Teaching 8th Graders to Manage Projects

Ryan Mocarski

Over the last four years my middle school students have made it clear that science lectures do not excite them. They want to be able to dive into the material, and if they have questions they will ask. This is what motivated me to develop my project-based, flipped classroom model.

I taped some lessons and shared the videos with my students rather than lecturing. After some initial success with flipped science, my students told me they would rather have me provide them with valuable websites to research as oppose to making my flipped classroom lectures.

During the flipped evolution, I spoke to northern Ohio business professionals about their expectations for quality employees. They all talked about the ability to manage a project. That insight led me to create a project management system to help my students to develop the skills that everyone needs to succeed.

I call my project model Project Management in Education. The goal for the program is to grow the individual and the test scores will take care of themselves. I spend the first week or two of the school year teaching my students how to be a successful person and employee. These sessions may include designing weekly work schedules, how to pick teammates, analyzing your strengths and weaknesses, analyzing what type of learner you are, goal setting, how to balance work time, think time and break time, etc.

pbl-1After these foundational skills are developed, I give my students weekly goals to complete. For example, they may have 15 goals to meet between Monday and Friday. These goals are related to the Common Core Standards for 8th grade science. The students are encouraged to choose teams based on the strengths of the students available in the class. Students have the choice on how they want to meet the goals. Some may build something, some may draw, and others will use technology to design a presentation. On Friday, or earlier with my students who have finished their goals, I conduct meetings and discuss if the students met the goals or if they need to go back and improve on their work. Between Monday and Friday, students have all class period to work, have think time or break time. They know the expectation of due dates. I make myself available to address questions and brainstorm ideas throughout the week. The following Monday we conduct a meeting as a class to discuss all the goals and make sure they are clear to everyone. At that time, I take a few days to review the material, and the students will be tested on the 15 goals. After the test, the next day we review the goals for what still may not be clear. Then students are provided with the next set of goals.

As a 8th grade science teacher, I am required to make sure my student meet all of the Common Core Standards. Teachers know this can be a challenge, but through my project-based learning (PBL) approach students learn skills and obtain content through accomplishing science related goals. The class is almost 95% exploration.

This PBL system would work in any content area. The teacher would just have to change the way they set up their goals.

I started this creative journey when I started working with TRECA Educational Solutions, a non-profit intermediate organization in northern Ohio. They approached me to be part of their TRECA Research and Development project. Watch for more on TRECA R&D:

During the school year under TRECA’s supervision, I developed my Mocarski ibook which is a project-based, flipped classroom model with a focus on going paperless.

This year I am helping TRECA with their Learning Institute of Ohio project by being a specialist on Next Generation Learning Environments.  At the beginning of this school year is when I transformed my project-based, flipped classroom model into the Project Management in Education model.

After observing this program throughout the first half of this school year, it has been amazing to see how students as young as fourteen years old can adopt skills that some adults struggle to possess through a structured program. The students have enjoyed the freedom of an office type environment. It has been interesting to see how little I have to micromanage my students because of the skills the students have developed throughout the first half of the school year.  If students in school can develop the necessary skills to be successful employees, they will be able to handle any content thrown at them in school.

I am confident that this management system can be used in every content area if you set your program up properly. Please feel free to email me at [email protected] if you have any question about my program or if your district would like me to come present about it.

For more on project-based learning, check out:

Ryan Mocarski is a NGLE Specialist and teaches 8th grade science at Big Walnut Middle School. Follow Ryan on Twitter at


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I think this awesome. I hope that more teachers / schools will implement curriculum like yours. I think kids these day need to learn in a different way than I did. I wish more teachers would try and find better ways to teach their students. Unfortunately I know it is not an easy task to do and sometimes they just have to do the best with what they have. Good luck.


Sounds awesome. I teach 8th grade science in a small urban school district (student mix is approximately 1% Asian, 40% Caucasian, 25% Hispanic and 25% African American) and would love to try something like this. However, I find most of my students devolve to socializing and goofing off whenever I give them any freedom at all. No matter how interesting I try to make my lessons, only the very top students (maybe 20% or so) appear to have any motivation at all. The rest complain about any amount of work expected of them, do as little as possible and focus on talking and socializing during class, no matter what consequences I establish. It's very discouraging. I read everything I can about classroom management and have implemented strategies that others swear by, to no avail. Of course, my school has ridiculous policies that contribute to the problem. For example, when transferring from class to class, students must walk in straight quiet lines, accompanied by a teacher (mind you-- these are 7th and 8th graders!). The only time they're officially "allowed" to talk is while they're eating lunch, which lasts for a total of 20 minutes.

The motivated students always do well, no matter what strategies I adopt. The unmotivated ones give me their best cooperation and highest achievement when I rule with an iron fist and mostly lecture to them. I don't like teaching this way and I don't think it's the best way to encourage students to learn to think and achieve on their own. On several occasions, I've tried to accept that there will be a certain level of unruly behavior during a hands-on lesson (labs, etc), but that important learning can and will occur in that environment anyway. I was recently observed during one of those times and received a terrible review because I didn't have the class "under control" and "some students were not engaged". This, in a class that consists of 29% SPED students, the legal limit being 30%. Some of those SPED students require one-on-one assistance, whereas others easily become off task due to their attention span limits. So I'm expected to provide individual help to the four students who need it and simultaneously make sure I have the five with ADHD/ODD "under control", all while supervising and encouraging the other 22 students. As I mentioned in the beginning of my post, I'd love to try this method but I fear it would lead to chaos. I'm admittedly a struggling teacher with only three years of full time teaching experience, but this is a second career for me, so I'm not young and inexperienced in life. What resources would you suggest to help me implement a more student centered classroom?

Ryan Mocarski

Hello Kat,

I am sorry to hear about your struggles. I know at this time in the school year it is hard to take a break from teaching content because of all the state testing coming up, but this is what I advise. The week you get back from spring break, take a break from content. Have students the first day take a minute and right down all of their strengths and weaknesses as a student. This should include how long they think they can stay on task, how many breaks from learning do they need within a class period, what is the best skill they possess as a student to bring to the table if they were going to work on a group project. The goal that day is for them to figure out who they are as a learner (this is an ongoing process that will not be solved quickly, it is ongoing through their life). The next day, give the students 10 goals that they need to achieve by Friday. These goals can be fake or content based. Tell them you do not care how they meet the goals. They can be in groups or individual. Give them till Friday to complete the goals. You will be there to monitor progress. If a student gets off task, ask them what their plan is to meet their goals by Friday. If they do not know, make them write up a detailed daily schedule with how much time they are going to be on-task per day, how many breaks they need per day, how long those breaks will last. If students are in a group, ask them why they picked those group members. Teach them how to pick an appropriate group by analyzing their strengths and weaknesses compared to others students strengths and weaknesses. Treat them like adults. Encourage creativity and out of the box thinking. My sure to learn what the students like. If they like to build things, make sure one of the goals is building something. Even present the content standards to the students and let them choose how they want to learn them. Student love choice. I hope this helps. Also, check out my Mocarski Ibook at www.treca.org/Page/776 as an additional reference. Remember, a leader needs followers. Help your students develop these essential skills and they will follow you.


Ryan Mocarski


Please check out my Mocarski Ibook at www.treca.org/Page/776 as a reference. Also, email me at [email protected]. I have some ideas that can help you.


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