Teachers of all age groups are turning away from “the way we’ve always taught” and are moving toward learning through projects. Some teachers are hesitant about teaching and learning through projects because they fear it will be too difficult to ensure that standards are met. However, teachers utilizing the project approach are able to address standards, as long as the right topic is chosen. So the question becomes, what is the right topic?
The topic chosen can come from the interests of the students or can be selected by the teacher, but every interest is not a good topic to explore through a project. Learning through projects is a hands-on approach that involves students engaging in independent, small, and whole group concrete investigations that lead them to answer their own questions about a topic. Keeping that in mind, some things would never make a good project topic, and others depend on the age group.
Students are usually interested in dinosaurs, but unless you have access to a museum with dinosaur fossils that your students would be free to examine and investigate, this topic would not allow for the hands-on requirement of a project. It is also likely, that even if you did, dinosaur bones would not even answer the questions that young children have about the beings.
I had a class that was interested in temperature due to several days of cancelled outdoor play during the winter. After learning what their questions and misconceptions about temperature were, we began a study. I was able to bring in different types of thermometers, provide hands-on experiences that answered their questions like, “Does the red line go up or down when it gets cold?”, bring in an expert from a local University and have a science lab come in and do experiments with my class. Our temperature study went on for over a month because I was not limited to having to read books to my class or provide experiences that were only related to the topic. Each experience actually answered their questions; some even generated new ones.
When choosing a topic to study, it’s important to think about what real items your students can investigate and what resources that provide actual experiences for your students are available. If books and internet searches are all that come to mind, you may want to select a different topic.