What are Student Choice Projects? And Why I Started Using Them

A choice project on Earth’s Structure. It was the student’s idea to create the model out of cake! It was enjoyed by all!
Examples of brochures and models can be seen in this photo. The projects are great to display at Open House and Back to School Night!

I am really happy to be writing this series of posts on the topic of Student Choice Projects and provide helpful resources that you can implement in real-time. While the example Choice Menu at the end of this post is for Metrics and Measurement, choice projects can be used for a variety of topics and units of study. These projects can be completed on their own, but they are designed to be completed over the length of a unit of study lasting several weeks. As the teacher you introduce, explore, and apply concepts, and students demonstrate their learning by incorporating those ideas and creating a unique project.

What are student choice projects?

There are probably lots of definitions for this and different examples of how this can be done. For me, the projects are a way to apply knowledge of concepts and skills over a unit of several weeks and sometimes months. Students show what they learn through synthesizing different projects. Students build models, write newspaper articles, create board games, you name it, then present their projects in front of their peers. The beauty of these projects is that they can be worked on at any time. Students even work on them at home, because they want to! Time management, scope management, communication, these are all skills students develop while working on projects. As the teacher I do a lot to facilitate their work on projects so they can be successful, and I’ll talk more about how you can help them later on. 

Another quality of student choice projects is right in the name: the CHOICE! Don’t we all love choice? Give students the freedom to apply their special talents and interests. I’ve noticed that when students choose something that speaks to them, they are excited and motivated to work on it. Students created some truly spectacular projects over the 2 years that I used them extensively in Earth and Space Science. 

The best projects allow for students to incorporate new knowledge incrementally, as well as elaborate on concepts being studied in class. There’s so much we do each day and in each lesson to explore concepts in class, and students are responsible for turning in various pieces of work on a daily and weekly basis. With projects, students get to apply what they learned immediately, helping reinforce concepts as well as extending their learning to outside the classroom. Students take the learning beyond what is explicitly taught in class.

Why I started using projects

In my first year of solo teaching I found myself confronted with a big problem: there were high achieving and highly motivated students in my class that were not being challenged sufficiently. I’m not kidding when I say that there were 6th grade students of mine that were smarter than me! There are certain personalities out there that are just craving knowledge and stimulation, and when you’re in 6th grade and you don’t care about Tiktok or YouTube or Netflix then you have a lot of time to read and wonder about the world. I felt a lot of pressure my first year in teaching just in general. It’s really hard! Add on top of it that I had to implement a curriculum that served a wide range of students, just like every teacher, and it could be very stressful at times. 

Another reason that I use choice projects is that they extend the lesson and solve the problem of: “I’m done, now what?” This was part of my problem in my first year, students would finish the lab, activity, or assignment early, and ask, “What do I do now?” What teachers don’t want is a student wandering around the classroom, disrupting friends who are working, or entertaining themselves in the many creative ways they come up with! In the beginning I didn’t have something for them to do and I spent hours of research and talking to teacher friends trying to find a solution. The teachers I worked with didn’t seem to be having the same problem as me. Rather than spin my wheels constantly, lesson planning, or creating things on the fly, I started using individual and group projects as a way to keep students engaged and maximize learning time during the class period.

Early on in my quest to make my life easier, I was planning extension activities into each lesson. I did this nearly every day. If a student finished early I would start them working on that. The downside was that it was a lot of extra planning time, students saw it as sort of a punishment, and I wasn’t needing to use them very frequently. I still think it is important, especially as a new teacher, to overplan. You don’t want to be sitting there twiddling your thumbs with a bunch of bored teens for 15 minutes, trust me! It was too much work to create an extension to each day’s lesson. I also felt that the tasks and activities were disjointed from one to the next, and I was craving something more structured and long term that students could work on. The solution to my problem turned out to be Student Choice Projects.

In my series on Student Choice Projects, I will explore what are the benefits of choice projects? I will also share my experience with developing and using projects in the classroom, as well as try to explain how you can implement them in your classroom. Projects are an excellent way to facilitate student-centered learning, and develop real world skills, something I want to elaborate on in my next post. For now, check out my FREE Student Choice Project on Metrics and Measurement below!

FREE & Customizable Metrics and Measurement Student Choice Project

Help students go deeper and apply their knowledge by assigning this Choice Menu!

Published by How She Teaches

I teach Biology and Earth and Space Science in high school and middle school. I want to share my personal experiences and teaching milestones with anyone who wants to learn.

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