View Full Version : Group projects??

06-03-2012, 12:48 PM
How important do you think doing projects in a group is to a young child's education?

If you think they are important, when do you think they should start? What experiences have you had?

My oldest is finishing 4th grade. We tried one project in 3rd grade and another this year. Both have been disasters. In both situations, I am not the parent that has initiated the project so I'm finding that the lead parents, in both cases, wants the kids to be completely in charge. When I've suggested to the lead parents that we step in to provide guidance, I'm met with very defensive reactions about letting the kids run it.

The problem is the children do not have the skill sets. Meetings are unproductive. They run over in time, deadlines aren't established and/or met, the end result is dismal, my daughter doesn't understand what is going on most of the time, they have paper ball fights, chaos reigns, etc. etc.

In the project we are currently working on, we were told this week that a key presentation to the powers that be (a state government employee, nonetheless) would happen in 3 weeks. When I asked how would we divide up the material to present and when would we practice the leader said "just come 30 minutes prior to the presentation and we'll pull it together." My jaw hit the floor. My daughter has never done any public speaking, she needs more prep than that. So, I've spoken up and I'm getting push-back. I also feel there are several key questions that we don't have answers for like our budget, what we need in terms of manpower, when we will complete the project, etc.

The other kids range from 8 to 16 and my daughter is interested in the ideas at the start. Most of the kids in this current project act completely uninterested. I guess their mothers are making them do this???

I feel like we keep "quitting" and I'm worried I'm setting the wrong example. I'm wondering if we should just wait another couple of years?? Or change my view on how important group work is?? My husband was educated in another country and he says they NEVER did group projects and he turned out fine. :) But, I've heard from people that have sent homeschooled children off to college that getting this experience in middle and high school is important. We started earlier than middle school but we were working with friends/peers - I thought it would be fun as well as a good learning experience. Wrong. I'm left with my head exploding.

06-03-2012, 01:02 PM
I have some thoughts on this, but I don't think the answer is a straightforward yes or no.

On the one hand, I think most "group work" in schools is like you describe - basically a mess and not very good at helping kids learn either the subject or how to work together. It can often be even worse in schools because some kids shoulder the work, or bully the others, and grades depend on it but aren't always handed out very fairly. And studies have shown that a lot of the ways in which business tries to encourage group work are counterproductive - open floor plans, "brainstorming" sessions, etc. have been shown to be a waste of time. They hurt productivity and idea generation.

On the other hand, I think there's a huge value in understanding how to lead in various ways, how to work with people in a variety of situations, how to give and take. And the realistic fact is that these are skills that are expected eventually in the working world so I think it's better to have an idea of how you want to lead and work with people instead of letting others push you into their paradigm of group work.

We don't do any group projects like what you're describing. That seems like it would be difficult. But we do participate in a Destination Imagination team (Odyssey of the Mind is a similar organization). That requires that the kids work together and as a coach, I spent a lot of time teaching kids a lot of skills for consensus building, listening, working together.

My own lens for working with others comes greatly from my experience in Quaker schools and all those great Quaker skills are things I'd like my kids to learn.

06-03-2012, 01:25 PM
My kids and I arent all that social and we havent done anything like this - but it actually reminds me of my daughter's experience with Destination Imagination in . . . 3rd grade, maybe? It was being run by the art teacher, who was totally ineffectual at everything she did. She stayed completely hands off. one of the girls in the group was a total control freak / bully who told everyone what to do all the time (and I think her mother backed her up, too - idk, i was a single mom, working full time 45 minutes away). My daughter almost quit, but finally stuck it out. Their performance was absolutely awful. The prop they were supposed to build wouldnt stand up. The bully girl was hiding in the hallways, crying, by the end of it. The only thing that impressed the judges at all was a song which my daughter had written and sung . . . i think most of the points they earned was for her song, and another kid playing an instrument. it was a total disaster, which probably put me off of group projects for kids.

OTOH, my daughter used to get some of the neighborhood kids to build forts in the back yard, and Orion has been involved in some D&D campaigns, where the kids have to work together. I'm not convinced that creating artificial circumstances to force kids to work together on something they dont care about, with adults who dont share your parenting/educational value, could possibly be a positive thing.

also really curious why you put this in the middle school / high school section

06-03-2012, 05:19 PM
I put it in the middle school/high school section because we are headed into the middle school years and I'm thinking that is where most of the people dealing with this type of situation might be.


Stella M
06-03-2012, 06:07 PM

I think group learning is completely over-rated.

What happens is school is the teacher will put one high acheiver in a group with lower acheivers or trouble makers with the expectation they will be a 'good influence'/
High acheiver/good student ends up doing all the work but the others share in the mark. No fair.

I've done lots of group things homeschool-wise and if I don't run them, they are not ( esp as far as middle/high goes ) meeting dd's needs/very non-rigourous. If I do run them, I end up distracted by the whole 'having to focus on the group thing' and I don't give my child the attention they could otherwise have if we were doing the project ourselves. AND - usually by middle school - their moms are making them do it. So they are unenthused.

I haven't completely given up on groups though...I am thinking that a service group could be an interesting learning experience for dd.

And groups that children come up with by themselves....they can be awesome! Once my girls invited over two friends to put on a performance of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
That was a whole-day group project that actually had meaning. Same as when they choreograph dances with their best dance friend.

I would have no hesitation dropping out of a group learning experience that wasn't working for my dc.

Eta I feel that my dd14 is learning a lot of those 'what is my leadership style' and 'how do I work with others co-operatively and assertively' questions through volunteer work. As opposed to group projects, I really have nothing but positive things to say about the effect volunteer and paid work has had on my daughter from 6th grade on. She works as a reading tutor at a local public school , as a student teacher at her dance school, and as a paid babysitter and all jobs have helped her develop a sense of who she is in relation to working with others. This is definitely what I will focus on when ds gets to middle school.

06-03-2012, 06:11 PM
actually Orion had one teacher (who was about to retire) who confided in me that the 'general wisdom' is to make groups of mixed types of kids, but she finds its better to put the quiet kids together, where they are all safe to speak, and the lazy ones together, where they are forced to do something, and the pushy/dominating ones together, where they can all fight it out.

I do keep considering doing a 'writing club' which is part of a writing curriculum i've been looking at, but they changed their pricing so that running the 'writing club' is considered to be a for-profit activity, which kinda prices me out . . i mean, unless i can get ppl to chip in to cover the extra cost.

Stella M
06-03-2012, 06:14 PM
Dd12 is finding that her teachers are all followers of the general wisdom :(

It would make a lot more sense to me to group like with like...

06-03-2012, 08:12 PM

I think group learning is completely over-rated.

What happens is school is the teacher will put one high acheiver in a group with lower acheivers or trouble makers with the expectation they will be a 'good influence'/
High acheiver/good student ends up doing all the work but the others share in the mark. No fair.

That's what oldest DS tells me about the group projects at his school. He's the high achiever who ends up doing most or all of the work. It's no different than way back in the day when I was at the same high school. I really don't see any benefit to group projects.

06-03-2012, 09:06 PM
I really don't see any benefit to group projects
not to artificial group projects like that, but there are ways that kids can learn to work together - friend getting together to plan something they want to do, or a lego league . . but not artificial just for its own sake. imo

Blue Flag Mom
07-03-2012, 09:08 PM
As far as learning leadership and how to work in groups, both the Boy Scouts and 4-H clubs offer great templates for the kids to learn to lead and to work in groups. My older son just earned his Eagle Scout award this year, and my younger is suddenly very interested in the merit badges (after a year of complete disinterest). Coming back from scout camp, he started researching merit badges online and deciding which ones to pursue - all on his own. Our troop is a boy-led troop, with some guidance from the adults. The 4-H club likewise, has guidance and help from the adults, but the meetings are run by the kids. As they get older, they get better at the planning and organizing, and they really help the younger ones to learn the ropes.

My younger son and two home-schooled friends started a writing club. They meet weekly and do some writing and discussing of their writing, eat snacks (very important to boys ages 11-14!), and then discuss other matters of importance. It was my idea to start it, and they were kind of wary at first. But they pretty much run their own club right now, with just some ideas from the moms occasionally. It seems to be meeting their needs right now, and I hope they will keep it up, and step up their writing a little as they get older. I hope they will start to enter some writing contests. The oldest entered a library contest last month. I hope the group can grow a little and perhaps gain a mentor from the University English department...

07-04-2012, 12:33 PM
actually Orion had one teacher (who was about to retire) who confided in me that the 'general wisdom' is to make groups of mixed types of kids, but she finds its better to put the quiet kids together, where they are all safe to speak, and the lazy ones together, where they are forced to do something, and the pushy/dominating ones together, where they can all fight it out.

I think I love that teacher. I was always the quiet, extremely smart one who was put with the lazy, loud kids. I hated it. I have a really strong dominant streak but hate speaking up (blame my upbringing). I always wound up doing 99% of the work while everyone else goofed off. I would have killed to have been in groups where I would have meshed better.

I think in a lot of cases, especially when you're first starting out on group projects, you need to start with smaller projects - ones that CAN be done in an hour or less - and work your way up to ones that take longer. For example, set the kids up with long lists of facts on various authors or scientists and some art supplies and ask the kids to make a poster about their person. Or give the kids a set experiment and ask them to conduct it, write it up, and present the results. After they've mastered the group mentality for easier projects, then lengthen them. I think throwing them in with little or no group-work experience and asking them to do projects that take days/weeks is asking the blind to lead the blind. Besides anything else, if you do the shorter projects, you'll be able to see which kids have which qualities and group them better in later situations. This is just thinking out loud since I haven't really had much real-world experience in this field, but it's what I'D do. While the kids were working, I would also have a pow-wow with the other parents to get their opinions on what they think is working and what isn't. I was in one situation a while back where the boys were in one group and the girls were in another... there were 3 boys and 9 or 10 girls, so some of the girls felt very left out. None of the girls' moms spoke up at the time (my son was my only child present) but they let it get to them, flew off the handle later, and it ended badly. Some parents really expect their kids to step up and lead in group situations and get disappointed if they don't, and it's good to find these things out before you have an offended parent on your hands. Again, this is all off the cuff, just thinking out loud, so feel free to disagree with me if you have more or better experience (wouldn't take much).

I hope you're able to get the situation resolved. I'm looking forward to getting together with more groups this fall, so I'm sure I'll encounter this pretty soon. It's good to have a heads-up as to what's out there and be able to consider how I want to handle it. (((HUGS)))