Project learning fulfills many of the critical needs for successful after-school programs. Students, like adults, are ready for and need a change after a full day of intense work and study. Project learning should:
- be different from many regular school day experiences because projects suffer when time must be tightly controlled;
- provide opportunities to tap students’ interests;
- engage students in working collaboratively;
- provide a real world context in which to apply school day content;
- engage students in achieving a goal that can be shared with others;
- result in less formal activity than the school day;
- provide students with success and pride in what they can accomplish;
- help students see the need for content they are studying; and
- provide more choice of activity for students than the regular school day.
Projects are also venues in which knowledge is integrated within and across content areas, helping build bigger and stronger chunks of knowledge in the brain for retrieval.
Whether you use project-based learning, the project approach or service learning, if you intentionally target the above criteria, there is significant potential for increasing student motivation and learning. The AFT believes that if after-school activities engage and excite students and their after-school instructors connect what they are doing to school day learning, they will develop a more positive attitude toward learning that will carry into the regular day. Since project learning is more rare than other teaching strategies because of limitations placed on teachers by the structure of the day and often by demands of a school system, it is important to highlight the philosophy behind the strategy and the elements that enable it to bring success to students.