Yea, Project Days are always interesting because we never know how students will solve to prompt. The fear is always that the projects will be uninteresting, thoughtless, not engaging. In reality this has never really happened, although there have been some distinct differences between students and between sections. This type of work rewards students that challenge themselves with the material. Students that take the easy way out don’t often get as deeply into the material. But the projects also tend to reward students that are playful, game for just about anything. One of the things we need to keep reminding ourselves is that what may appear to be a disengaged project may be the result of the student pushing themselves well beyond their comfort zone. Some of what is not apparent in the presentation may become apparent as we discuss the projects.
It is for this reason that executing and discussing the projects is important. Far too often we focus too much on the final product. With this material it is the process and what is learned about the process as you go through it that is important. So the follow up discussion is a crucial piece. And here is where we had radically divergent sections. I was delighted by the presentations from the first section. Playful, fun, dynamic. You could see a through-line between each of the projects for each system. The conversation was really rewarding as we began to unpack the connections and the differences.
Its not that the second section presentations were less engaging, there was some lovely work, but seeing how pieces within each system connected was much much harder. As I have discussed before, the second section tends to dive a bit deeper in conversation right up front, but then often stalls. This was one such case. As lively and engaging as the conversation with the first section was this one was laborious, with connections almost impossible to make. One of the things we have noticed is that the second section tends to skew a bit older, and also a bit more individualistic. Even within groups they solve problems on their own in their own way. We saw this with the juxtaopsition project in that the first group was more performantive the second more about displaying things. So, we need to strategize about how to deal with this as the two sections move farther and farther apart from each other in tone. Perhaps we need to lean into the individuality a bit more, or find a way to change that approach. It may be about finding different questions to ask or about getting them to think past a literal approach to the projects. We will need to do some tinkering with the next project assignment. I also suspect the some of the material in the second unit will help to disrupt this focus.
Well, what a difference a day makes. The second round in section one we saw another wide range of challenging pieces – mainly, but not exclusively, geared toward performance. A number of which involved indeterminate pieces or chance elements. Good conversation at the end of class about systems and the projects. One student pointed out that since they as a group distilled the system she felt she had more control than if a system were assigned to her. A beautiful set up for the next project. Section two was about a 180 in terms of energy and engagement we had seen on Tuesday. Part of what we connected this to were the systems students were working with today had coercive or confrontational aspects to them. In this respect the second section presentations today were more performative – opening up spaces like what we have seen in section 1. The question about how Tuesday’s compared to Thursday’s presentations allowed us to think about the specific systems and how students solved the prompt.
Every time I teach a project-based class I forget that this system actually works. Mapping out the projects and in class exercises allows us to build not only skills, but agency as well. On of the students pointed out that we had actually prepared them for the class today by having them do all the in class stuff. Exactly the point. One disappointing aspect is students that presented on Tuesday but did not return to see the other presentations on Thursday. We need to keep reminding them that the one-to-one relationship between student and teacher where you can hand in an assignment and walk away is not in play here. So today – to all the students who shoed up – we reminded them that they are creating the content. Miss a day and you miss a great deal of content.