Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted saying ‘Life is a journey, not a destination’ similarly from an education standpoint we should look at projects in terms of the full experience rather than the final product.
In the world of 4-H we are often caught up with the idea that a project is merely an item that can be exhibited at the fair, but that exhibit is just the final result of the ‘project’. A project in its truest sense is the journey or the process that was experienced in the pursuit of the final product or exhibit. Project base learning allows youth to explore ideas, create something, and receive feedback. This experience enhances their learning but also nurtures their interest and engagement.
Eight Elements of a Good Project
To ensure that youth get the most out of their projects, we should consider the following elements adopted from Martinez and Stager.
- Purpose and Relevance.
Does the project have a real world context and allow for youth voice and choice? Can youth relate to the topic or find it intriguing enough to prompt them to invest time, effort, and creativity into the project?
Is there sufficient time allocated to the project to allow the learner youth to plan, execute, troubleshoot, expand, and edit their project? Ensuring sufficient time for a project, not only ensures a better end product but it allows youth more control of their learning as they can explore at their own pace.
Projects should provide opportunity for youth to call upon prior knowledge as well as combine multiple topics. Complexity of a project also lends itself to allowing youth to build skills related to critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and self-management. Projects with complexity can bring about unexpected insights and connections to bigger ideas creating a bigger impact on learners.
A project that provides a level of challenge and inspires a bit of passion, will engage youth and have a deeper impact on them. Consider youth engagement in books, video games, or sports; when truly engaged, youth have the drive to keep going until they have completed or mastered it. This is true with a project that has intensity.
Projects that allow youth to engage with others and combine multiple ideas provide a deeper learning. Youth can engage with others through teamwork, mentorships, or just exploring related ideas via books or the internet.
Youth need to be able to access any materials and resources needed to fully explore the project. If multiple youth are working in a single space, there needs to be enough materials for all to complete their project. Additionally, if youth have questions or need guidance in troubleshooting issues there should be resources readily available for them to explore.
Projects need to be something that can youth can reflect back on and share with others. This provides a great deal of motivation, relevance, and perspective. It is important that the entire project be shared and not just the end product. This is why interview judging is valuable and why it is important to thoroughly fill out any documents that need to accompany a project.
Unique projects are more engaging to learners as they provide a deeper sense of ownership of any discoveries that are made during the project’s completion.
Reference: Martinez, S. L.; and G. Stager. (2013) Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.