Project Management Solutions for the 21st-Century Student

Recently, I was teaching a particularly absent-minded student how to set a reminder for himself using Google Calendar.
He kept forgetting when he had a music lesson; like many schools, my students leave their core classes on a rotational basis, so as to not miss the same class all the time. This meant that he needed his instrument on different days, which he inevitably forgot.
He admitted that he was fully considering dropping out of band because he couldn’t keep this straight. When I showed him how to set a reminder for himself on the morning of the lesson for one hour before, he was amazed. As it turns out, he wasn’t that impressed by the technology, but rather how I’d used it to set an alert beforehand, not when the actual lesson occurred. He had never considered a way to remind himself of what was coming up.
Carol A. Kinlan, in her article “Failure to Launch and The Disorganized Teenager” explores the difficulties that students without organizational skills encounter. Specifically, she mentions that boys have an even more difficult time developmentally, referring to one of her clients she sees as an Educational Consultant: “Though his IQ was quite high, his B-s were largely a product of his disorganized approach to this schoolwork. Like many teenagers we see, especially young males, the cognitive tasks required to prioritize, balance and finish academic and other daily tasks develop slowly, sometimes well into one’s mid-20s.”
How can teachers support students who are already having difficulty in their everyday lives to manage the workload of project-based learning? Here are three tips:

Integrate Technology

Technology is enticing, and when we meet students where they are–especially if they like where they are–they are more likely to be successful. Lindsay Petlak’s Scholastic article “Organize and Communicate With Google Calendar” is packed with information. Seeing is believing. Look at how she uses Google Calendar to communicate and help organize her students:
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When I stumbled upon this, I felt much like my student had with me. It had never occurred to me to use Google Calendar in this way, but I immediately got that “teacher-excitement-mind-racing feeling.” I could share this with my students, Special Education co-teaching partner and parents. In a PBL classroom, we can create a calendar for each individual project, even setting those “hour before” type alarms for tasks if necessary.

Provide a Due Date Range

In order to differentiate and also maintain high standards and expectations, I often use a due date range with my students. This idea grew from conversations I was having continually. “Mrs. Chandler, can I just hand this in? I don’t want to lose it,” or “Mrs. Chandler, can I give it to you on Monday? My computer is at my dad’s house, and I won’t see him until Saturday.”
I’m embarrassed to say that for many years, I was more interested in the students doing what I asked by handing it in on a particular date than I was on the developmental scaffolding they may have needed. Through the years though, I realized that I was focusing on the wrong part of the situation. Most of the time, the due dates were fairly arbitrary. Who amongst us hasn’t collected an assignment on Friday, only to leave it piled on the corner of the desk for the following week?
Now, I accept most everything on a rolling basis, generally collecting things in a week range. This doesn’t just support my students. I am also likely to give more feedback if I’m not sitting on 130 papers at a time. This approach also values my student’s time. As I introduced Google Classroom, I showed my students how to use the comment feature, and I was struck by one of my student’s answers:
Aidan’s perception that I understand the life of a middle schooler is probably generous, but I try to recognize both their abilities and limitations.

Create Interdependence

I jokingly say to my middle schoolers, “I know you’re here to hang out with each other, but you still have to ‘do school’ while you are here.” However, there’s considerable truth to what I’m saying. As I was thinking about this topic, I Googled “interdependence” and surprisingly, the auto fill finished with “Interdependence in project management.”
As I perused the results, one thing became clear: interdependence isn’t just a skill to teach because it will help students manage their projects, but it is something they will need in their adult lives. This article breaks down the roles and responsibilities that a Project Manager in a business might use, and I plan to share this article with my students as the introduction to our first big project. The skills listed in the article for adults meet the expectations I have for my students:

  • Leadership
  • Managing people
  • Negotiation
  • Time management
  • Effective communication
  • Planning
  • Controlling
  • Conflict resolution
  • Problem solving

Not only am I able to share the real-world implications and applications to my students, but this thinking has prompted me to create a new “position” within my PBL classroom. I’m going to add “Project Manager” to the roles I have for students (Technology Coordinator, Time Manager, Liaison, Lead Presenter, Task Master) when collaborating on projects.
Finally, I urge teachers to be compassionate. We are not privy to the heavy loads some of our students carry–either self-imposed through sports and activities, or circumstantial due to familial obligations. The other day, as I said goodbye to my daughter, who is in 6th grade, we both were shocked when she said, “See you at 9:00.” How is this possible? Am I a terrible mother? Believe it or not, her schedule is very similar to other students. School, play practice, dinner/ work on a project at a friend’s house, and then youth group at our church until 9:00 pm.
Obviously I wouldn’t condone this breakneck schedule for her every day; however, I do think all of those activities are crucial for her social, emotional and academic development. Allowing a due date range, use of technology and interdependence are ways I recommend for teachers to help students manage their workload while acknowledging and honoring their developmental capacity and their life outside of school.
This blog is part of the High Quality PBL project. This project is supported by Project Management Institute Educational Foundation (PMIEF) and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. For more, see and follow @BIEpbl for all the latest news and resources on high-quality project-based learning and use hashtag #PBL.
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Amber Chandler

Amber Chandler is a middle school teacher at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg, NY.

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1 Comment


This is a great article. Project management is a critical skill set for everyone

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