[Reflection 2] How do you facilitate projects?


Have you helped others learn to create projects?
What were the biggest challenges you faced? What strategies have you used to address these challenges?
What questions do you have about a project-based approach to learning?

We love to hear your thoughts!

A previous version of this post is also available in Italiano, Português, Español (Spanish), 日本語 (Japanese), עברית (Hebrew)


In facilitating project creation with students, I have found that the biggest challenge is when a student is not motivated and doesn’t progress with a project. That usually turns out to be from fear that they will be humiliated by the process. This happens most when the whole project is open-ended, like science fair or a Rube Goldberg project. I don’t have as much trouble with projects that have fewer degrees of freedom, so I guess one solution is to build up to greater levels of creative freedom. Some students try to directly copy the work of others, which also seems to be to avoid having their own work or ideas branded inferior.

My students have been mostly 6th grade through high school, so humiliation is front of peers is a REALLY big deal that they want to avoid at all costs. For really open-ended projects, some don’t know where to start and freeze, or become angry and defensive. Both try to opt out by not doing anything. I tend to have an easier time getting girls to work through their fear, maybe because I’m a woman, or maybe because girls are often more open communicating their fear to me.

I should say that I work at a school where most kids have extra stress at home from non-school sources, like poverty, family difficulties, homelessness, abuse, and addiction. They are already more fearful and on edge than students that come from safe, supportive homes.

The best solution I’ve found is one-on one time where I can help them see that there is some project that exists that they won’t hate working on. Some project types are also easier to sell than others, especially when the end product is something they want, like something ornamental or toy-like.


I agree with pretty much everything you say!
Finding the right level of freedom is tricky. I work with creative programming & maker ed - telling the students they can do anything they want can cause quite a bit of stress, they don’t know where to start or have a hard time finding out what they want to do. A nice solution when running a coding course or workshop has been pacing the work with mini projects: learning new skills and what’s possible through smaller tasks that still allow a unique approach. The final project doesn’t feel so overwhelming after a series of smaller ones, and the mini projects offer material that can be reused. Trying out different things and techniques helps the students figure out what they like to work with - which can sometimes be as important as the outcome.
The more skills you have, the easier it gets to come up with ideas - it’s a bit of a vicious circle, but helping the students out by breaking projects into steps often does the trick. And, learning to break a big task into small ones is a real-life skill, not only relevant in programming.


I also agree. I guess it is a bit overwhelming when you have endless options. Both the teachers I work with and myself have noticed that giving options is a good start, and kids can pick up from that once they feel they can do something. The feeling of being able to accomplish something is exhilarating. They start getting bolder after that, but they need some starting point.
When I saw Mitch saying that we don’t need to teach them basic concepts beforehand, I felt a bit confused. On the one hand, I agree with him that kids can learn as they develop the project. On the other hand, I remembered kids that had no idea what to do because either they have been in educational contexts where creativity is not encouraged or they simply feel insecure. If we give them infinite possibilities, they get scared and freeze. So, how do we bring up these projects for them? Your post helped me see that it happens in other places too. I want to continue watching and sharing in this course to see what people have to say about that. Including people at MIT. Thanks!


I really appreciate the questions raised in this discussion!

@Sanna is spot on that “finding the right level of freedom is tricky”, and I share @CarolEspinosa’s inquisitiveness about how to launch projects before sharing critical concepts. In big picture terms, it seems that the challenge is to offer kids some freedom without overwhelming them. Perhaps a separate but concurrent problem is that children, out of a fear of embarrassment, may feel more comfortable with instructionist education.

We as teachers can, I think, best handle the last issue by modeling project-oriented making. This means talking about our projects, sharing works in progress, and – most especially – sharing setbacks and failures, and demonstrating perseverance.

In terms of offering the right level of freedom, I try to offer 2-3 diverse examples of projects that kids might pursue, and anticipate the skills and scaffolding that will help children fulfill their ambitions in these projects. For example, when I teach LEGO robotics, I might show kids three robots that use gears. I won’t emphasize the gears, but they are critical to making the robots succeed. One robot will be wheeled, two will not be. When kids have settled on their own projects – probably influenced to a great degree by what I’ve shared – I’ll make available for their exploration some simple gear trains, e.g. one that increases and one that decreases torque.


So we all kind of find the same issue: sudden open-ended possibilities that kids don’t know how to manage. In my recent experience I’ve had similar problems, though (mostly) not as kids freezing per se, but kind of endlessly wandering without ever focusing on a real project. Let me explain:

I started several months ago (during the last LCL, actually) what was intended as a creative music workshop with Scratch & Makey Makey (posts here & here). Whatever the reason, it has gradually turned from a 10-session mucic-centered workshop into an open-ended general Scratch club.

Anyway: I was able to get them hands on pretty quickly (appart from a younger kid that found more difficult to find possible things to do with the tool): I showed them examples, I proposed ideas, I invited them to remix whatever they found interesting, and I tried to create a sense of relaxed, risks-welcomed, family-like community.

But now my feeling is this: that sort of aimless tinkering has its benefits, but at some point they ought to converge onto something of a more long term, finished thing. A project they’re passionate about, so they can really iterate, reflect upon, and face the difficulties that will inevitably arise.

What do you think about this?


I think you are right
After playing with functions and understanding how it works it is most desirable that the teacher alone or with student together will decide alon a meaningful project in which the students will work in pairs or little groups to create mor elaborated animation to be presented on a school site and or in front of a determined audience .This might give a sense to the student work and motivation for high performace.


I have coached Odyssey of the Mind teams in which students are given a problem to solve and a rubric, but the sky is the limit as to the solutions. These are collaborative, non-graded, open-ended project that take months to solve. Special awards are given for risk taking, whether they are successful or not.
Grades and fear of failure inhibit the creative process. Educators must find ways to combat this and celebrate effort and growth, not matter the increments.


Hi Everyone,
I also agree, Especially for open- ended projects,Some students don’t know where to start and freeze it.
So, Before we start giving some guidance like gathering information, collecting requirements, technics, practical Difficulties , Pros & Cons … about doing projects and showing a demo using some existing projects . Then take one of the existing projects , make a discussion among the students about pros and cons ,then share the ideas how to overcome the faults,then execute it. Next give some small projects . Then bigger one. As by motivating the students in this way is helpful to achieve the task easier.
Project based learning is a method to help the students by learn to work many things and also by gathering information .


Sharing works in progress and not hiding setbacks and failures - that’s something essential right there. Instructional education often emphasizes the outcome, while in real life the process is equally important. Many kids fear making mistakes and especially letting other see them, and assessment doesn’t really alleviate this. But in real life, the moment you’re struggling with a project is when input from others is most useful. And, as any maker or technology professional would agree, you will just keep making mistakes, they are unavoidable. So it’s better to get used to making them and embracing them as an important part of getting things done.


I believe there’s value in doing things that don’t seem “useful” or “important”, immediately. If the importance of what kids are working with is always defined from the outside, by an educator, the kids can’t own the project and invest as much in it, personally.
There’s so much of the opposite at school - learning abstract, supposedly important things for the future - it can be quite an experience to just get going by trying stuff out and finding the goals and passions while you’re at it. Especially if it’s tools like programming or technology, which are typically loaded with preconceptions and myths like this is difficult or usually done by people who are “not like me”, aka some lonely heroic hackers.

So, how to help kids finish and iterate in such a setting - maybe let them collectively decide on a theme all their projects would be related to? An amusement park sound track / interactive museum of sounds / zoo with physical makey makey interfaces?


Yeah, I’m quite convinced that this wandering, tinkering, seemingly aimless exploration, has huge benefits, so for a time just let it happen. You’re always afraid that they aren’t learning anything (and I’ve also had some difficult conversation with troubled parents for that reason). But I really thing that learning takes patience, and trust, for the part of the mentor, and that it often works, if you let it, in a non-linear manner.

But it’s like you need alternating phases of divergence & convergence, isn’t it? I’ll give a thought to your ideas, and see if we can converge towards some meaningful projects in the coming days! :smiley:

Thanks for your thoughts everyone!

[Reflection 2] Thinking about coding

While I have taught plenty of workshops and classes on skills and processes, I cannot recall having taught using projects. My work tends to put me in touch with individuals and groups who already have projects in progress, or who need coaching through a specific task. As I think about educating my children, however, I realize that they need a framework to bring them to the point at which they need to solve a task. Not being a fan of arbitrary assignments, I have avoided creating learning regiments and tests at home, but I know that I can do more as a parent. Often I try to model the behavior I hope to see in my children by learning new skills and doing hard things, but this hasn’t proven to be very inspiring for my budding learners.

Knowing that project-based learning is important for all learners, I am most passionately motivated at this time in my life by the things I can do with my children (ages 3 and 5), though I suspect the habits I develop in thinking about project-based learning will bleed over into my work as well.


Hi Everyone,

According to me, project facilitation is a process that requires skill and involves the creative learning spiral. The spiral may vary for each one of us but the core is to produce the best and effective result. As a trainer, my first and foremost focus is on requirements and brainstorming the best solution required for the effective result. Secondly, induce the collaborative skills and abilities of my students to achieve the desired results. Also motivate the students to plan things ahead to complete the project on time.
I have faced challenges in the analysis phase where decision making by students require more guidance and support. Constant encouragement and positive approach helps in mending the flaws effectively. Responsibility should be shared equally among the team for best outcome and also it enhances the leadership quality in them which will be helpful for improving their decision making skills.


Hi, everyone! I spend a lot of time helping others create projects. I hope, while doing so, that I am also helping these same individuals “learn to” create projects. By this, I mean that I hope the experience propels them to future projects so that our work together serves as a lever to ongoing project-based learning. This question is provoking an internal dialogue (thanks for that!) about the balance between my emphasis on content and my emphasis on process in connection with the support I provide in my project-based learning experiences.


I am interested in learning more about Odyssey of the Mind, thank you for sharing your experiences with the program. Providing awards for risk-taking are interesting. I wonder how we can evaluate risk-taking when (at least to me) it seems to be a very subjective and personal experience. Meaning - what is “risky” behavior for one team member, might be “the norm” for another. I’d like to encourage all students to push the boundaries of their own comfort-zones, but I am not sure how I can gage initial benchmarks. This challenge might be magnified (for me) given that I often work with students in accelerated, online sessions (8-10 weeks), so it’s harder to learn about individual styles. Thank you for the thought-provoking post.


Thomas, your post is very thought-provoking. I too think that when you get involved in supporting a project can have a significant impact on the experience and the process. You’ve got me thinking about supporting “origin” versus supporting “progress” in different ways now. Thank you!



Thanks, Kyra!


Hallo everyone,

it has been really interesting for me to read about your doubts and solutions. In the end I thought: if we all find similar problems in our classes although we all have similar dreams about creativity, maybe that means that we are in a phase of world wide transition for education. Isn’t it interesting?
Therefore I, too, would like to share with you an experience I had.

I had asked one of my classes to prepare a talk for a meeting about CLIL (content and language integrated learning) in which they had to describe some activities they still had to plan for that special module. They were excited at first: freedom, finally!

Yet, freedom costs in terms of responsibility and soon they were longing for directions. So I gave them some, and then some more, and then some more. Till I realized I was doing all the job and started blaming myself for I was failing to teach them independence.

Then I had a stupid idea which turned out to be the solution: I gave function names to the teams in which I had grouped my students. Now, quite magically, the Researchers, the Reporters, the Statisticians, the Designers and the Conductors knew what they had to do and I could finally watch them work and smile.

What I learned in that occasion is that I cannot teach students how to make a project. Maybe I lack the necessary skills (though LCL makes me suspect that nobody can). What I can do is help them believe they are somebody with a role and when they play this role game they imagine what their student role doesn’t allow them to imagine. Funny, isn’t it?