What Are the Elements of An Effective Project?

A project is not just an assignment with added time, Gary Stager quipped at his #ISTE11 session.

Likewise, technology doesn’t make the difference between a project that’s crap or one that’s true craft; an effective teacher does. “Without good music teachers, we’d just have kids recording their burps in garage band,” he added.

Good teachers guide projects that

  • Make the world a little bit better by making your corner of it better.
  • Pose specific and provocative questions or problems that are solvable.
  • Involve adults and students learning together in meaningful ways.
  • Use technology to add depth and breadth.
  • Are complex and involve a revision and debugging process that creates a more sophisticated product.
  • Create something with purpose that is shareable with others.
  • Change from student-to-student and year-to-year (they are not repeated).
  • Generate student agency, or are “less us, more them.”

    (This partial list is more fully fleshed out on Stager’s site [PDF].)

Beyond effective project-based learning, Stager’s session touched on other “best ideas in education,” like Reggio Emilia schools, 1:1 computing, and tapping into the do-it-yourself revolution and making good things. The session was a preview of Stager’s forthcoming book fom Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

What’s crucial to project-based learning in your classroom?

Laura Varlas is an ASCD project manager in publishing, and a graduate student in the secondary education: English/language arts program at George Washington University.