Choosing a Project
This Project Action Guide contains guidelines for several types of projects, as well as a section on established programs. The Process Model offers suggestions for teachers and students as they begin to choose a project. In addition, Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality and other groups publish lists of possible projects. (See the Department's Ecology Club Projects and Resources and other resources in Locating Established Programs and Resources.)
Depending on their personal preference, teachers may choose from a variety of strategies to help the class settle on a project:
- Teachers may wish to have all students participate in initial project selection, then form small groups to carry out various tasks.
- Teachers may prefer to have several small groups pursue independent small projects.
- Teachers may choose students to read over examples such as those in the DEQ list and think about similar projects they might be able to do in the school or the local community. After they report back to the group, their ideas may be a starting point to develop a project on which everyone agrees.
Regardless of the initial approach, students will need to refine their ideas by way of a group brainstorming session. Each group should choose a secretary to write down every idea. Sometimes a seemingly silly idea can be the basis of a really creative plan.
Students should sort the project suggestions into topical categories such as recycling, wildlife, rainforest, or energy. (Groups will probably have different categories.) Group members should vote on which category they prefer. The teacher should then go over these ideas with the groups. Some are going to be projects that the students might be able to do, some will be ones they obviously can do, and some will be those that are simply not feasible. After reviewing the options, the teacher should eliminate the project ideas that students and teacher agree are truly impossible, or that most of the students do not want to do, or that are project ideas already being used. Several good ideas will probably remain. The students should choose one.
The teacher should write the chosen project idea at the top of the blackboard or a big piece of paper. For their project selection, each group should then develop and record the answers to the following questions:
- What are we going to do?
- How are we going to do it?
- Who will do the work?
- From whom do we need to get permission?
- Who will help us?
- Where are we going to do this?
- What supplies do we need?
- Where are we going to get the supplies?
- How much money are we going to need?
- Where are we going to get the money?
- When are we going to start?
- When are we going to finish?
From this analysis, it should become apparent whether the necessary time, supplies, help, or cash is unavailable. Perhaps the original idea can be scaled back. For example, if it is not possible to recycle in every classroom of the school, students may try working with just the classrooms in their grade. If it is not possible to recycle paper, glass, plastic, and aluminum, they could try collecting just aluminum. Remember, it is much easier to start small and let the project grow later than to start too big and be unable to complete the project. (Note: Perhaps groups have ideas that would work best as part of an established program. See Linking with Established Programs for ideas.) Teachers may wish to keep a file of unused ideas. They may come in handy to start planning the next projects.
After groups have answered all of the preceding questions for their projects, the teacher should help students identify the major tasks to be done. A good way is to divide the class into workgroups responsible for these tasks. Each workgroup would go through the list of questions again, only this time writing down specific actions that will be needed to complete assigned tasks. For example, asking the question "What supplies do we need?" will generate a list of items and elicit further questions: Where will the items come from? Will students make them? Buy them? Borrow them? Select workgroup members to be responsible for getting all the items on the list. Similarly, asking the question "Who will help us?" will start a list of people and elicit further questions: What can each of these people do to help? Who is going to be responsible for contacting those people and asking for their help? Teachers should select workgroup members to record all the questions and actions arising from their group's session. Students should continue working through each of the questions for each task.
Once the project has been selected and analyzed, the teacher should help the students prepare a timetable:
- Go through lists of tasks to be done and decide how long it will take to do each.
- Assign a date for completion of each task.
- Make a calendar for the project and write all of those dates on it.
- Make a calendar for each workgroup and write all pertinent dates on it.
- If there will not be enough time to do everything needed, consider scaling back the project again.