The Bow Tie Boys

The Bow Tie Boys

Thursday, February 9, 2017

World Relating Projects

In recent years, there has been a push for students to incorporate learning into the outside world and administrators have pushed teachers to use these projects in the classroom. But in many situations, these projects have become another hurdle to jump through, another bullet on the list of things to do. These projects are usually intended to engage and interest students to the outside world, but end up being used as simply another project that actually has little to do with the outside world, compared with a major connection.

Many of these projects from my experience have simply related to the outside world, not developed a thorough, in depth connection. For example, in eighth grade science, which covered physics and chemistry, the world regarding project for that class was to brainstorm and research three ideas to improve the fuel efficiency of cars in the future and create a brochure on the three ideas. The class split into 4-5 groups and started brainstorming about their ideas. Many rather conventional methods were put forth as well as more extreme and futuristic ideas on how to improve fuel efficiency in cars. Although this project related directly to a real world problem or crisis, the project didn’t take the extra step to actually doing something about the problem, instead, merely mentioning it. The project was also graded on a rubric, which is rarely used in the workplace. The project could have taken a simple extra step to send out a newsletter on how to conserve fuel for the future, as a low level extra step. Yes, a problem of actual significance and relevance was addressed in this project but what was done about it? Nothing. The unique factor of this project was essentially non-existent. The idea was there, the execution wasn’t.

These projects are sometimes overlooked because of incidences such as these, yet, they still break up the standard curriculum which is Susan Ohanian described by saying, “I don’t know many adults who could sit quietly through even one day of the dusty confines of a typical school curriculum”. (Caught in the Middle, 2001)

However, these projects have great potential because they can teach real world skills and can directly connect students to the world. School is the predecessor to a job, and certain jobs can require some specific skills in order to carry out. Some jobs in the future might not exist today, creating the need for adaptability and the readiness for the unknown. These projects that connect students to the world are vital to the development of the future of unpredictability and the need for resilience.

There are limitless very cool examples of these projects but here are some examples that I really like:

1.      Have students create a mock website of their dream future job/company with valid research and descriptions that paint a picture of that dream using free website creators such as Weebly that can be used in future interviews as a piece of authentic writing regarding why they want that job/company (credit Ryan Beaver)

2.      Have students work together in groups or alone to produce a short film about a topic/controversy they feel passionate about to share with the community to advocate for that topic

3.      Work collaboratively in small groups to design a cheap system that can benefit those who are less fortunate i.e. designing a water filter straw that can be given to those in areas with low quality water

4.      Students work to create a poster or computer graphic that shows their lives all in one place including their accomplishments to show colleges and potential companies that the students plan to work for

One problem with carrying out these projects is the aspect of student choice. Some students want free reign on how they deliver the final product, while some students want a clear cut choice of what to do. Some ways the balance of both sides have been done is with three options, one of which is a student chosen, teacher approved product. Students also have varying degrees of abilities and responsibilities, which makes this option fit students in that regard. Letting students create allows them to think outside the box and in the words of Linda Rief “Creating is the highest form of intellectual development.” (Seeking Diversity, 1992) Letting students show true creativity is letting them develop themselves intellectually.

The other problem regarding these projects is finding relative topics to use. Look no further than current issues for those topics. There are so many controversies that almost everyone can choose a side on and that everyone has a voice for. Writing a thorough letter to senators, publishing a blog, website, or even newsletters are ways to connect to a real world issue, and actually advocating for that issue directly, bridging the gap between students and the world around them.

A student enters a classroom, three minutes to the bell. They immediately go and retrieve a laptop to start working. As other members of their group come in, they gather around the computer and they start working together. The group talks and types all class, intrigued in their work. Some of the students aren’t directly interacting with their computer, but instead are doing research on their own devices. The other small groups in the class are following this example, continuously collaborating and discussing their work. The last 15 minutes of class, all students huddle up in their small groups and combine what they did that class onto the main computer as a group. As the dismissal bell rings, the groups pack with haste, and are anxious to return to work next class. This may seem like an unheard of occurrence in schools but this can definitely be achieved with a well thought out project that connects students to the world in a meaningful way.


Works Cited:

Ohanian, Susan. Caught in the Middle: Nonstandard Kids and a Killing Curriculum. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001. Print.

Rief, Linda. Seeking Diversity: Language Arts with Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational, 1992. Print.


  1. Wow!

    So many parts of your post that cause me to stop, pause and reflect as we work on "problem-based" or even "project-based" activities.
    1. Is there a real life solution? Or is it contrived - stops short from real life and too focused on the "knowledge/skills" in the final work?
    2. Is there student choice? What if the topic really is not interesting to the student? Can they spin off to a more desirable task?

    When we work with designing UbD units, this is a source that we turn to for ideas. Maybe you will also find it to be helpful.

    Your voice is needed. Thanks so much for so passionately, eloquently, and so positively sharing your thinking with the world! :-)

  2. This is such a wonderful post and reflects an issue that is not uncommon in so many classrooms. There are so many opportunities to connect school and life and it would dramatically increase engagement if we could do the kind of projects you're referring to. Thank you so much for this very important message!