A Museum of Wonder: The Power of Student Choice


Integrating project based learning into the classroom can seem like a daunting task, however the payoff can be well worth the effort.

Middle school chemistry teacher, Lesley Bright, found great success when integrating project based learning into her classroom.  She found that her students not only enjoyed the course more, but they also came out of the project with a stronger understanding of chemistry.

Bright designed a project where her students had 2 months to design a chemistry museum.  The students designed exhibits that showed off what they had learned throughout the year.  They created atom models, demonstrated experiments, dressed up as important figures in chemistry for a human timeline, and made a periodic table out of cupcakes.  On the day of the museum opening, students acted as tour guides for students and teachers visiting the exhibits.

As seen in the chemistry museum, using large group projects involving student choice can be an invaluable learning experience.  However, Bright recommends starting small with project based learning. Using these 3 tips can make it easier to bring this important technique into your classroom.

1.  Allow students to make their own decisions.

Bright’s students designed the entire museum themselves, meaning the students had to make all of the choices themselves.

It can be difficult to give students the power of choice in the classroom, so she started by giving students small choices with their homework assignments.  She gave the 3 or 4 options of problems to complete, and even just by giving students this inconsequential choice, Bright saw a large increase in the amount of students completing their homework.

During the museum project, she gave them larger choices.  The students were tasked with looking at the project requirements and deciding on the exhibits that would be featured.  Bright found that by allowing the students to take charge they felt more responsible for their role in the project, and as a result, they solved their problems instead of whining about them.

2.  Take the focus off of grades.

When students enjoy their schoolwork, they will do a good job.  When Bright’s students were motivated by creating a meaningful product, they created “A” worthy work, without the good grade being the sole motivator for completing the project.

3.  Give suggestions, not directions.

Students learning how to problem solve without adult assistance, is part of what makes project based learning so great.  In order to do that Bright says that teachers must give students suggestions, but still allow them to decide how to fix the problem.

When 2 of the experiments planned for the museum did not work, Bright’s students started panicking.  By simply asking them how they could fix or replace the experiment, her students were able to calm down and figure out how to fix one and replace the other all on their own.

You can learn more about project based learning by checking out Get With the Program’s 2018 NEOTD presentation on STEM Literacy.

Story via EduTopia