Last night I visited Londonderry (NH) High School to see some of their student’s senior projects. I met a student from this school at the FIRST Robotics Championship earlier this year and was told about his team’s project to create a virtual tour of the school. This school is not far from me and in fact my son is the assistant principal of the elementary school just down the street from the high school. So when I received an invitation to come see this project in person I had to accept. A team of four students had created a very impressive virtual tour of their school. It wasn’t a game really but a big project that helped these students really learn a lot.
What did they learn? Well obviously some programming. They also learned a lot about including graphics, building a game engine (not an ordinary program by any means) and working as a team. At the end the student team had an large body of code that really showed of a depth of knowledge that was impressive. There were a couple of other large projects there as well. A really good first person shooter game and a network program that forced the student to enter the world of known but not easily reproducible bugs.
Large scale projects are becoming increasingly common in my experience. In some respects the loss of the AP CS AB exam may have helped here. I think that more schools are having students take the AP CS exam as junior (though I could be wrong) and finding that they have some highly motivated seniors who want to take on something big and new. Independent studies that involve big projects can be just the ticket.
Other schools involved big projects as a matter of principle though. Louis Zulli at the Center for Advanced Technologies a public school magnet program housed at Lakewood Senior High School in Florida has students work on many large project to benefit the school. Previous projects have included:
Back in May Lou and his students presented many of their projects and how the were created during a webcast called Real World K-12 Student Solutions using SharePoint 2010 from the Center for Advanced Technologies (2012). You can register and watch the webcast on demand now.
Other schools use the Imagine Cup as a helpful motivator and driver around large projects. This year a team of Pat Yongpradit’s students finished second in the US in the Imagine Cup Game Design for Windows/Xbox category. Pat uses the Imagine Cup as the center piece of a project based learning course that teaches teamwork project management and other so called soft skills along side a deeper technical learning experience. The complexity of a large project, especially one that involves a team, allows for a greater depth of learning. Yeah I’m a fan.
Do you use large projects with your students? What do they create? If you don use large projects why not? Are their particular barriers to doing so or do you just prefer something else?