Challenges with Projects: Lack of "maker" interest, focusing too narrowly, and missing learning goals?


I’m all for the ideas of project-based learning in theory. However, I have trouble with three scenarios that are problematic for project-based-learning in general. I’m curious how you solve these issues?

  1. There is always some percentage of kids who are less creatively minded than others, so much so that they are simply not interested in “making”. It is nice to buy into the idea that “everyone would love to make something” but I’ve seen that that’s simply not always the case. Finding a project that appeals to them is sometimes impossibly difficult- what do you do?

  2. Some kids are really passionate about one aspect (let’s use for example, drawing). So in any project they create, (let’s say, an interactive story in scratch), their focus is 99% of the time focused on creating nice visuals and animations. That narrow focus makes it difficult to have those kids explore other aspects (in scratch, lets say, the more complex programming blocks). Fine for a hobby learner, but in an educational context, problematic. How do you encourage exploration for narrowly-focused learners?

  3. In a school environment, learners are tested on skills they need to acquire. At the same time, project based learning suffers if it funnels a learner’s experience towards a specific set of skills- it becomes less about working on a project so much as it is completing a very constrained assignment. How do you balance having kids learn specific skills while still retaining substantial freedom to explore?


I love your questions here! You are pointing out very interesting challenges.

For the point 1, I wonder… what do you think is making some of your students less interested in making projects? Does it hold for any type of projects? Do you have specific examples?

For all of the three, I’d love to hear what the community thinks and suggests!!

  1. Maybe you can try with small subgroups of children working together, putting in the same group children intereseted and children who are not: this to me is co-operative learning and peer-to-peer education; maybe children could be more interested and eager toward a fellow than toward the teacher.

  2. You coluld let the kids explore all the possibilities of Scratch, and than propose them an external goal to achieve and challenge them toward it.

  3. I don’t know what skills are you thinking at, because you don’t mention the age of your kids, but Scratch is great for learning geometry, the Cartesian Plane, negative numbers, it allows to add a lot of what-if’s to simple situations, that help skills in logic thinking (e.g.: draw a square by repeating 4 times move-turn 90 - 90 x 4 sides is 360, which makes a complete turn: what-if we wanted a trangle? a pentagon?)


Hi! I like these questions. Respectfully, my thoughts are:

(1) Many children seem to be genuinely frightened by models of learning that are not passive. This may be articulated as a lack of interest in making but perhaps it is a fear of dialogue or existence (anything alternative what Freire described as “banking education”). I deal with these issues in robotics classes and for me the first step is to acknowledge how a child feels. It isn’t always easy to be a kid, or a person. Also, I think a lot of us teachers create a poor model for our students when we are unwilling to make mistakes, or start something without knowing where it will go.

(2) I think this problem can be mitigated if kids are asked to exposit or document what they make. This might encourage, for example, the creation of a narrative thread separate from but related to a series of computational gestures.

(3) Here I think our task is to prepare the medium, e.g. Scratch, as a kind of playground that invites diverse outcomes that overlap whatever standards or learning goals others may value/impose.


  1. My suggestion for your first question is to develop designated roles for students during some maker-related group projects. All students will be involved in the “making,” but for students who are particularly uninterested in that part, channeling their own skillsets into the project might serve as entry points to engagement. Role examples include writing & recording group ideas, testing a group prototype & brainstorming improvements, presenting the finished project to the class, timekeeping/making sure the group is on task, etc.

  2. For this problem, I would think about creating a checklist or rubric for student projects that clearly defines what you want students to explore. That way, students can choose to spend time on their favorite thing (like drawing), but they also know that they are expected to incorporate A, B, & C into their project as well (music/sound bytes, movement, and three different types of programming blocks, for example). This way, they have freedom to make the project their own, but they are working within a set of expectations that prohibit them from staying solely in their comfort zone.

  3. This is a really tricky question. My idea would be to give students a specific skill or content area to address with their project, as well as the required outcomes, and then let them run wild from there. For example, a task could be for each group to create a project to teach classmates about one type of heat transfer. The students could create whatever kind of project they wanted: A digital presentation, a board game, a 3D model made from recycled materials, a green screen report, a Scratch animation, a stop-motion video… They would be graded based on certain criteria (Did you incorporate all of the scientific vocabulary in your project/presentation? Did you accurately depict the heat transfer process? Were the other students able to clearly understand & learn the concept?). Students could be kept on track through periodic check-ins with the teacher.


In my view, a ‘project’ is a thing in the professional world, and for good reasons from there we in education bring it into our world. My rule has always been: do projects as the professionals do, and that meant:

  1. there is a need for a certain product, outcome or change. This need can vary, from rather vague to very specific. So project assignments should vary
  2. it is a role play: the person (teacher) who assigns the project to others (students) has a role in which it makes sense that (s)he assigns the projects, for example: I’m the owner of a store for outdoor ware, but my store looks very indoor. Time for change! And you students work at a design studio
  3. it is group work, although the size of the group may vary, should vary from project to project, depending on the amount of work to be done. I would not count individual assignments (like this week’s homework) as ‘projects’
  4. the amount of available time (both in size and in calendar time) is specified
  5. the project group makes the planning, not the teacher. The teacher asks for regular reports about ‘how things are going’, just to feel confident about the progress and the expected outcome
  6. the teacher may specify certain steps or activities, but they should be realistic within the context of the project.
    The students will quickly understand that this is how projects are ‘constructed’, and after a few they start asking “can we have a project in which …” and then they mention their own specifications.
    But basically, there are assignments and there are projects. “Read a novel and prepare a book presentation, using Powerpoint” - I don’t consider that to be a project.


As far as I’m concerned, I understand that children are willingly involved in tasks that are not directly related to school activities. Working together can help one another and whoever proposes the activity should be good at distributing the tasks according to the qualities of each . Everyone is good at doing something, everyone has the qualities to put in place to develop the project.
In a school environment unfortunately, in some respects, it is necessary to “traditional” teaching but for many others it is possible to use the didactic lab and promote activities that involve everyone in a playful and creative manner.


I would not normally have thought of myself as a creative person, and I can understand why some students might at first, not be interested in ‘maker’ projects. But I love how technology has expanded this definition. I cannot draw or create, but I love graphic design tools such as Canva. With them, I feel like I can create something. Also I love using Scratch. While some students will gravitate towards its open-ended creativeness, I like the mathematical, logical side of coding. I like that I can figure something out and create it. So creativity has different definitions. I no longer believe that someone has no creative abilities (thought I once believed it of myself!). I think students need to keep pushing and find something that works for them. Have them define their strengths and interests and match that up with something creative. Even scientists and mathematicians create! Students should find something in their comfort zone.


Reflexão interessante. Há alunos realmente com mais criatividade que outros. Que possuem mais incentivo em casa. Por isso, é necessário propor agrupamentos produtivos, assim damos a oportunidade de interações criativas.


I agree. My understanding of what Mitch talks about is also the important link between ‘project’ and ‘passion’ when it comes to meaningful learning. Assigning the task of making a powerpoint presentation on a book doesn’t leave much room for ‘passion’ unless (like me!) you really enjoy making PowerPoints! But you could create room for that ‘passion’ to thrive by broadening the task a little; choose a theme from the book and prepare any kind of presentation on that theme (a poster, a role play, a powerpoint, an animation, a video, a song).

In general, I think the 4 P’s also requires re-thinking the way we assess and recognize learning. Often teachers in state education systems are restricted by the need to meet certain learning outcomes, and sometimes those learning outcomes appear incompatible or insufficient to prepare children for a future of innovation.


I also find this particularly helpful in giving visual cues to spot when a person is having a positive learning experience.
Of course, as a teacher or observer you can’t be sure how it feels but, particularly with children who may not seem ‘creative’ they may still exhibit some of these emotions which would suggest they are learning from a project, just not in the same way some of their peers may appear to learn.


I love this!! May I reuse it? Reference you?


Yes definitely use it! Here’s a link to the webinar I got it from, you can reference those guys :slight_smile: