Managing Projects

What, Why and How?

This page offers a number of management strategies for teachers and students for the planning and completion of a good Internal Assessment project in a sensible time frame. When should students start thinking about the project? When should we look at it in class? Which course elements should we have covered first? How and when should feedback be given? Of course there are few straight answers to these questions and like so many of these things, so much depends on the personal preference of the teacher, the class, and the circumstances at the school, but you should find the discussion below helpful!

When should students first start thinking about the project?

I don't think they can do this too soon! Students should be encouraged to consider the purpose of Mathematical investigation on a regular basis. They should experience it themselves as a means of discovering some of the Mathematics of the syllabus and they should see examples of investigations carried out other students and Mathematicians. (See the sections on  Possible Tasks and  Examples) The idea that there are people out there that use Mathematics to investigate and solve problems is really important, enlightening and inspiring! As such I suggest sowing the seed as soon as regularly as possible. The longer you teach this course, the more previous examples you have to draw on and this can help you to have 'project moments' where you might deviate for 10 minutes during a lesson to show how a project was, or could be, made around the idea being discussed.

Which course elements should be covered first?

It is important to be realistic about this one! Ideally students would have completed all elements of the course before they start their projects but this is not possible and so this becomes and exercise in optimisation. Students are expected to tackle 'sophisticated or further processes'. (See Section on  Marking) and this is obviously easier, the more of the syllabus that is covered. Given the number of projects that are essentially statistically driven, I would suggest that this section of the syllabus is well covered or that it runs alongside the project. Modelling is another popular theme for projects and so familiarity with the functions module is also recommended. If it were possible to pin students down to their project themes, then it may also be possible to adjust your scheme of work around that, but this obviously becomes more difficult, the more students there are in your class!

When and How to spend the 20 hours?

The IB recommend that 25 hours of the 150 recommended course hours are spent looking at the project. I think that if you are able to teach some of the syllabus through a project based approach (See the section on  Practice Projects) then you can effectively increase the time you spend on projects in class. My preference is not to use all of these hours in one go. Whenever you choose the moment to formally start project work then you need a good few of these but not all. Once projects have been formally started I advocate a series of project related due dates and tasks that should be completed by the student independently and as such this becomes their independent study for those periods, whilst further progress is made on syllabus items in the class. See the  Schemes of Work page to see an example of how the project might fit in. Features of the example can be adapted to suit the needs of a particular class as the teacher sees fit. This model shows that project work does not formally begin until the second year of study, but this is, of course, a personal preference. When choosing a time to start the projects you might consider the following points,

  • Have you covered the 'Functions' and 'Statistics' elements of the course or any of the other elements you wanted to before project work starts?
  • If you include the summer break, have students got a focussed enough set of tasks to be getting along with and, more importantly, will they do it? From my experience, even students with the best of intentions cant complete satisfactory project work during the long summer break without regularly being able to seek small bits of advice and direction. My preference is to set some of the easier statistics work over the holidays as it is more approachable and then start projects on their return.
  • Will you expect students to complete other syllabus related homework as well as project work?
  • How will your due dates fit with those being set by other subjects and the fixed points in your schools calendar?
  • Have you allowed yourself the time to generate the feedback students will need? Does this include any one on one time?

Giving Feedback

I find this the most frustrating part of the managing the projects! I think this is largely because some of the ideas are really interesting and I want to do the project myself and because I repeat myself soooo often! It is important to find an efficient way to give this feedback though. The following is a list of guidelines for feedback,

  • Good feedback consists mostly of questions that prompt the student to think around the issue and to think for themselves about whether or not what they have written is correct, makes sense in the context of the project, and has been fully developed.
  • You should draw students attention to errors, without correcting them.
  • Read the work as though you have no previous knowledge of the project and give feedback accordingly.
  • Where possible, give written feedback in a form that means it will last, ie can be read again.
  • Create some one on one time where you have a general discussion with students.
  • Try and create and stick to an agreed program of feedback that fits in with the project time frame.

Feedback Using Collaborative Workspaces

Here are some examples of how you can use some collaborative online tools to make project management easier.

Google Docs

Sharing a google doc means that you can view students work as it progresses, monitor updates they have made and add your comments at agreed points. There is only one copy of the document and you can control who has access to it. I would recommend setting up the documents with students and then sharing the document with them.  Google Docs

Wikispaces

This is an outstanding collaborative tool for these projects. A small amount of set up time allows the creation of a web based storage for projects. Students add their project updates to the site and you are notified when they do. As such you monitor their work rate and progress and can add you feedback as and when appropriate. Each page comes with a discussion forum where students can pose questions and you can respond. They can read each others questions and, most importantly, a complete record is kept which is invaluable in the quest to stop repeating yourself!!!  Wikispaces

Facebook groups with students

I am a huge advocate of this type of engagement because I see it as the evolution of a communication tool. For projects it is excellent to have a place where students can ask questions so that all the other students can see, respond and see the responses. I think these tools help hugely. If you are not keen to use facebook then consider using something like  Edmodo or  Schoology. Of course facebook has the advantage that students are on it all the time!

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