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Elements of projects that motivate - Part 3 of 3

Here is another piece from my revision of The Indispensable Librarian. Your comments are welcome.

Elements of projects that motivate

Part One

Part Two

Why don’t all teachers design projects with some or all of these elements. Well, a 4th “A” sneaks in.

(Teacher and Librarian) Attitude is Everything

  1. Teachers and librarians who enjoy authentic, project-based learning are comfortable with a loss of control over time, the final product, and “correct” answers. If some parts of the curriculum don’t get “covered,” if conflicting evidence causes confusion, or a controversial solution to a problem is suggested, these educators roll with the punches. They have the intellectual confidence to handle ambiguity.
  2. These teachers and librarians enjoy active students rather than passive students. They have developed new rules of behavior that stress student responsibility, and have trained their principals to differentiate between active learning and students out of control.
  3. The professional’s belief that given enough time, resources, and motivation, all students are capable of high performance is critical. It’s not just the talented and gifted student who can make choices, solve problems creatively, and complete complex tasks. These teachers and librarians know that all students rise to the level of performance expected of them, and that great ideas can come from anyone in the class.
  4. Like librarians, teachers who do exciting projects recognize that their expertise is in the learning and research process rather than in any particular subject area. No longer is the primary role of the educator that of information dispenser, but of guide for information users and creators. The happiest teachers and librarians are co-learners in the classroom, especially when learning new technology tools. And students get the satisfaction that comes from teaching as well.
  5. Teacher and librarian enthusiasm becomes more important than ever. The best projects are always designed by teachers who are enthusiastic about what they are doing and how they are doing it. The downside to this is that it is very difficult to create recipes for specific projects that can be easily adopted by other teachers. We can all use principles and guidelines like the ones in this chapter, but to say a project, no matter how well designed, is going to work for every teacher, every librarian, or every group of students is impossible.
  6. Teachers and librarians who work on these kinds of project know that they don’t always work the first time. But they keep trying.

Student projects must matter. The research needs to be important to the researcher. If it isn’t, students will go through the motions. And Johnson’s First Law of School Work will kick in: A job not worth doing is not worth doing well. One of the best things librarians can do is work very hard to make sure projects are well designed and intrinsically motivating. Use the rubric in below to evaluate the quality of your project. Every project should be at Level Three. Fortunate students will get to do a few Level Four tasks during their school years.

A Research Question Rubric: not all research questions are created equal.

Level One: My research is about a broad topic. I can complete the assignment by using a general reference source such as an encyclopedia. I have no personal questions about the topic.

Primary example: My research is about an animal.

Secondary example: My research is about the economy of Minnesota.

Level Two: My research answers a question that helps me narrow the focus of my search. This question may mean that I need to go to various sources to gather enough information to get a reliable answer. The conclusion of the research will ask me to give a supported answer to the question.

Primary example: What methods has my animal developed to help it survive?

Secondary example: What role has manufacturing played in Minnesota's economic development?

Level Three: My research answers a question of personal relevance. To answer this question I may need to consult not just secondary sources such as magazines, newspapers, books, or the Internet, but use primary sources of information such as original surveys, interviews, or source documents.

Primary example: What animal would be best for my family to adopt as a pet?

Secondary example: How can one best prepare for a career in manufacturing in the Duluth area?

Level Four: My research answers a personal question about the topic, and contains information that may be of use to decision-makers as they make policy or distribute funds. The result of my research is a well-supported conclusion that contains a call for action on the part of an organization or government body. There will be a plan to distribute this information.

Primary example: How can our school help stop the growth in unwanted and abandoned animals in our community?

Secondary example: How might high schools change their curricula to meet the needs of students wanting a career in manufacturing in Minnesota?

Enjoyable learning experiences that are both motivating and meaningful don’t just happen. They require thoughtful preparation and the conscious use of lessons learned from previous successful projects. All of us who work with students on projects need to keep asking ourselves questions like:

  1. What are the barriers to better information and technology literacy projects?
  2. How do we create meaningful assessment tools that can help us become more comfortable with ambiguity?
  3. How do I make sure all students are intrinsically motivated to keep learning throughout their lives by finding, creating, evaluating, and using information?

Life-long learning is a reality all of us, student and librarian alike.

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