Recently, my fifth/sixth grade students jumped at the challenge of designing a museum exhibit for Kansas City’s Science City Museum, as participants in the Battle of the Brains competition, a program developed by the partnership of Burns & McDonnell and Science City to support STEM education. The science teacher (I’m not very science-y) and I had decided to partner on this grand adventure with one goal in mind: process.
First things first, I approached this with project management as a priority and built a project management page (and subpages) on our website to help students understand the scope of the project and house our resources. My approach was not to find everything but to make sure my students understood the directive.
- Resources such as virtual museum links, science search engines, and science museums sites from all over the world.
- Exemplars: Who won last year?
- Design: What encompassed a good museum exhibit? What needed to be included?
- Project Parameters: Rubrics? Categories of assessment? Topics? Deadlines?
In our first meeting together, we established big picture and jumped into the concept development phase, the foundation of any good project. We came together and drafted a master list of ideas, practicing the true art of brainstorming--no judgment. At some point, we were at a walk through earth focused on sustainability when one of my students threw out the idea of a walk through human body, and there was a unanimous “yes!” that rippled through the room. We had found it. Our big idea. Our tech expert created a Diigo group for bookmarking, our creatives began writing and drawing ideas on our white board wall, and our researchers began collecting loads of information.
As I watched the process, I reflected on my own experience as a producer. What did I do when I produced a video? What did I do when I wrote copy for a website? Everyone needed to tap into their expertise (or passion), and we definitely needed a project manager. The jobs included:
- project manager (scheduling, accountability, knowing the rubric inside and out)
- writer (drafting the proposal)
- marketing director (we have to get the word out and create a budget)
- video producer (we have to make a 2 minute commercial of our exhibit)
- graphic artist (we have to make a drawing of our exhibit)
- App designer (we have to have a virtual aspect to our design)
With only six students, we all agreed to help one another, but each chose a role. I met with each student and outlined expectations and learned skills for their role. We talked through hard skills and soft skills and what each role needed to be successful. For project management, I was tempted to introduce students to Mavenlink, a great cloud-based platform that integrates Google Apps, but we had just started with Edmodo, so we stayed with that, along with shared folders and shared docs on Google Drive.
Years ago, I remember going to professional development on cooperative learning– assigning roles, picking a social skill, etc. If I remember correctly, there were skills like–one person speaking at a time, staying on task, or even using kind words. As I reflect on this experience, wow–how far we have come from tracking social skills on piece of paper to managing online. We’ve jumped to real world skill sets and real world hard skills, and most importantly, continued to practice the soft skills that help students be successful. As I observed my students completely engaged in this process, I’m reminded of the importance of my role as facilitator of learning experiences—it is essential I provide opportunities to practice and explore the roles and processes such as producing a video, learning graphic design, managing a project, even designing apps and exhibits because my students are engaging with their future. Communication (in various formats), design, project management, research–all of these are timeless skills that students need to learn and develop in their formative years, because as adults, no matter what field they pursue, these skills, if practiced, will be an asset.