develop the sills that are required in the curriculum. I think we spend too much time trying to cover too many topics, just to say we did, rather than really devoting the time to honing those all important skills that the students need.