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Using Projects in Teaching

An old Chinese proverb states:

I hear and I forget,
I see and I remember,
I do and I understand.

Katherine Tobey stresses the validity of the project method when she says, “Only in the act of doing does one discover that the process is more important than the product. It is in the process that the learning takes place. Having had their own experiences in creative expression, adults become more sensitive teachers and more well-rounded persons” (Learning and Teaching Through the Senses, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, Pa.).

Projects may take various forms and shapes. When a given project closely approximates the activity for which a class is preparing the student, the value of learning by doing makes this method an extremely significant one.

Consider, for example, the matter of preparing college students to be elementary teachers. The project method is frequently used in education classes in colleges and universities because it has the value of bringing the student into touch with a bit of reality. Education majors prepare picture files, develop entire units of work in social studies or science, and work through case studies on imaginary or real children.

The ultimate project is student teaching experience in which the college student spends time observing, then helping, finally actually teaching in a live situation. In seminary education this is called “internship,” as a young man serves for a period of time under the supervision of a mature pastor who is able to help him experience realistic tasks and responsibilities of pastoral ministry.

But this dimension is beyond our use in the classroom. We will be concerned with small projects, most of which take perhaps only one week and usually not more than two or three months. Findley Edge divides projects into four categories: information, attitude, habit, and service. A good example of information projects would be research and reports assigned in an adult Sunday School class. Attitude projects could be implemented through surveys and interviews, probably culminating in a report of some kind. For his examples of a habit project, Edge lists daily Bible reading, regular attendance at church services, or the initiation of family worship. Service projects are perhaps the most familiar to us as they take form in Gospel teams, visitation, work projects around the church, or fund raising for some specific goal (Helping the Teacher, Broadman Press, Nashville, Tenn.).

My former colleague, Professor Elmer Towns, had an interesting way of describing the variations in the project method by suggesting the following five unit breakdown of types:

1. Search-out-the-experience-of-others project. Illustration: read about others who baptized

2. Seek-the-factors-of-an-experience project. Illustration: analyze the steps of baptizing

3. Recreate-the-experience project. Illustration: diagram a specific baptizing situation

4. Observe-the-experience project. Illustration: watch a baptism

5. Go-through-the-experience project. Illustration: baptize someone

Values in the Project Method

Projects introduce the dimension of fun into learning. This is important not only in teaching children but facilitates education at all age levels. Not all projects are fun, but the dimension of interest is certainly heightened when student involvement on a realistic and experiential plane is set into motion.

Another value of the project approach is that it has a number of fringe benefits. Let us go back to the student teacher. Primarily she is learning how to teach the various subjects in a self-contained classroom at the third grade level. At the same time, however, she is learning how to make out reports, keep a disciplined schedule of employment, get along with other people, and operate in a defined system of evaluation. None of these may be overt objectives of the experience, but almost all of them will accrue to the benefit of the participant.

Remember that the project has two dimensions: the learning process which results from the participation, and the end result which has value to the class and/or other people. When the junior high class goes visiting in the senior citizens home, the class learns about witness and sharing with others, and the elderly folks benefit from their visit and the inspiration the young people bring them.

Problems in the Project Method

Generally speaking, a project will take some kind of materials. If the project is geared to information gathering, some books or people must be available for that resource. If the project is one of service, it may require paint, wood, or perhaps instruments, or transportation to the senior citizens home. Most of the time it is possible to procure these materials, and the teacher should not consider this a major drawback.

Sometimes the project becomes an end in itself, and we forget that it is primarily a teaching technique. As a technique, it must be closely related to the unit of study in which the class is engaged. The project should be determined by the objectives of the class rather than having the unit of study governed by what available projects are at hand.

As with other good methods which stress student involvement, the project takes time. Sometimes students tire of the project experience before it is finished, and the loss of interest bogs it down in the final lap. Because of this problem, teachers should be careful to select projects of length adapted to the ages and interests of a given class.

In Creative Teaching in the Church, Eleanor Morrison and Virgil Foster describe a junior high class which took on a twofold project geared to portray the disciples’ role in the last events of the life of our Lord. They wrote a radio script on the pattern of the CBS television program “You Are There” and prepared a large wall mural in conjunction with the study. The entire project took over six weeks, with small groups working on various phases of the two projects. The authors describe a secret of success in this approach: “Young people are most likely to be interested when each one has a free choice of the group with which he wishes to work. Also … working on a concrete project with one’s hands, along with the study, created more interest than discussion alone” (Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.).

Principles for Effective Use of the Project Method

Preparation is the key, and it should include discussing the objectives o t e project and securing the participation of the group at the planning stage. Students should be involved in deciding what form the project should take as well as carrying out the specifics of getting the job done. Actually the plan is very important because in this phase the class comes to grips with such significant factors as the duration of the project, its cost, the extent of its impact on other people, and how it will be evaluated.

In carrying out the project the teacher is an ever-present source of encouragement and resource. Without pushing the students unduly, he keeps them on target and reminds them of deadline dates which they themselves approved in the planning stage. The enthusiastic support of the class is necessary to carry a project through the implementation phase.

Perhaps the project will be done outside of class entirely. If that is the case, set aside classtime for questions, progress reports, and modification of plans.

The third phase leads us to another principle. Evaluation is necessary if the project is going to be a genuine learning experience. The class and the teacher together will decide whether the project was successful, whether it accomplished the goals set for it, what areas were deficient, and what should be changed if it is ever used again. Each student should be encouraged to specify what values the learning experience had for him.

Properly used, the project method can bring new life into a class which has become bogged down with nonparticipating methodology or perhaps has even stagnated on overuse of some discussion technique. Think through your next year of teaching. How can you effectively use projects with your students?

Related Topics: Teaching the Bible