"I can't even begin to think about next semester yet."
I hear this often. Project teachers at this time of the year are usually very absorbed with planning their exhibitions. Issues and snags appear and they must react quickly to try and display all of the student work. They must make a lot of decisions and it's exhausting. There is not enough room to do all of this and also plan out a project for the next semester, even though a quality project takes a lot of time to plan. It is a cycle of decision fatigue
This is one cycle. Teacher teams will come to the beginning of the semester with an idea of what they want the students to do and learn, maybe even some professional models, but not exemplars of their own work. The first month or so is planned, with the intention that the team will collaborate to plan out the future of the project at a later date. By the second half of the semester, students have not begun meaningful work on their projects, and exhibition begins to loom. Teachers start to get stressed and their class will reflect their emotions. Daily, hourly, teachers have to make decisions about how things will be exhibited and displayed. They are being flexible and agile, and that mental work takes a toll. Students rush to complete work before exhibition, and the day of exhibition can be tense as teachers try to communicate their expectations to students and show off their work.
At this time, or even right after exhibition it is unrealistic to expect that anybody would be ready and excited to start thinking about their next project. It is more likely that after this much decision making and effort people will put off planning till they feel more relaxed. Therefore teaching teams will avoid planning until the beginning of the next semester and the cycle begins anew.
Alternatively, here is a different cycle. On the first day of class, students are given examples made by their teachers of what their final project will look like. They see how it will be exhibited and how much work must be put into it. They ask questions and teachers can answer their questions based on their models. Since they have just completed the project teachers know how long things take and can structure the semester with logical checkpoints and grading cycles. Students complete their projects a week early or more, with the final week before exhibition being spent planning for exhibition. Students are all given exhibition jobs and they do everything related to displaying their work, from set up to making pamphlets to tearing down. Because there are plans and examples, the teachers do not have to make many decisions during the project and their mind is free to wander. While students are in project time teachers am free to tinker and prototype for the next project. By working in little bits during the semester they are able to refine prototypes and deliverables. These are usually complete before or soon after exhibition.
Unfortunately it is very very difficult to break the first cycle. Projects require a lot of pre-planning which must occur during the preceding semester. There is no way around that.
Philip Estrada is a teacher at High Tech High Media Arts in San Diego California. He teaches Physics by having kids build things in a woodshop.