Five Reasons I Choose To Do Projects in the Classroom

I love having students do projects in my classroom...and so should you.

Before we begin, let’s throw all the cards on the table: Projects (big and small) are hard. They’re long and time consuming. They can be messy and exhausting for teachers because each student might be working on something different. Projects don’t let you have your ducks in a row, because it feels like you’re chasing squirrels.

Okay, Phew. We got that out of the way. Breathe.

All of those are valid reasons for dreading projects. They ARE time consuming. They ARE all encompassing. They ARE messy. But that’s okay. So let me tell you why they're so beneficial to my students and why I'm going to keep doing them.

The students are doing the work.
When you (or me) take time for projects at school we know the students are doing the work…not the parents or family. We’re not seeing if mom or dad can design their very own tiny house to live in. We want to see what the students can do. The only way that happens is when we give them time to do it in the classroom. I want to see my students’ abilities. I want to see where they struggle. I want them to do the work.

Projects are cross-curricular.When students are accessing and applying skills from multiple content areas to create a project, it’s a win. I’m not just talking about math and reading. I love how many other aspects of learning are included such as art, design, research, and problem solving. I believe projects allow students to weave it all together to see how everything is connected, just like in the real world.

Photo by @shammanaj on Instagram. Her class designed miniature tiny houses inside and then took their ideas to the blacktop to make the actual sized building. "You have to be creative to fit all the furniture in 400 square feet!"

I can see how my students think.This is my absolute favorite part! Watching and learning how my students work and function is fascinating and allows me to understand how they think. If I understand how they’re thinking I will have a much better way to reach them in my teaching.

I can’t tell you the number of times this has helped me as a special education teacher. It allows me to see strengths that can be hidden in the confines of rote work.

Photo by @the615teacher on Instagram.  Students build their Geometrocity using a variety of math and design skills. Each part can be moved and turned but still fit  together. This project (PBL) focuses on geometry but uses so many other cross curricular skills.
The importance of social skills.I’m really trying not to use the word collaboration…so I won’t. Instead, I’ll focus on the larger umbrella issue of social skills. Completing projects in the classroom can be a lightning rod for seeing positive and negative social skills. I use the time to monitor students’ skills and identifying areas for individuals and classroom to work on. Kids have to be able to work together, solve problems, have discussions, and interact appropriately -But they also need time to practice these skills which is why I like projects in the classroom.

A completed and gigantic city filled with highways, city life, and even some skyscrapers.
Photo by @missmiddleschoolmath from Instagram.
The power of creativity, imagination, and coloring outside the lines.
Give them the instructions and expectations then let them go. My number one fear with students is that they’re creativity and imagination is stifled because of their fear of making mistakes. We could laugh about it if it wasn’t true.

I don’t really care how messy or time consuming projects might be. I need my kids to push themselves, take chances, make mistakes, and be willing to color outside the lines. If they’re not given those chances in school, when will they? My favorite outcomes with projects is that the students will constantly deliver incredible work that surprises and impresses. Constantly.

If you're looking to start some larger scale projects in your classroom or were interested in a couple of photos (Tiny House, Geometrocity) you saw above, check out my collection of project based learning resource. 

These PBLs take you and your students through the projects with step by step instructions, but they're completely open ended for students to push themselves creatively.  You can find them here or click on the image. Other options included Run A Taco Truck, Build My Block, and even Produce a TV Show.

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