- Middle School
Eyes roll, groans echo throughout the room, anxiety peaks—this is typical reaction of a middle schooler when a big project is assigned. What is the benefit of putting a middle schooler through such “anguish”? How as a parent can you save yourself the headache of giving constant reminders? The long-term project will be a staple throughout your child’s education—and for good reason.
Long-Term Riverwatch Project
At Stanley Clark, all 8th graders complete a hands-on science experience in the fall called Riverwatch. This project is a tradition for the eldest middle school science class. Students learn the ins and outs of water quality testing prior to taking a trip to the St. Joseph River. While at the river, students test the water chemicals, collect organisms and survey the site. But that is just the beginning of this project. Once the testing is completed, students work on a month-long research report using their collected data to explain the overall health of the water body. That’s when the challenge begins!
The Benefits of a Long-Term Project
Long-term projects have a whole multitude of benefits for our students, which is why teachers LOVE to assign them. Long-term projects foster time management, organization and achievement, in addition to the academic goal the teacher has in mind.
Time management is often the biggest struggle for middle school students (and a point of frustration for parents). Time management is not engrained in your child, but instead is a skill that is taught.
First, establish a timeline (see below). Help your student break the project into smaller, more manageable parts. Create a calendar or to do list. Research shows that marking things off of a to-do list releases endorphins (“happy hormones”) in the brain, and as a result, people are motivated to check more things off!
Help your student set him or herself up for success! Organization, another common complaint among middle school parents and teachers, is a trait that needs to be honed over time. Make sure that your student’s workspace, backpack and binders are all organized. The workspace at home should have everything your student needs to be successful. This minimizes distractions (by having to search for some missing material) and maximizes work time. Post the schedule in your student’s workspace so that there is never a question about what to work on next.
Finally, the long-term project maximizes student achievement. It allows students to take their time and perfect their work. It gives students that often struggle with traditional assessments, such as tests, another way to show what they have learned.
"As a Parent, How Can I Help … or Not?"
Parents—and teachers—want their students to succeed with long-term projects, but sometimes their eagerness to help is actually a detriment to the student’s forward progress.
It is a delicate balance between helping too much and too little, but here are some tips that might help.
- Allow your student to take the lead. Let them come to you for assistance.
- Help your student set the schedule, prepare their workspace and gather the necessary materials.
- Check in with your student. Ask how the project is progressing and if they’d like to share what they’ve done so far.
- It might be tempting, but don’t do the work for them. It is important for the student to have ownership of their project and, ultimately, their learning.
If you find that your student is struggling with his or her long-term project, be supportive and offer suggestions. “Are you sticking to the schedule we made?” “Have you asked your teacher for help?” “Are you using your work time wisely?” Helping your student get back on track can be sometimes difficult, but it is important to be supportive throughout the process. You may have to check in more frequently or contact the teacher. Middle school advisors are also a great resource when it comes to student support.
It All Works Out in the End
The long-term project may seem daunting at first, but students are always proud of what they have achieved in the end. When the student hands in their finished project, it is a beaming moment of both relief and gratification. Students learn skills they need to move forward in their education while showing mastery of academic content. So, hang in there, kids (and parents). You can do it!
About the Author
Science Teacher, Grades 7 & 8
- middle school