16 February 2013

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?