5 Projects You Can Do in the First Month of School

Ahh, summer is coming to an end.

For some of us, school has already started, for others, we still have a few weeks left before the doors flood open with students. And for many around the world we are in the midst of a school year.

In any case, we often hear that the beginning of the school year is a time to do three things:

  1. Get to know your learners and build relationships/community
  2. Assess where your learners are at after the summer break
  3. Begin the curriculum and dive into content

Depending on your school, your own personality, and your previous experience you may not think that a project is the best way to start the school year.

However, I’m here to challenge that a bit. I believe projects can be the BEST way to build community, assess your learners’ abilities and needs, and jump into content.

Here are Five Projects you can do in the first month of school.

#1. Public Service Announcement (PSA) Project

The reason PSA Projects work in every grade level and every subject is the choice students have on what they are choosing to create their PSA on. If you teach HS Physics, make it a physics (energy, motion, etc) related topic. If you teach 2nd grade, make the topics students can choose related to the content you are going to teach that month.

This can be done in as short as one class period, or over a week’s time. Here is an example of how to run one PSA Project.

Follow these five steps to create a PSA (Public Service Announcement) for one of the 2030 UN Goals to share with the world!

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#2 and #3. Maker Project or Design Challenge

I love the concept of makerspaces. Our elementary and middle school libraries have been completely redesigned to be mobile makerspaces. But I hope the message we are giving to our students is not one that they need a maker space in order to be a maker.

Students can be makers in any classroom, in any grade level, and in any subject. It’s why John Spencer and I created The LAUNCH Cycle to bring design thinking into every aspect of K-12 and let every teacher know that any student can be a maker.

Here are Maker Projects and Design Challenges that work for students in every grade level!

Best Activities for Students K-2:

1. By far these are my favorite K-2 design thinking activities to use with younger students. It connects DT to Literature via our favorite children stories.

University of Arkansas: STEM Design Challenges Based on Children’s Books

2. Stanford d.school: Spaghetti Marshmallow Challenge – Students build towers using only spaghetti, marshmallows, tape and string

3. The Morning Routine – Students redesign their morning routine

Best Activities for Students 3-5:

1. Create Your Own Sport with This Free Challenge: Invent Your Own Sport 

3. Tiny House Challenge: Maker Challenge: Design the Ultimate Tiny House (with video)

4. Stanford d.school: The Classroom Redesign Project – Students redesign a classroom

Best Projects for 6-8 Students:

1. Stanford d.school: Welcome to Middle School– Students role play how to make transition to middle school easier

2. Back to KG???!!! – Middle-school students rediscover the fun they had in kindergarten

3. Make Your Own Flappy Bird Game (FREE) Time: 20-45 mins

4. Design the Ultimate Roller Coaster: http://thelaunchcycle.com/design-the-ultimate-roll…

Best Projects for 9-12 Students:

1. The Special Olympics – Students develop a sense of empathy for people in the Special Olympics

2. The Classroom Redesign Project – Students redesign a classroom

3. Invent Your Own Sport 

4. Draw How to Make Toast (FREE via TED)

5. Gift Design Challenge

#4. Genius Hour (or 20% Time Project)

Genius Hour and 20% Time projects give students an opportunity to have time during school to explore their passions, learn with purpose, and make something for a real audience.

But, it can look vastly different in a 1st-grade classroom compared to an 11th grade Science classroom (and everywhere in between).

I’ve seen Genius Hour been successfully implemented at every grade level. In fact, in my school district, we have Genius Hour projects running K-12. They are run differently in each grade and each class, yet there are some consistent phases that say the same.

This led me to create The Genius Hour Blueprint. It is embedded below, and also you can download the PowerPoint file for FREE by signing up for weekly updates at the bottom of this post.

The Genius Hour Blueprint covers six different phases of Genius Hour and what steps/activities you can do at each stage. It also has suggested resources, activities, and ways to share your work broken down by K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. Take a look below, and download the PPT to modify and change for your purposes in class!

Genius Hour Blueprint (Embedded)

#5. Mystery Skype of Mystery Google Hangout

Mystery Skype is an education game, invented by teachers, played by two classrooms on Skype. The aim of the game is to guess the location of the other classroom by asking each other questions.


Since starting with that simple idea, Mystery Skype has grown into many more activities that classrooms can do with each other around the world.

Google for Education has created a similar game you can play with Hangouts as well:

Mystery Hangout is a social game played with two groups of students. It’s a mix of Battleships and 20 questions.

1. Two classes prepare by writing clues or questions about their geographical location for the other class.

2. Classes do a G+ Hangout. They take turns giving clues about where they are or asking questions about the location of the other class.

4. The first class to guess the other’s location wins.

This is the place to find teachers who want to set up a Mystery Hangout.

PLEASE sign up under the appropriate category (time zone/location) SEE ABOVE.

ALSO, add your details to this shared Google Doc: http://goo.gl/tb8wOA

Take Action

At the start of this school year, build your relationships and class community by doing a project that will challenge, inspire, and and energize your students to learn with passion this year.

Have another project you do in the first month of the school year? Share it out in the comments below!

Download the Genius Hour Blueprint.

Subscribe to updates and get the PowerPoint version of the Genius Hour Blueprint for FREE.

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