As I prepare to move on from Innovation Unit to my soon-to-begin job at High Tech High, I'm going through a lot of old stuff. The following text was cut from Work that Matters: The Teacher's Guide to Project-based Learning. I still like it, and I wanted it to see the light of day:
Some projects work like assembling flat pack furniture: students follow a set of steps to a predetermined outcome. The end result might look good, but students will not be able to see their own mark on it.
These ‘flat pack projects’ will not lead to deep learning, because students will not have developed the ability to make decisions, organise themselves, or apply creative solutions to unexpected problems.
Successful projects are designed so that students make decisions for themselves throughout the process. For example, a teacher might set the content area for a project but let students choose the medium of their response (video, comic strip, news article, etc.). Or, a teacher might predetermine the medium of students’ response, but let them choose their own content area. Or you could take the approach that they've developed at Matthew Moss High School, and leave all the big decisions up to the students. This requires teachers to be highly skilled, because it's much, much easier to be an autocrat than to be a facilitator. But having visited the school many times, I can unequivocally say that it's worth it.