Organise a center by projects

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Organize by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

I find more and more consultations from centers that want to start working on projects but don’t know how to start. On a methodological level they start to get smart. More and more teachers have taken some courses and there are already many centres with more or less trained and sometimes even experienced people. But from there to introducing project work at school level there is an other step. Often the difficulties encountered are organisational. How do we organise the center so that project work is constantly present and involves the whole faculty?

In this article I explain some forms of organisation that I have known (practically all of them I have put into practice) and the advantages and disadvantages that I find in each one.

The following is a compilation of organisational forms that I have been able to get to know in different centers. As always, there won’t be one that exactly suits the needs of your centre, but surely they can serve as inspiration to define your organisation.

Organise projects of a subject

These types of project are a good way to introduce project work into the school, as it basically depends on each teacher. You don’t have to make a big change in the structure of the school. It is simply necessary to look for spaces and time so that teachers who are encouraged to work on projects at some point in their subject can share doubts and experiences. Without a doubt, working on projects is learned by working, but having the support of other teachers who are also in the same process is very enriching and also multiplies the benefits and reduces errors.

Teachers can encourage whenever they want, without any pressure from dates or peers. They can even encourage themselves to ally with a colleague and make a project between two or three.

But, as is often the case, this advantage also becomes an inconvenience. It can happen that very few teachers are encouraged (it is always difficult to get out of the famous comfort zone) and these projects are anecdotal. And, even if this is not the case and a certain number of teachers are involved, there will always be teachers who will remain on the sidelines. In such a way that, without pretending it, we can be separating the staff between those who work for projects and those who do not.

Organise multidisciplinary projects

If the idea is that projects are a method used in the centre on a regular basis and by the entire faculty, multidisciplinary projects are a good option. In these projects different teachers collaborate to design and implement a project.

Here we define the organisation of two of the most common projects, with their variants:

  • Scope projects
  • Globalised projects

1. Scope Projects

In these types of projects, it is necessary to agree on a few teachers, usually 4 or 5 to design the project and lead it with the students. Organising the center so that they can be completed can also be done in many ways. The two most common, with their advantages and disadvantages, are:

1.1 Projects slots

In order not to complicate timetables and to ensure that project teachers are involved and trained people, a project slot can be organised (as if it were just another subject). It simply consists of choosing the weekly hours that you want to dedicate so that the students can work on projects and, when creating the timetable, reserve the slot. Where do these hours come from? The most common solution is to subtract hours from the subjects involved in the projects. If you think of a range of projects in which varied projects will be carried out, some STEM, others linguistic and others social, a good option would be to dedicate, for example, 6 hours a week. These hours can be obtained, for example, by reducing one hour of each language and one hour of mathematics, social, natural and technology.

The timetable does not change throughout the year and students already know that during those hours they will be working on different projects. The teachers who enter those hours are also clear that they will work on different contents of different subjects per project.

The system has advantages, but it also has disadvantages. As in the previous case, there are only a few teachers working on a project basis. The rest of the teaching team may be left on the sidelines if no action is planned to involve them.

Another topic to think about is that of specialists. Teachers entering projects will not be specialists in all subjects. Therefore, it will be necessary to foresee very well how specialists who do not enter the projects can advise and guide them in certain parts of the project.

1.2 Adaptable timetable

The second way in which field projects are most commonly organised is by adapting timetables. When timetables are created, they are thought of in such a way that the subject areas are always followed. Take, for example, a STEM field, with Science, Technology and Mathematics. In the timetable, it should be foreseen that these subjects are always followed. For example, if Mathematics is from 8 to 9, Technology or Science will be from 9 to 10.

In this way, subjects can work with the usual timetable when they are not working on projects. When teachers agree that a project begins, the time blocks become two hours. Every hour there will be a change of teacher, but the students will continue working on the same project.

In this way, all the teachers must be involved. It can be agreed that all areas do one or two projects per course. In this way, all teachers must collaborate in the creation and implementation of one or two projects during the course. The entire teaching team will be trained while developing projects.

If new teachers who have not worked on projects enter a course, the same colleagues in the field will advise and train them, as they will work side by side on the projects. As always, it will be necessary to provide time and space for teachers to create and/or improve projects (before implementation) and coordinate (during implementation in the classroom).

The issue of specialists is also solved. All the teachers who enter a project will be, as a minimum, of the same field. In addition, activities can be well timed so that depending on what the teacher of a particular subject does.

As always, there are also drawbacks. There will not be any teacher who follows the project during all the hours. Therefore, there is no one who can carry out a careful accompaniment of the students. Teachers can catch up at the time of the class change and at the beginning of their time they can ask group by group to see the progress, but this monitoring is never as personalised as that which can be done by a teacher who sees each of the hours of the project.

In addition, it should not be forgotten that the preparation of timetables is also complicated enough with this system of organisation.

2. Globalised projects

Incorporating globalised projects into the centre can also be more or less straightforward at organisational level. Normally the centres choose one of the following two forms of organisation:

2.1 Project Week

A simple option is to concentrate a globalised project in one or two weeks of class. The usual classes are stopped for one or two weeks and all hours are dedicated to the project.

When this option is chosen, normally all the levels of the centre carry out a globalised project at the same time. It will be necessary to redo teacher schedules, since it will be better for each teacher to enter only in the project of a level, but as the whole school stops, it is also not a great complexity (although it may require an investment of time).

The disadvantage will be, here, the concentration. Everything must be very well planned, as in one or two weeks there is no time to change much. This may force us to discard good ideas from the students. For example, they may need special material that cannot be obtained in such a short time.

2.2 Distributed projects

The other option is that the development of the project, to be globalised, is in the usual hours of class. If, for example, it has been decided to dedicate 36 hours (3 per week) to the globalised project, it is only necessary to agree between the teachers who will dedicate them each week. It is also possible to agree on specific intensive days (e.g. a whole morning).

In this way, it is not necessary to remake teachers’ schedules, nor is it necessary to worry about concentrating in a short time. But there are also drawbacks. The main one is the clear lack of reference teachers. The students will be carrying out the project with many different teachers, who will not be too clear on what point each group is, since it may have been quite some time since the last time you saw them develop the project.

Another important drawback will be the pace. With so few hours, it is possible that the students see it more as something extra than as an important project.

In any case, as in all other cases, coordination between teachers will be essential.

As I said at the beginning, surely you can find a thousand and one variants that are being carried out in different centers. The idea was not to make an exhaustive list, but simply to give ideas for the centres that are thinking of incorporating the projects. If in your centre you organise yourselves in different ways, as always, I would be grateful if you could indicate this in your comments. Surely with the exchange we all learn and take ideas.

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