We hit upon a good method to generate many novel final project ideas, narrow them down, and assign group members. We used a traditional teaching tool called a RAFT, which stands for Role, Audience, Format and Topic, but changed it up a bit.
Role is the role the project will play, such as educate, entertain, or organize.
Audience is who the project aims at communicating with: high school students, parents, children, corporations, etc.
Topic is what the subject of the project will be: global events, body positivity, stereotypes, etc.
Prior to the brainstorming session, a couple of students mentioned that they had ideas for projects, and people to work on it. This presented a little problem for us. We wanted to honor the girls’ ideas, but allow other ideas to enter and compete fairly. We also thought there may have been some pressure applied to some people to work on certain projects, and we didn’t want students feel compelled into working on projects or coerced out of them. We assured the students with ideas that there was room for their ideas in the process we were going to use to select the final projects and the groups to work on them.
Our activity went like this.
- We put up a Google Doc with a four column table, one for each of the RAFT characteristics.This document was partially filled in with examples. There is a partly filled template version you can copy.
- We explained what RAFT was, then asked the girls to give more examples. Originally, we had intended to go column by column, but ideas came for topics and audiences first, so we went with that. Eventually, we got many suggestions in each column. The result looked like this.
- We had the students generate three ideas each, writing each idea on a separate Post-It note. To do this, they took one suggestion from each column to create a new idea. They take one role (say, education), an audience (children), a format (interactive timeline) and a topic(survival skills). From this, they get one potential project (this one was my personal favorite, though it didn’t make the final cut), in this case an interactive timeline which educated children on survival skills. Awesome! We ended up with about 45 unique ideas – there were a few duplicates, which we gathered into clusters as we got a chance. Mostly, the girls did this during the gallery walk (see below).
- The girls posted their notes on the “Idea Wall”. We used a lot of space for this – the length of our wall, which was about twenty feet, and from about three and a half to five and half feet off the ground. Ideas were a foot or two apart, which made them easier to read given the crowd of students.
- We told the girls that they would be given six stickers (red, blue and gold glitter stars! Yay!) to vote on their favorite ideas. Before we gave them the stickers (we actually had to cut the stickers into groups of six), we gave them time (15 minutes or so) to read all the ideas in a gallery walk.
- They voted with stickers, and we tallied the votes. We ended up with five projects that were clearly of the most interest to the girls. There was a substantial gap in the number of votes between these five and number six. Here’s what they came up with:
- Space app – an app to alert people to space events and good viewing sites.
- Creative Community – an app to help disenfranchised writers and coders find safe places to ply their crafts.
- Commuting App – an app to wake people on public transit when they get close to their stop.
- Educate youth on politics – website to do just that
- Getting to know yourself – and app to help young people get to know themselves.
- We wanted to end up with only four projects. With nineteen girls, five projects would’ve left one team with only three members, and fewer than that if there was an absence. The next step took care of that.
- We listed the five projects up on the big screen. We had the girls choose their top three and write them on index cards (to make our sorting job easier later). We collected them up, and found that one project had only two first place votes, the others all had four or five, so we eliminated the straggler. Next we sorted the girls into project groups based on their first choice, and in some cases second choice. We also made sure to put a strong programmer and a strong presentation personality into each group.
An aside: we did have a moment when we thought we weren’t going to be able to give every one one of their top two choices. Then we noticed that one girl had listed her choices out of order with numbers in front of them (she almost accidently got her last choice – oops). Once we got that straightened out, the groups fell into place.
The benefit of doing this is that in the end, we ended up with groups of girls which had members who hadn’t worked a lot together, and didn’t follow friendship allegiances. Side note: we have a pretty strong bond among all our girls, otherwise we’d have made sure to address pairs we knew couldn’t be in the same group.
Another benefit is that WE controlled who end up in what group, although it won’t appear that way to the students. We were able to make sure no one got left out. We were also able to make the groups well balanced in terms of skills and personalities. Finally, they all got their first or second choice – a point which we reiterated throughout the process. This will help ensure student engagement.
Who says you can’t teach old dogs (RAFT) new tricks?
Final Project Guidelines
I should mention that we took some time at the end of the day to establish (and re-establish guidelines for final projects, akin to the classroom contract for the first day. We felt that the high pressure of the situation warranted revisiting these ideas. We didn’t have a lot of time, so we solicited and wrote down guidelines, using a stuffed animal (George, the pot-bellied pig, who was filling in for Athena the baby spotted owl and class mascot) to pass around so only one person would be talking at a time.
After accepting all the guidelines, in order to form a consensus, we asked if there were any guidelines anyone felt they could not live by. One student didn’t like the negativity in the way one was worded, so we rephrased it. Instead of “Don’t take over other people’s projects (aka the ‘Stay in your lane rule’)” we used “Take ownership of your tasks” and spoke about asking for help if you needed it.