Project Based Learning in Middle School


Read on to get some great ideas for project-based learning in your middle school classroom!

Every year after state testing, my students are tired and unmotivated yet we teachers are charged with keeping them learning and engaged.  Seems like an oxymoron. So what do I do?  Project-based learning!

Individual Projects

One year, I used project-based learning by having students write narratives that we turned into bound books using  They were fairly inexpensive ($5 or less) and the students not only wrote stories but illustrated them too!  

Another year, we completed final projects on The Outsiders.  We read the book during state testing and afterward, students could choose from a number of creative projects that were geared toward the multiple intelligences.  There were 10 options and students enjoyed being able to choose their own adventure!  :) 

Group Projects

A different year, my classes formed friendship bracelet companies using BizWorld.  They made their bracelets in class, tracked data, made marketing plans and more, and then sold their products at lunch.  They competed with each other for the highest earnings and even took on investors ala our own version of Shark Tank!

Even with all this, the most remembered project was one that I did with my 6th graders - Planning a Summer Vacation...for their pine cone pets.  (These were pine cones that I glued googly eyes onto.) Students formed small groups, were given a budget, and then researched and planned a trip for their pet.  I think this is the one that I still hear about because of the silly little pine cones.  They named them and dressed them and many students say they still have them!

Summer Vacation Planning Project Based Learning for Middle School combines research, budgeting, and creativity all in one!

All of these projects have a few important things in common:

1.  They are self-directed.  

This is important because now the students are in charge of their learning. They are making decisions and carrying out tasks.  They have more freedom (well, to an extent) and this is highly engaging to them.

2.  They are creative.

Students are doing meaningful things with their ideas and their talents when engaged in project-based learning.  This gives them a chance to do something different and original.  

3.  They give students a chance to learn without it being on a test.

So many students seem to have been diagnosed with anxiety these days.  Sometimes I wonder if it has to do with the high stakes involved with standardized testing. It's nice to take a break from that kind of stress and just focus on learning things because it's fun and interesting.

This all sounds great but in order for this to be successful, there are a few things that need to be clearly established with the students:

1.  Class and School rules still apply.

2.  There are specific, structured expectations for work of the project.

3.  There are specific, structured expectations for group outcomes.

Clear expectations for group work make for a much more successful experience with project-based learning.
I use anchor charts like these throughout the year but bring them front and center when we begin project-based learning.

Using expectations and routines like these help set up students for more successful experiences when working in a group.  Especially when you combine it with my "fair grading system"for individual accountability.  This system gives students the opportunity to determine their grade (in part).  Let's say that based on the rubric, the group project has earned an 80%.  If there are 3 members of the group, the group is awarded 80x3=240 points.  

Set middle school students up for success with group work discussion expectations and routines.
It is now up to the group to determine if the points should be split equally so that each member earns 80% or not.  Very rarely have I had to intervene in helping a group reach consensus as it is usually pretty easy to see how much work each person contributed.

Want a free copy of the partner/group expectations?  Get this and more in the free resource library bu joining below.  

Interested in trying out some of these projects for the last weeks of your year?  Click here to find out more about Planning a Summer Vacation for the pine cone pets and click here for more on my Outsiders Projects.

Thanks for stopping by!

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