How to make sure your project gets moving quickly! or How to check that your project will work.
Sometimes when planning projects, it is easy to lose focus of what the class will be doing the whole time that you've set aside for this work. What will the day to day tasks be? For a project to be successful, it is necessary that students start with experience before moving on. Good projects also involve multiple drafts and revisions. The best projects will turn your classroom into a kind of cycling museum, with new stuff going up and being replaced and showing what the class is working on. All projects should end in a final deliverable or final product that the students are proud of. How can you be sure that you are doing all this and that your project is aiming for greatness? Make sure you have a First Friday Deliverable.
What is it?
A FFD is something that your class finishes by the first Friday of the semester that you can show and put up on the walls. Not just anything though, it should be a miniature version of whatever the final product will be for your project. For example:
- For a project where students build flying objects, everyone should make and fly a kite by Friday.
- For a project in which students hold debates, they should debate a relevant topic on the first Friday of class.
- For projects where students will write letters to their representatives, they should draft a letter by Friday.
- For a project where the class makes documentaries, everyone should make a movie by the first Friday.
Why use it?
The FFD has utility because it only works in better-conceived projects. Problems coming up with a FFD indicate problems with the project.
If a mini version of your final product..
- won't take the class a whole week to finish? Not complex enough/not age appropriate
- won't engage the class for a whole week? Bad news for student buy in
- won't look good anywhere in the school or are difficult to display? Your exhibition will be stressful.
- will be pretty much final quality in one week? Not enough to teach the class.
- doesn't exist or you can't think of what it will be? There's your next step in planning
However, if you ask the class to make a small version of your final product and they are engaged for the week and it takes the whole time and the pieces look interesting when displayed and clearly have lots of room for improvement... You've got a pretty solid product for the project.
For Your Students
To make an interesting and challenging mini product in the first week will require most of your time that week. This ensures that you will start the project off with an experience for the class. Instead of starting out by telling them everything they need to know to get started or by lecturing, you will hand them the materials and examples and let them try it first. Then on week 2 they will have lots of questions and you can feel good answering them by teaching the content as they make revisions.
Your class will also want to replace their First Friday Deliverables quickly, because they will soon be able to improve and do better. Having their work on the wall also keeps the class grounded, because they know at the very least they'll be doing something related to that thing they made last week, and they will all have a common context in your subject from which to draw.
For Your Administration
If you are careful and precise when displaying student work, even process work, your administration will like it. It's cool seeing that students are engaged in creative and interesting work that changes every couple of days. If you are at a school where PBL is not the norm, it will be clear to everyone that your students are doing something interesting that they are proud of and may help motivate other staff to give it a try.
How to use it?
A First Friday Deliverable is sort of like tasting spaghetti sauce a few minutes before dinner. Not quite salty enough, needs more basil. So plan your project first and pick a final product, then imagine having your students make a draft of it in the first week. You'll be able to tell if it needs a little tweaking one way or the other and hopefully result in a stronger project.
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.