I used to assign projects for students to complete at home. But I’m now at a middle school where many students do not have access to materials and resources outside of class. I need alternatives for in-class projects! –A., Colorado
In-class projects would level the playing field if students receive materials and class time with opportunities to work collaboratively and creatively.
You can find ideas for challenging, low-cost projects that are not time-consuming in the NSTA K-12 journals. The activities and investigations correlate with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), so they are focused and authentic. Articles in the middle-level Science Scope feature sidebars documenting big ideas, essential pre-knowledge, time, and cost.
Another option might be to adapt a version of the Exploratorium’s Iron Science Teacher, which was used by teacher-coaches in a professional development program I worked with. Each team received a box of common materials (e.g., rubber bands, a cork, craft sticks, plastic bottles, balloons, paper clips, marbles, wooden blocks, tape, and more) and a “theme ingredient.” General supplies were available (glue sticks, rulers, a stapler, and so on). The teams had one day to develop a model using the theme ingredient (the cork in this example) and any or all of the other materials, along with a written description. No two projects were alike, and all showed a high level of creativity.
For students, you could require inventions or models that demonstrate learning of topics recently addressed in class (Newton’s Laws, for example). You could add an option for students to request and justify additional materials. Provide a project rubric and time for students to demonstrate their work and write illustrated descriptions.
This will take several class periods, but it’s time well-spent, as you observe and assess what students have learned conceptually as well as their creativity, ability to work together, and use of problem-solving strategies.