SLA Science Teacher Tim Best asked for some best practices around this question, and then SLA History Teacher Diana Laufenberg pointed out my answer could be a blog post. So here we go:
People often wonder how we go about explaining projects to our students. Obviously, with many being open-ended in both topic selection and what the final product looks like, sometimes the details are fuzzy for a reason.
After my first year working here, however, I learned to anticipate the kinds of questions kids would ask about a project — the parameters of the subject matter, the timeline, etc.
Now, every time I do a project write-up, I follow it with a “frequently asked questions, as imagined by Ms. Pahomov” where I write questions and answer them in short paragraphs. I read this to them along w/ the general description. It helps address a lot of obvious questions, and can also be referred back to a week later, when kids have forgotten what you said.
Here’s a (long-ish) example of how I pitch the podcast project to our 10th Graders. And yes, I will post a full write-up and reflection of this project sometime soon.
Q3 BENCHMARK: “Crossing Boundaries” podcast.
Your task this quarter is to create a podcast around the theme of “crossing boundaries.” The final product is a 12-15 minute podcast which tells a true story (or series of related stories) related to this theme. You are responsible for identifying an engaging story, conducting the necessary interview/s, editing the content, and adding narration, music, and any other components that are needed.
This project is divided into two phases:
PHASE ONE is identifying the best story to share, and planning your content. In order to do this effectively, you must brainstorm SEVERAL ideas–and then get public feedback and look into how easy it will be to get the interviews you need. It is your job to settle on an idea, map out your podcast, and complete at least ONE interview by Tuesday, Feb. 21st.
PHASE TWO is the completion of your final product, which you will have several in-class work periods to complete. This time will be useless if you have not yet completed an interview–make sure you complete phase one on time!
The final podcast is due Tuesday, Feb 29th. It will be posted on our class blog — AKA you are making a product for the general public to enjoy!
Frequently Asked Questions (as imagined by Ms. Pahomov)
I really don’t have an idea for a theme.
We are going to brainstorm in class — start by looking around your own world and think about who has done something out of the ordinary. Did they flaunt a social norm, or challenge a long-standing rule or expectation, and why? It doesn’t have to be a life-or-death situation. You might find inspiration by looking at the rules from our “Boy/Girl” stories, and figure out who has ever crossed one of those boundaries.
Can I tell lots of little stories? Each of my friends has a little funny story.
Most of you will focus on ONE larger story — this is more interesting for the listener. If you have a very clever theme, you might have unrelated anecdotes from different people. But don’t have totally random stories that all relate to “crossing boundaries” in different ways — that’s just lazy.
Can the story be about myself?
Yes, but you have to have an interview with at least one other person! You could potentially record an interview/conversation with you and somebody else who was involved in the story, talking about what happened and reflecting.
I have the world’s BEST story and it’s going to be an hour long. Is that ok?
No. This is one of the time where I am going to be draconian about a limit on the project — your podcast can really not be any longer than 15 minutes. If it is longer, I will simply stop listening at the 15 minute mark, and that will make your podcast sound like it’s incomplete. Use your editing skills!
I want my grandmother to tell her life story. Ok?
No. I’m sure your grandmother is nice and all, but hearing every detail means there’s no focus. What’s the most interesting boundary she ever crossed? Is she a forgotten Rosa Parks? Did she dress like a punk when she went to church? Zoom in on a moment like that.
Projects are by their nature a bit fuzzy (therein lies the magic). By putting in thoughtful time to create a FAQ, in kid language no less, you show you care about their reactions to the project. So nice.