The Six A’s of Designing Projects

Does the project emanate from a problem or question that has meaning to the student?
Is it a problem or question that might actually be tackled by an adult at work or in the community?
Do students create or produce something that has personal or social value, beyond the school setting?

Academic Rigor
Does the project lead students to acquire and apply knowledge central to one or more discipline or content area?
Does it challenge students to use methods of inquiry central to one or more discipline (e.g., to think like a scientist)?
Do students develop higher order thinking skills and habits of mind (searching for evidence, taking different perspectives, and the like)?

Applied Learning
Are students solving a semi-structured problem (designing a product, improving a system, organizing an event, for instance) that is grounded in a context of life and work beyond the school walls?
Does the project lead students to acquire and use competencies expected in high-performance work organizations (such as teamwork, appropriate use of technology, problem-solving, communications)?
Does the work require students to develop organizational and self-management skills?

Active Exploration
Do students spend significant amounts of time doing field-based work?
Does the project require students to engage in real investigation, using a variety of methods, media, and sources?
Are students expected to communicate what they are learning through presentations? Adult Connections
Do students have opportunities to meet and observe adults with relevant expertise and experience?
Does the work of adults become more visible to students?
Do adults from outside the classroom help students develop a sense of the real-world standards for this type of work?

Assessment Practices
Do students have opportunities to review exemplars of similar work products?
Are there clear milestones or products at the completion of each distinct phase of the work, culminating in an exhibition, portfolio, or presentation?
Do students receive timely feedback on their works in progress and engage in periodic, structured self-assessment using clear project criteria that they have helped to set?

From Adria Steinberg, Real Learning, Real Work: School-to-Work as High School Reform (New York: Routledge, 1997).