Why projects ARE for distance learning

In this new (hopefully very temporary) reality where the majority of students have entered distance learning environments, lots of advice is being thrown out there.  Some people suggest giving students low level work that they can complete with little or no help.  Some believe that activities should be simple.   While there is a place for some of that, I respectfully disagree and encourage you to keep students challenge and engaged by skipping the worksheet.  This is EXACTLY the time for projects.  

How often in your traditional classroom do you think a project would just take too much time or too much space?  But now you have students stuck at home with more time than they ever had.  Students have time to think about a topic, investigate, analyze, and unleash their creativity!  Read on for tips to take projects offline with your students.

A well-designed project scaffolds in all of the parts for a student.  Students do the research, or use their existing knowledge, design and plan a way to present the information, and create a presentation which may or may not include an essay.  The project should be able to be completed without me regardless of whether we are in the classroom or my students are working at home.  I am just the support system.

Since we have about two months left in the school year and the higher ups are already warning that schools may not open before the summer, I am planning two large projects along with some notes and small activities my students can do at home (I'll share in another post how students work with notes/activities on their own).  The projects are student-centered and based on what we have studied.  

The first project will be on a topic we are currently studying (the Renaissance in World History and the 1960s in US history).  Students will be able to use existing slides, notes, textbook, etc. for information for the project.  The second project will be completely their choice based on any era we have studied this year.  For both projects students will choose one creative presentation of their topic plus an essay.  Projects include a comic book, set of movie posters, photo journal and more (click here for a full list of projects).  Students need to choose a different project type for the first and second project but otherwise it is completely student choice.

Making a project work in distance learning:

  1. Clear topic choices: Provide students a list of topics for the project.  It doesn't matter if two students choose the same topic.  It is more important that students are interested in what they are going to examine.
  2. Access to information: Be sure students have access to the information/background they will need to complete the project. 
    For the first project this isn't a problem.  The second project will require research.  For my students who do not have access to the internet at home, if libraries aren't open by the time we get to it, then I will print information and send it to them.  This is a little extra work for me, but I have more time right now and it is important to me that they are able to complete the project.
  3. Clear project directions:  Students need to know what is expected.  Outline each stage of the project with clear directions.  If you have a sample, send a photo to students.  
  4. Materials:  although many projects do not need much, remember that your students may or may not have access to plain paper and colored pencils.  If you can't provide materials (I sent my students home with a survival kit), then be accommodating.  There is no reason that pencil and notebook paper cannot still work in this situation.  
  5. Have a heart:  these projects should be engaging, fun, interesting and require multiple levels of intelligence.  The point is not to stress out students who are already living in a stressful situation.  The point is to keep the learning going without you.  When I evaluate these, I focus on the positive.  I give suggestions on ways to improve but there is no letter or point grade attached.  This is about staying connected in a disconnected situation.


Note: since we are not doing these projects in the classroom:

  • Rough drafts are harder: Students won't be able to get feedback or workshop time from myself or other students.  I have set up office hours for students to text/call and I can discuss. I am also available by email to both students and parents should they have questions.
  • Essay guide:  for my younger students, I am providing the student's guide to writing an essay which helps students organize their ideas and write each paragraph of their essay.  
  • Assignment is broken down: while many of my students can break down a project like this, it's a lot to ask students who are suddenly unscheduled environments to stay on schedule.  Each project is broken into phases (research, organization, design, rough draft, final draft).  I give dates for each phase to be due.  Students need simply scan or take a photo of their work.  This is not about a grade, it is simply a way for me to check-in on how they are doing.  



For more on the value of, how to, and more on projects check out these posts:



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