Every project-based teacher creates a project timeline, but we don’t always make the timeline visible to students, which means they don’t have a sense of ownership (or even understanding) of the project as a whole. In this interview Dana Gaertner, a first grade teacher at High Tech Elementary Explorer, tells Unboxed editor Shira Feifer a simple method for fostering the shared ownership that comes from shared understanding.
What is a student-facing project map?
A student-facing project map is a timeline of the knowledge, skills, and deliverables that constitute a project. It’s a way to help students understand the project as a whole, with all of its moving parts, and connect what they’re doing at the lesson level to a broader scope and sequence. It can also be a helpful planning tool, to break the project into smaller, more manageable parts that can make weekly and daily planning less cumbersome.
How is a student-facing project map different from a project handout?
The way I’ve seen it used, the project handout is more of an overview of the learning outcomes for parents and the community, while the student-facing project map is for students to understand the week-by-week progression of knowledge, skills, and drafts, and how they’re connected to the project goals.
What are the essential aspects that a student-facing project map should have?
A student-facing project map should include the big ideas of the project, and make clear how learning unfolds and leads to exhibition. It can include assignments that are key to the project. It can also be helpful to include essential and guiding questions, the exhibition date, field work, mentor texts, and visuals of models or exemplars. Overall it should be aesthetically pleasing, and something students can and want to engage with.
What have you noticed about students’ engagement in the project and understanding of the project when you use a student-facing project map?
When I use student-facing project maps, students are able to talk more about the project as a whole, and how what they are working on connects to it. We usually have a lot of deliverables in a project and a student-facing project map helps students to understand why they’re doing each piece and how it connects to the broader picture and essential question. During the exhibition it also helps parents and the community to better understand what our learning process looked like.
Where does the project map live?
I have it printed as a large poster near the front of the room so that students can access it. When I’m teaching, I use it to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going, so it’s important to have it somewhere prominent. There have also been times when we’ve printed student copies, and they’ve kept them in project folders and used them to help ensure that they complete important tasks.
So if I am planning a project and I have my big ideas, my essential questions, and a general idea of the timeline I am thinking about, what advice would you give me for starting my project map?
Check out some other student-facing project maps! It gives you different ideas for what you want to include in yours (and inspiration for projects). Make it beautiful! You’re creating something to engage students and use as an anchor in understanding the project and the process.
What if the project that you planned changes?
As it does! Projects should change as we reflect on teaching and learning. Some changes may not require an update to the map, but if necessary, you can always find creative ways to edit your project map without having to start over or reprint. Sticky notes are a wonderful tool!
If you had to pick one thing about project maps that you’re like, “THIS is why I think everyone should do a project map,” what would it be?
I don’t know if I can pick on one thing, so I’ll pick three:
Is there anything I haven’t asked you about student-facing project maps that’s think is really important?
I think it’s really important to share your student-facing project maps with your colleagues across the school (and beyond), because that’s how we grow in our practice, and get really good at creating maps in a way that makes sense for kids.