4. Start With Interests
“Passions sometimes is a big word” for students, says Juliani, who began the project by asking students to name their interests instead. “Whether high school or middle school or elementary students, they don’t have passions, but they have interests.”
5. Inspire Students With Great Projects
Over the years, Brookhouser’s students have worked with local architects to develop an eco-friendly dream home, started YouTube communities around teen fiction books, began an Instagram account (@CookThat) encouraging girls to cook and have healthy relationships with food, created their own games using Java, and more.
6. Use 20 Time to Improve the Community
Brookhouser uses his 20 percent time to foster student engagement within their school and community. “I first want my students to focus on their audience rather than their own personal passions, and filling a need that’s out there,” he says. Once they tap into that need, “I think the passion comes as a product of that.”
7. Find Projects That Pay
For students that struggled even to find an interest, Juliani got creative juices flowing by challenging students to turn a profit. “I had a couple students that did projects where they were trying to make money and that’s what drove them. If you get students to choose a project they care about or are interested in the rest of it goes much more smoothly.”
8. Get Students Thinking Like Entrepreneurs
According to Brookhouser, “increasingly, no matter what position anyone takes, students who enter in the real world need to think of themselves as entrepreneurs, even if they end up working at an organization or a big corporation. We all need to solve problems in an innovative way, and that’s really the big goal.”
9. Group Projects Work Well
For the most part, Brookhouser encouraged students to partner up for their projects. “They can do so much more together working as a team,” he says. “And in the real world generally we work in teams.” Likewise, groups can be used in younger grades to get students with similar interests collaborating with each other.
10. …Solo Ones Do, Too
Juliani, on the other hand, had students work individually. But instead of isolating students, it actually brought the class closer together, as they became interested in each other’s projects and their personal interests. “One of the side benefits was the kids learning more about each other through this project and also me learning more about my students,” he says.
11. Let Students Pitch the Class
Both Brookhouser and Juliani hold formal “pitch days” where students present their project idea via PowerPoint, with Juliani even fashioning his after the popular elevator pitch show Shark Tank. “They got four slides: what they were learning about, why they chose it, what they were going to do, and how they were going to measure success,” he says.
12. And Let Students Give Feedback
During the pitch-day event, Juliani encouraged students to share their feedback on each other’s projects. As a result, “so many students upped what they were doing,” he says. “It was like positive peer pressure.”
13. Think Practically About Projects
“As a teacher you’re going to have to become much more active to do two things: challenging the students to push themselves a little bit and then also reeling some students back in who are maybe going above and beyond,” says Juliani, who adds that students can always continue a project with new goals in the next semester if they want.
(Next page: How students turned a failed project into a chance to do serious good)