A year ago I trialed a method of project-based learning that incorporates a number of skills that we associate with critical collaboration, networking, and group communication skills. It strengthens student ownership of the process and the product and ensures that the students are working on problems that are meaningful to them, not just to the teacher. I did it with 4th graders, so no worries that your students can’t deal with the format! I invite you to try it with some of your projects this year:
At the start of a major unit, have the class brainstorm major questions that interest them about the topic. Once they have a good list, use approval voting to trim it down to maybe 5-6 questions. Trim out the small stuff; these should be good, meaty questions.
Then break the class into groups of 4-5 students. Each group gets a question to study. Depending on your time frame this could be for a day or a week or more. At the end of that period, each group is going to hand off their work product to another group to carry on where they left off. I actually re-sorted the members of the groups as well so students don’t see the effort as a group effort but as a whole team effort.
Now the new groups take the first-round work product and drill down; refine, re-think for some period of time. Then do it again: pass the refined work product to a third group. Of course using something like Google Docs or a Wiki makes a lot of sense for this transfer of knowledge.
After 2-3 iterations, the groups each take one of the major questions and spend some time preparing a presentation. Have them focus on clarity and summary, not detail. I actually like rehearsing presentations since most students get so much better at it with practice, and communication of your core ideas is a critical skill.
Here is the assessment part: each student should be assessed on how well they contributed to the team effort, and how well they know ALL the material presented by all the groups; they will have each had a hand in at least some of the final product from each group.
I like this approach because this is how so much of the real world works. One of the 4th graders said, “we like doing California history this way because we got to work together, just like real people do”!
Happy to give more detail about this structure; give it a try!