Here’s one more really good question that has come in regarding unit studies specifically relating to projects…
“In regards to projects and presentations, how do you gently help improve the note taking, thoroughness of information and actual presentations? I know some of this will come with practice, but I’d like to improve on these things without stifling my child’s enthusiasm.”
Yes, better projects and better presentations come with practice. But, like anything else we teach, if we let too many things slide this time around, how will our children know what to improve upon next time?
During and just after presentations, I give lots of praise. Not fake praise that simply puffs my children up, but real praise. “I love the book you chose.” “It seems like you put a lot of time into your research!” “I can tell you really thought through the use of materials for your diorama.”
It’s hard to give presentations – even in front of your own family! During a presentation, your child is making him/herself very vulnerable and immediate criticism will stifle future presentations for sure.
Usually the next day, during our normal unit time, I’ll jump into any constructive criticism that needs to be discussed about the project or presentation. Again, I’ll always start with something positive before talking about the negative. Here’s how a conversation might go…
Dad and I were very impressed with your speaking yesterday. You remembered to keep your head out of your notes and look your audience in the eye! We could hear every word you said, too, which was a big improvement over your last presentation. Let’s talk about two things that stood out to me as needing a little work next time around.
Think about your poster. You spent a lot of time researching about Teddy Roosevelt, but I could tell you didn’t spend as much time making sure your poster was neat and organized. Do you agree? What do you think went wrong? Did I not give you enough time or did you get tired of the project and rush to finish it? What are some specific things you can do next time around to improve the visual appeal of your project?
One other thing I noticed was a big gap in the information you presented about Teddy Roosevelt. You told us a lot about his life before becoming president and several fun facts about his presidency, but I felt like the important work during his time spent as president was lacking. Again, it almost seemed like you started your project with a lot of gusto, but puttered out towards the end. Why do you think the second half of the report wasn’t as thorough as the first?
Every single time I’ve taken the time to gently discuss the major problems of a project, my children have improved on those aspects in following projects!
Here’s the catch, though!! Even if you see 10 things that really need improvement, try to focus on only one or two at a time. They can only process so much, and hearing about too many things at once will seem more like tearing them down causing LESS effort next time. As you talk about one or two main issues, you may be surprised to find your children paying better attention to the other issues that you didn’t even mention anyway!
One other thought that comes to mind is the use of a rubric to give your child a basic guideline of your expectations. Basically, a rubric tells your child what you expect from the project in order to gain a specific grade or score. See sample rubrics here. You’ll have to click on a link to see the particular rubric. Scroll down a bit to the “Research Process Rubrics” – they go along well with presentations. Take some time to go through the other subjects as well, then look near the bottom to find “Creating Your Own Rubrics”.
I don’t always use rubrics. Quite honestly, they take time to create and time is of the essence around here! But, when I have taken the time to create one, my children have ALWAYS done better on their projects. They tend to reach farther if they know where the higher goal sits. Something to think about for you and me!
I’ve had lots of questions about the projects we complete as part of our homeschool life. I’ve even presented a workshop specifically concerning this topic, as well as including it as a topic in my most popular workshop “Creative Homeschooling”.
I’ve been wanting to write a blog post about incorporating projects into your homeschool for quite some time, but Jimmie finally gave me the kick in the pants I needed when commenting on my post about our Presidents of the United States study. So for Jimmie and everyone else who ever wondered, here are the basics about adding projects to homeschooling… )
Why add projects?
- They encourage independent learning.
- They require creative and critical thinking.
- They require writing and research.
- They allow for choices.
- They allow for meaningful, hands-on experiences.
- They allow for varied learning styles to be met.
- They encourage real learning about a subject that isn’t simply memorized for a test and then forgotten.
Our methods of learning are continually changing – mostly because I want my children to experience all forms of learning and not become “stuck” when they’re required to do something later in life in a different way than they’ve learned. For example, if I only gave paper and pencil tests for every subject throughout their entire homeschool career, they would probably struggle when asked to complete a project at some point that requires creative thinking, the ability to put together a nice visual product and speak about it. On the other hand, if I never gave paper and pencil tests, this wouldn’t prepare them adequately for possible future tasks either. I hope this makes sense. I’m continually changing the approach so they’ll be prepared to handle whatever task is thrown their way!
Even more so, though, I feel like projects have helped my children understand and retain information greatly – as compared to simply learning about a topic and regurgitating the info back to me on a test. Why? Because they become part of the learning through their projects! In order to complete the project, they have to “know their stuff” about the topic AND put it together in an organized, thoughtful, expressive way. Besides this, we expect our children to present their projects – to further embed the learning and to become comfortable with verbalizing themselves. Believe me, just because they can put together a super project, doesn’t mean they can automatically speak about it. This is a separate skill to be learned, but just as important.
What are projects?
Projects can really be anything!
- story/report/book report/article/newsletter
- art/craft/cooking/other handicraft
How do I add projects to our learning?
This is a doozy, so I think I’ll break it down into a couple of areas:
When? By the time my children are seven, they’re introduced to the world of projects. I always complete the first projects alongside them. Once I see they’re capable of completing a thorough project without my help, I’ll be available as a resource for questions or ideas. By the time they’re in 5th grade (hopefully earlier), they’re expected to complete projects on their own with very little direction from me.
If you’re starting projects when your children are older, I suggest still working along side them at first and giving very clear expectations for final outcomes until they are able to complete a thorough project on their own.
When I say give very clear expectations, this is a little misleading. I typically give my children expectations that are open-ended. In other words, “I expect your diorama to show at least five important aspects of Native American life. I also expect that all surfaces with be covered and several 3-D models will be present.” This gives them a direction without me telling them exactly what to include and how to include it. Clear as mud?
Where? Most of the time, projects are interjected into our unit studies – which happen to be science and history related. A typical unit plan might be to learn about a topic together over the course of a week or more (depending on the subject.) At the end of the unit, I decide how many projects that unit warrants. For instance, if the unit was really long, I’ll expect five or more projects to be completed. If the unit was really short, one might be enough. They have a length of time to complete the projects, we set a date for presentations and the presentations become the finale of the unit.
I will usually come up with a list of several project choices from which my children can choose. I try to vary the learning styles required in the project list so my son who doesn’t prefer too much writing can find projects to suit his needs. Here’s a sample list of project choices I might offer if I expect them to complete THREE projects:
- file folder report
- skit with siblings
- scrapbook page
- newspaper article
In this list, all will require some reading, research and writing, but can you see how they allow for a variety of learning styles – writing, speaking, organizing, crafting, acting, etc?
We have also completed language arts projects such as bound poetry books and math projects such as grocery story price comparison charts. Remember that most any project is going to involve reading, research and writing – so language arts is always included!
As for grading, well, we don’t give many grades around here. We do talk about what was really good about the projects and what could be improved next time. Through my gentle direction, my children have quickly learned how to critique their work. (If not handled with care and lots of encouragement, this could turn into self-bashing. Don’t let them do that to themselves!)
If I’ve noticed that one of my children really needs to improve a certain part of their projects, I will simply include that more specifically in my instructions to them next time around. For example, one of my children was not very thorough in his/her research and writing during our past unit. When the next project time rolls around, I’ll be sure he/she chooses a project with plenty of writing and make it very clear how much of each I expect. You see, project time allows for choices, but mom’s still the boss! )
I sure hope this has been helpful and not muddied the water! Please ask whatever questions you may have and I’ll write a second post if I need to clarify anything.
You might find the following posts helpful in seeing some of the projects we’ve completed in the past.
Just in case you ever wondered, one of the things Melissa and I have included in the NaturExplorers units is project-based learning. Each unit gives several ideas for hands-on, writing/research and other projects you can assign!
We had a great time studying United States geography. Below are the resources we used – all fantastic!
Free Online Resources
Games to Learn States, Capitals and Landforms
Various US Geography Games
Where Is That? Game
Game that Promotes Speed in Recognizing States
We took some time to learn about famous national landmarks during the unit, too. For a final project, I gave the kids a list of several landmarks from which they had to choose eight to research. They created informational postcards to highlight what they learned. You can see the front of each postcard shows a picture and the name of the landmark. On the back, they had to write a paragraph of interesting information for each. It was a simple project, but a nice way to ease into the new year.
Our last history unit of the year has been completed, and what a wonderfully rich unit it was! I think I mentioned in a previous post that this study was mostly literature-based. We chose really good books and learned about the life of slaves and struggles of the Civil War through the stories. Between books, field trips and hands-on projects, I don’t think there’s a much better way to learn history!
Before I go on, I’ve been asked several times how we fit in all the literature we read for our units. It’s really very easy! Many of the chapter books are checked out as books on tape and we listen to them in the car. We usually read one or two other chapter books together over the course of the unit, while some of them are reserved for individual reading time. Those reserved for individual reading time will have only been browsed ahead of time by me. We also still read a lot of picture books. I’m a sucker for picture books and I don’t think you’re ever too old to stop reading them! In all, we read together about 30-45 minutes a day. The kids read on their own 30-45 minutes each day. And we listen to books on tape almost anytime we’re in the car.
This week was project week, which means the children were assigned several projects and had all week to complete them. Friday night, all the projects were presented to the rest of the family. This is always a precious time for me! I get to see how much they’ve soaked in during the study and how creative they can be in completing projects. For those of you wanting to do “school” in ways that better meet the individual needs/gifts/learning styles of your children, projects are a great tool!
Last Friday, I handed each of the kiddos a project list that looked something like this:
- Choose one famous slave. Learn all you can about that slave and be prepared to tell us about the slave in first person. Don’t forget to create an authentic costume.
- Choose one Civil War battle. Create a model of the battle front and tell everything you can about the battle as you reenact it with the model.
- Choose one famous Civil War figure. Prepare a file folder biography about that person. Be sure to include pictures or illustrations when applicable.
- Either read or recite the Gettysburg Address.
On Monday morning, we headed to the library so the kids could find books to help them learn more about their chosen topics. The rest of the week was spent on math and completing projects.
Here’s a peek into project night!
Mahayla portrayed Harriet Tubman and Caleb became Henry “Box” Brown.
Mahayla set up this model of the Battle of Perryville – a battle that took place not to far from us in Kentucky.
Caleb chose the Battle of Bull Run. They both gave very detailed information and maps of their battles. They even found photographs of the battle sites to share.
Caleb’s Civil War figure was Robert E. Lee. He was very impressed with himself for finding pictures of all of Lee’s family, his home, his college and more. We looked at pictures for quite some time!
Mahayla’s Civil War figure was Ulysses S. Grant. You can see the file folder template we used below. It came from Easy File Folder Reports. We love that book!
Caleb practiced and practiced reading the Gettysburg Address throughout the week. He didn’t miss a word on project night!
Mahayla created little copies of the Gettysburg Address for each of us so we could follow along with her. Eli enjoyed his upside-down!
And that brings us to the end of another history unit. My wheels are already turning for next year’s units!
Next week the main assignment will be writing a children’s book. And the following week will be presenting a chemistry show. I’ll be sure to share both projects here.
So sorry if my blogging slows down for a little while. Melissa and I are working steadily on our nature study units and hope to have them completed by June. We are so excited about them and hope you will be, too!
Well, time flies! We finished off our Westward Expansion unit with a “project week”. On Monday, I gave the kids a test and a project list, both of which were to be completed by Friday. I don’t always give tests, but I like to surprise them once in a while with new methods of assessment. As for projects, Caleb had to choose three to complete and present, while Mahayla had to choose four. Besides math and a little grammar and reading, projects were the only things on the schooling agenda.
Here’s what the kids came up with. As usual, I’m not only pleased, but very surprised at their ingenuity and eagerness to do a good job. Give ‘em and inch and they’ll take a mile – that’s a good thing in this case!
Mahayla had to choose four projects. She couldn’t decide, so chose to complete five instead. (Next time I complain, remind me of this!)
A diorama and file folder report on Lewis and Clark
A quilt square. She researched pioneer quilt squares on the internet and came up with this one named “Oh Suzanna”. She completed the entire quilt square from start to finish without any help from me. Not bad for a first timer, huh? My granny would be so proud!
A five page report on Sam Houston, who happens to be in our family line. She had to interview my mom who has done extensive geneology research, and had to find information on her own.
A cowboy meal of chili and homemade crackers.
1 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cube butter
1/4 c milk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix flour, baking powder and salt. Use fork to mash butter in until it looks like crumbs. Add milk and stir until dough forms a ball. Sprinkle flour on counter and roll dough into a flat rectangle with a rolling pin. Use a knife to cut the dough into small squares. Place onto a greased cookie sheet and poke holes into the crackers with a fork. Bake for 9 minutes. Makes about 24 crackers.
And she was Flying Sparrow in their original play entitled “Cowboy and Indian”. It was complete with five scenes, a playbill and a script!
Caleb had to choose three projects. In his usual fashion, he chose projects that required lots of hands-on and little writing. That’s okay, though, because he was still required to give a presentation about the projects. Even with very little writing, the information he gleaned and presented was very good.
A model of the Lewis and Clark keelboat.
A model of the corner watchtower from a fort that might have been set up along one of the trails west. He said he would have built the whole fort, but ran out of Lincoln Logs!
And he was Jeremiah (with a great country accent) in their play “Cowboy and Indian”. As you can see, the play ended rather sadly. Jeremiah and Flying Sparrow couldn’t find a better way to solve their conflict except through the use of guns. Maybe we watch too many Gunsmoke episodes on Sunday afternoons?