Inquiry and project-based learning are effective strategies I use frequently with my 2nd graders, but in the midst of the activity it can feel a little messy and out of control. My classroom has been filled with election projects and activities for the last two weeks, and I have seen my students' knowledge increase as they worked through their projects. In this post, I will share some tips and tricks I have learned that help me survive and enjoy a project-based learning experience.
Add one or two projects to a unit when first trying project-based learning. It’s very easy to go overboard when you have a good idea, but if the experience feels out of control, it might discourage you from trying again.
Set and Review Expectations Frequently
I can tell five minutes into the work session if I have set the expectations properly. When things begin to go wrong, re-gather students and work out the kinks. Everyone will be happier for it.
Store Unfinished Projects Together
Are you worried about stacks of paper, books, and posters during an ongoing project? My students store their work in large plastic tubs. When it’s time to work, the tubs come out and the work starts quickly.
Use Technology as a Management Tool
We use the whiteboard for collaboration, data collection, and brainstorming for our projects. I use the same board for teaching so their information can’t stay on the board undisturbed. To effectively share the space, I pull out my smartphone and snap a picture of the board or use my favorite scan app (Genius Scan) to create a PDF file of the information for later use. I can email the file to myself and either print it for their tub or project it on the interactive whiteboard during a work session. Your 21st century students will soon be asking you to preserve their work by this method.
Activate Prior Knowledge
Spend time both accessing your students' prior knowledge and, as a class, developing that knowledge about the chosen topic.
In the primary classroom, this cannot be fully accomplished by most students on their own. They need help locating and pulling information from sources, and what could be more authentic? It takes some scaffolding on the teacher's part to equip young students with the tools they need to gather information for themselves, but the time it takes will pay off as the project unfolds.
Don’t Expect Perfection
With all of the perfect, precreated activities flooding the Internet and most likely the classrooms around your school, hands-on learning may seem too messy. Although this is a valid concern, it’s probably one of the biggest hindrances to implementing project-based learning. There is a quote that has been circulating around social media that seems applicable for teachers attempting to give their students a little more control over their learning:
“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
Don’t let books and websites that show pictures and videos of beautiful classrooms and perfectly behaved students working together and producing fabulous end projects intimidate you!
You don't see their behind-the-scenes reel. Every teacher working with project-based learning has times when things feel a little loose and hectic. The successful ones just know that the benefits far outweigh the rough times. If chaos happens, don’t panic! Instead, put the focus on what is going right, and refocus the class when needed.