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Project rules to foster collaboration, not chaos

 Projects are an engaging way to teach STEM concepts, engineering design, and a host of soft skills—collaboration, communication, resilience. However, a project-based classroom can easily veer towards chaos and ugly competition. How do you encourage students to tackle open-ended, creative, and challenging projects while fostering an atmosphere of cooperation and generosity?

After a good deal of trial and error in my own classroom, I have found that using (and enforcing) a set of project rules helps to set a positive tone for the class.

Here are my guidelines:

Project Rules

We will be doing projects, both large and small, throughout the year. Sometimes your attempt will be a success. Other times, it will be a miserable failure. Either result is okay—failure is an integral part of the design process.

What is not okay: laughing at someone else’s project.

So, some rules for working in the class:

  1. You may not criticize or make fun of another student’s work. This includes laughing, teasing, or comparisons (“My car is so much better than your car….”).
  2. However, you may provide CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. To be constructive, the comment must be specific and offer a possible solution. For example, “Hey your car doesn’t go straight” is not acceptable, but “I noticed that your car veers to the left. It looks like the back wheel is rubbing against the frame” is welcomed.
  3. No designs are private property. Anyone may get ideas from any other design. If someone copies a piece of your design, the proper reaction is to be flattered—clearly, the other person has recognized your brilliance.
  4. If you get stuck, feel free to look at other people’s designs to see how they have solved similar problems.
  5. And finally, relax! Things will go wrong—but you will have plenty of time and assistance to fix the problems.

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Barbara Bratzel

Barbara Bratzel

Barbara teaches at the Shady Hill School in Cambridge, Massachusetts and works at the Center for Engineering and Education Outreach at Tufts University. She is the author of several LEGO robotics activity books for teachers, most recently STEM by Design.
Barbara Bratzel

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