Project Teaching: Pupils Planning
Samuel Chester Parker
PROJECT TEACHING: PUPILS PLANNING
SAMUEL CHESTER PARKER
THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
COPYRIGHT 1922 BY
SAMUEL CHESTER PARKER
All Rights Reserved
Published March 1933
the Department of Education, University oi Chicago.
HERN BRANCH, '
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, i
PROJECT TEACHING: PUPILS PLANNING
SAMUEL CHESTER PARKER
University of Chicago
Divisions of the discussion. The following discussion of project
teaching will be divided into seven sections: I. Definition; II.
Recent examples; III. Historical development; # IV. Values;
V. Limitations; VI. Technique; VII. Conclusions.
I. DEFINITION OF PROJECT TEACHING
Pupils planning practical 1 activities. The central element in
project teaching is the planning by pupils of some practical activity,
something to be done. Hence, a pupil-project is any unit of
activity that makes the pupils responsible for such practical plan-
ning. It gives them practice in devising ways and means and in
selecting and rejecting methods of achieving some definite practical
end. This conception conforms with the dictionary definition of
a project as "something of a practical nature thrown out for the
consideration of its being done" and with the dictionary statement
that "to project" means "to contrive, to devise, to scheme."
Furthermore, it describes with considerable precision a specific
kind of improved teaching that has become common in progressive
experimental schools since
'The word "practical" is here used as the opposite of "theoretical" according
to the following definitions from Webster's Dictionary: "Practical, i. Of or pertaining
to practice or action. 2. Capable of being turned to use or account; useful in distinc-
tion from ideal or theoretical; as practical chemistry." "Theoretical. Pertaining to
theory; depending on, or confined to, theory or speculation; speculative; terminating
in theory or speculation; not practical; as theoretical learning; theoretic sciences."
3 Perhaps the briefest definition of a project for our purposes would read as follows:
A pupil-project is a unit of practical activity planned by the pupils. The author has
revised the use of the term "project" in his General Methods of Teaching in Elementary
Schools (Ginn & Co.) to conform to this more precise meaning and has added in the
revised edition (1922) a brief chapter on project teaching along the lines of this
2 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL
II. RECENT EXAMPLES OF PROJECT TEACHING
Historical construction projects. Variations in pupils' plan-
ning. We may illustrate project teaching, as well as the pertinency
of our definition, by three similar pictures of projects in medieval
history. In these cases three different fifth-grade classes of the
University of Chicago Elementary School all had the same practical
problem of illustrating certain phases of medieval life; yet the
outcomes varied greatly owing to the variations in the pupils'
planning. The nature of the pupil-activities in developing such
a project is suggested by the following description:
The castle and fortified town shown in [Fig. i] were constructed out of
cardboard by a fifth-grade class which was studying the Feudal Age in European
history. The children had read the stories of King Arthur and other knights,
as well as descriptions of life in town and castle. On the basis of this reading,
they planned an imaginary mediaeval town and castle as shown in the drawings
on the blackboard. They then constructed the walls and buildings from card-
board coated with a preparation of flour and salt to resemble stone. Certain
parts were colored with coffee, water colors, etc.
The fortified town shown on the left contained one building for each type
of craftsman or merchant, the tailor, the metal worker, the importer of baled
goods, etc. In the public square was shown a mediaeval fair. The crowded
condition of a mediaeval town was brought out by the narrow streets and
overhanging second stories of the houses. On the right is the castle of the
baron who was lord of the region. Between the town and the castle are the
feudal lands, owned by the baron, and cultivated in strips according to
Too small to be seen in the picture is a procession of knights proceeding
from the castle to the town to attend the fair. On the .blackboard in the
left-center are sketches of historical costumes in which the little dolls repre-
senting the characters were dressed.
The next fifth-grade class which worked on this project constructed a
historical castle instead of an imaginary one. They chose the castle of Kenil-
worth and from books of travel, encyclopedias, etc., obtained the details of
its construction. Later they wrote a play centering in a visit of Queen
Elizabeth to Kenilworth and the return of Drake from one of his voyages.
As a piece of co-operative work in English the class wrote the following poem
concerning their work:
OUR CASTLE IN THE SAND-PAN
Within our sand-pan straight and long,
We've built an ancient castle strong;
FIG. 2. Another fifth-grade project in medieval history. Contrast the castle in
this picture with the one in Fig. i.
FIG. 3. Another town-and-castle project. The same problem for the pupils as
in Fig. i ; note the different outcomes from the pupils' practical planning.
PROJECT TEACHING 3
It has some battlemented towers
That guard the lovely ladies' bowers;
A moat that's deep and wide around,
And green grass growing on the ground.
We now have built a mighty keep,
Also a hall where knights do sleep.
We've built a wall around the grotto
Which we have carved with Leicester's motto.
Our Kenilworth is fair and gay
With banners floating all the day,
For good Queen Bess in royal array
Is coming in her barge this day.
All loyal hearts these means employ,
To show how full they are of joy. 1
A composition project. The writing of this poem illustrates
project teaching in English composition and helps us to realize
that not all projects involve manual construction. In this par-
ticular case this fifth-grade class had been discussing what
contribution they should make to the school periodical which was
edited and printed by the pupils. They decided to write an account
of their "Castle in the Sand-Pan." Each pupil wrote inde-
pendently, and then the class listened to several of the composi-
tions. One pupil had written his in verse form, and the class de-
cided to tinker this composition and publish it. The outcome was
the poem presented.
Subdivided labor on a class project. The part played by the
subdivision of labor on a class project may be illustrated by Figure 2.
The children who constructed this scene had read Howard Pyle's
King Arthur and had listened to Scott's description of the tourna-
ment scene in Ivanhoe. After considerable discussion and planning,
a committee of three children constructed in plasticine the castle
shown at the left. For its plan they followed the large illustration
shown hanging in Figures i and 3. Other children constructed the
moat, the roadway, and the inclosure for the tournament. Many
children were engaged in constructing the pavilions on the right
for the king and queen and the lords and ladies. The costumes
1 S. C. Parker, General Methods of Teaching in Elementary Schools, pp. 8-10.
Boston: Ginn & Co., 1919.
4 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL [January
for the doll characters called for considerable knowledge and
ingenuity. The periods for manual training and for history for
about one week centered in this project.
How a teacher attacks a class project. The manner in which
an experienced project teacher attacks the actual development of
a project by a class is charmingly suggested by the following
quotation from an account by Miss Jennie Hall 1 of the activities
of a fourth-grade class in preparing a dramatization of a certain
portion of the story of Achilles to be presented to the Francis W.
Parker School at the morning assembly. The description reads in
part as follows:
With a theme that so enlisted feeling, we should surely get vigorous,
creative acting. So I suggested* making a play. As always, the idea was
hailed with joy.
Many times before this I had had experience with plays so sliced up into
acts that drawing the curtain had occupied more time than the dialogue. My
excuse to myself had been that that was the way the children had planned
it. But I had now begun to think that it was as much my business to super-
vise 3 children's play-making as their number work, and not to let their untrained
habits run riot there any more than among the multiplication tables. So I
took a short cut and said : "Now, let's not try to tell the whole story of Achilles
in our play, but just his getting angry and getting over it." The suggestion
Now attention was focused upon a small area of the story, and some
fulness of delineation was possible. There is always, I suppose, a good deal
of vagueness and delay in the attack. When your boat lies beached, it takes
much shouting and running about to get it launched. "What is going to
happen first?" was our starting question. "The quarrel," was the class
1 Miss Hall was one of the most skilful and valuable teachers in America's experi-
mental schools. She was author of a notable series of children's history stories,
including "Viking Tales," "Our Ancestors in Europe," "The Story of Chicago,"
etc. She died in 1921.
3 This statement illustrates the fact that some of the best educative pupil-projects,
perhaps most of them, originate in some suggestion by the teacher. This parallels
situations in social life where projects are frequently suggested by one person, but
planned and carried out largely by others.
* This paragraph shows how the teacher may be a very strong directing force in
the development of a pupil-project and yet leave large scope for active pupil-planning
and -scheming, as will appear in the later paragraphs. This again parallels situations
in social life where the director of a business or other enterprise may exert a strong
guidance in the various projects of the organization, but at the same time give his
subordinates considerable scope for initiative, scheming, and planning.
1922} PROJECT TEACHING 5
answer. Now, to be sure, not all the children at once cried one answer in
one voice. But the same thing happened that we have all seen occur in a large
social group be it a class of children or a political convention. Some original
genius ventured a suggestion. This released the gears in other brains, and
more suggestions came. Analytical minds saw difficulties and advantages;
opinions were modified, and new suggestions made, until one came that brought
a glow and nod of satisfaction from the majority of the class. That one we
adopted, and we then moved forward at my command, for creation must go
on with a dash, while the fife and drums are playing. So any piece of composite
work .... hints at dead and wounded ideas and lost causes along the line
of march. Generally it is worth while to stop and argue out a moot point,
but if there is a sign that the interest of the majority is flagging, up standards
and forward! and leave the malcontents to clamor. "What shall happen
next ? and next ? " So we worked out our plot-quarrel, meeting to discuss how
to get Achilles back, Achilles' refusal to return, death of Patroclus, recon-
ciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon. The children pondered the plot with
delight. The climax perfectly satisfied them. Achilles and Agamemnon
should shake hands and say, "Let bygones be bygones," and we could forgive
Achilles and be happy.
This planning was all done in one day. The next morning, I saw that the
children were hungry for acting, and that they must not be put off with further
planning of details. I chose the most enthusiastic volunteers for Achilles and
Agamemnon and Calchas. They came up to act and flatly failed could not
think of a word to say. Then I asked, "Well, what could they say?" We
heard any speech that anybody had to offer, picked another troupe and tried
again. Next day there was less eagerness about volunteering to act, and some-
one explained: "You get up there and you don't know what to say." So we
thereupon set about planning the speeches of the scene. 1
How pupils discuss and organize a project. A concrete notion
of what the pupils actually say and do during their planning of a
project may be derived from the following stenographic report of
the discussion by a fourth grade that was preparing an assembly
exercise in the Francis W. Parker School on the poet Blake whose
poems and life they had been studying. After the class had dis-
cussed the desirability of preparing the exercise the conversation
continued as follows:
Robert G.: If it is just going to be Blake's poems, I think we should tell
something about him.
1 Second Yearbook of the Francis W. Parker School, pp. 29-30. Chicago: Francis
W. Parker School (330 Webster Avenue), 1913. $0.45. The best publication on
6 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL [January
Teacher: How many like that idea ? (Many hands.)
Teacher: What things shall we tell about him ? (Teacher writes topics
on the board as they are suggested.)
Child: Where he was born.
Child: What he was interested in.
Child: His visions.
Teacher: What visions ?
Child: When he saw the child in the cloud.
Child: The tree full of angels.
Child: Fairy's funeral.
Child: The men he saw go to the altar the apostles.
Miriam: One time he was sitting on the seashore, and saw the kings and
all the pages, and the people going along the shore.
Karl: And once when his brother died, he thought he saw his soul go up
Mary: How he came to write his poems and how he learned to engrave.
Charles: You would not call it sculpture if he engraved things.
Teacher: Who will set Charles right ?
Charles: A sculptor makes statues from marble and an engraver carves
Further planning and discussion followed, and certain children
volunteered to prepare to talk upon the various topics outlined on
the board. The next day the lesson proceeded as follows:
(On the board was the list of points planned the day before, with names
of children volunteering to talk on each topic.) Teacher: Yesterday we began
to plan our morning exercises about Blake. Without my* saying anything,
let the children come in the order in which their names appear on the board.
And remember that you must connect with one another, so the story will be
Several children then gave the talks they had prepared, after
which a critical discussion of their performances began as follows:
Teacher: What do you think ? Does that do what you want done for
the story ? I am not asking you to choose the people who seem to you to do
it best, but whether you think it is right for the story of Blake's life. Or are
there things left out, or is it not pleasant the way it is planned ?
Child: I don't like the way some of them said he saw his brother's soul
clapping his hands.
Teacher: But that is what Blake said.
Robert G.: I think someone ought to tell about his engraving.
Mary: I thought you only wanted the drawing. I can change it.
i 9 22] PROJECT TEACHING 7
Teacher: It is not true, Mary, that he did most of his drawing before he
was married. He went on all his life. All the famous book drawings he
made later in life. And Fred, you gave me the impression that Blake did not
know very much.
Frederick: Well, he did not go to school, did he ?
Teacher: No, but he studied and was an educated man .
Frances: He said he got his education from reading. He read all the time.
Teacher: What do you think about what Rene had to say, John ?
John: I don't think it was quite enough.
Child: I think he ought to tell more dates, when he started engraving and
Teacher: How many were interested in what Rene said ? (A few hands.)
How many were not ? (Many hands.)
Teacher: Why was it that what he said was not interesting ? r
This critical discussion with further planning continued on the
second day until satisfactory schemes were devised. On the third
and fourth days the aspiring performers were further tried out in
the classroom. Finally, the children who were chosen to present
the exercise to the morning assembly of the school rehearsed once
in the assembly hall.
Over two hundred projects in National Society Yearbook. One
of the most suggestive collections of examples of project teaching
is the Twentieth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of
Education, Part I. 2 This contains brief accounts of 285 examples
of teaching, many of which involve practical planning by pupils.
The great variety of opportunities for such practical planning in
progressive school work is suggested by the following titles of
a few of the projects described in this yearbook: "A Kindergarten
Circus," "A Doll Sale," "The 'We Like It' Cafeteria," "Drama-
tization of 'The Hardy Tin Soldier/" "An Imaginary Trip Around
the World," "A Celebration for Columbus Day," "A Picture
Museum," "Publishing an Annual," "Helping the Humane
Society," "A School Magazine," "A Cleanliness Campaign,"
"Raising Potatoes," "Cleaning a Vineyard and Planting Trees,"
"Forming a Mercantile Company,"
Conclusions of recent examples. Such examples as we have
given in this section should serve to give the reader a concrete
1 Op. tit., pp. 19-26.
a Bloomington, Illinois: Public School Publishing Co., 1921. $1.30 postpaid.
THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL [January
notion of the extensive and varied examples of project teaching
to be found in American schools. In the next section we shall
further clarify our ideas of project teaching by examples showing
how provision for such practical planning by pupils has developed
III. HISTORY OF RECENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR
PRACTICAL PLANNING BY PUPILS
A. GENERAL DEVELOPMENTS: THE "NEW EDUCATION" OF 1880-1905
Slogans of the "new education"; "self-expression," etc. The
movement to give pupils practice in practical planning is one
outcome of the "new education" which was widely discussed in
America during the last decades of the nineteenth century. The
principal slogans of this "new education" were "self-realization,"
" self-expression, " "education through expression," "initiative,"
"co-operation," etc. Its advocates spoke and wrote of it as the
"new education" on frequent occasions. Thus as early as 1883
we find Colonel F. W. Parker using the term, while in 1900 we
find Professor Dewey referring to it with capitals and quotation
marks in the following words:
It is to this, then, that I especially ask your attention: the effort to conceive
what roughly may be termed the "New Education" in the light of larger
changes in society. Can we connect this "New Education" with the general
march of events ? If we can, it will lose its isolated character It will
appear as part and parcel of the whole social evolution. 1
Froebelian origin of the "new education" Teachers College,
Colonel Parker, and Dewey. There were at least two well-defined
centers of this "new educational" practice and propaganda.
One was Teachers College of New York City, the parent institu-
tion of which was established in 1880 and which became affiliated
with Columbia University in 1898. The other was the School
of Education of the University of Chicago, which developed in
1901 from the combining of the earlier schools of Colonel Francis
W. Parker and Professor John Dewey. The common source of
suggestion for the "new education" in these schools seems to have
been the productive theories (not the formalized practices) of
x john Dewey, The School and Society, p. 4. Chicago: University of Chicago
ig 22 ] PROJECT TEACHING 9
Froebel (1782-1852) who founded the kindergarten movement in
Germany in I837. 1 These theories will be presented later in a
quotation from Dewey.
Teachers College. The important part played by this Froebelian
element in the early activities of Teachers College is suggested by
a quotation from a series of resolutions adopted by its board of
trustees in 1886. The institution was then known as the Industrial
Education Association. In setting forth their policy they included
the following resolution relative to the kindergarten :
That the fact is generally recognized among those best informed on the
subject of education, that the kindergarten system produces the best results
with young children. The Association claims that the system which combines
industrial training with the usual and necessary branches is nothing more
than a development of the kindergarten theory: a system found wise for young
children, modified and adapted to children of more mature growth.*
Colonel Parker. The part played by Froebelianism hi Colonel
Parker's work is clearly indicated by the following quotation from
one of his writings as early as 1883:
Froebel said that the principles he discovered and advocated, when
thoroughly applied, would revolutionize the world; and he was right. In
the kindergarten is the seed corn and germination of the New Education and
the new life One and all of the true principles of education are applied
in the kindergarten; these principles should be applied (simply changing the
application to adapt it to different stages of growth) through all education.*
Dewey. Finally, the influence of the Froebelian theory in the
experimental elementary school maintained by Dewey at the Uni-
versity of Chicago from 1896 to 1901 is indicated in these words
taken from his discussion of the kindergarten department of his
One of the traditions of the school is of a visitor who, in its early days,
called to see the kindergarten. On being told that the school had not as yet
1 For an account of Froebel's two most valuable principles, namely, (i) education
through motor expression and (2) education through social participation, see S. C.
Parker's History of Modern Elementary Education, pp. 441-47 and 470-84. Boston:
Ginn & Co., 1912.
1 Teachers College Record, I (January, 1900), 14.
Francis W. Parker, Talks on Teaching, p. 159. New York: E. L. Kellogg & Co.,
10 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL [January
established one, she asked if there were not singing, drawing, manual training,
plays and dramatizations, and attention to the children's social relations.
When her questions were answered in the affirmative, she remarked, both
triumphantly and indignantly, that that was what she understood by a kinder-
garten, and she did not know what was meant by saying that the school had
no kindergarten. The remark was perhaps justified in spirit, if not in letter.
At all events, it suggests that in a certain sense the school endeavors throughout
its whole course now including children between four and thirteen to carry
into effect certain principles which Froebel was perhaps the first consciously
to set forth. Speaking still in general, these principles are :
1. That the primary business of the school is to train children in
co-operative and mutually helpful living
2. That the primary root of all educative activity is in the instinctive,
impulsive attitudes and activities of the child, and not in the presentation and
application of external material
3. That these individual tendencies and activities are organized and
directed through the uses made of them in keeping up the co-operative living
already spoken of; taking advantage of them to reproduce on the child's
plane, the typical doings and occupations of the larger, maturer society into
which he is finally to go forth; and that it is through production and creative
use that valuable knowledge is secured and clinched.
So far as these statements correctly represent Froebel's educational
philosophy, the school should be regarded as its exponent. 1
Three movements from the "new education": motivation, problem-
solving, and project teaching. Out of the general enthusiasm for
improved methods which characterized these discussions of the
"new education" of 1900, there have developed from time to time
specific enthusiasms for some special phase of teaching. For our
present purposes it is instructive to note and define three of these,
namely, motivation, problem-solving, and project teaching.
Motivation. The central idea in the recent discussions of moti-
vation seems to be that a pupil secures valuable training through
clearly conceiving some interesting end toward which he directs
his present activity and from which the latter derives interest.
The writers on motivation have emphasized the desirability of
well-defined pupil-purposes and whole-hearted interests as educa-
tive factors. Motivation thus becomes one phase of the doctrine
of interest, and its adequate discussion would grow out of the
1 Elementary School Record, I (June, 1900), 142. Published also in the revised
edition of Dewey's The School and Society, p. in. Chicago: University of Chicago
1922} PROJECT TEACHING II
consideration of human instincts and motives as found in such
chapters as those by James and Thorndike on human instincts
and in such books as McDougalTs Social Psychology.
Problem-solving, Training pupils in problem-solving has been
most adequately treated in its theoretical aspects in Dewey's
How We Think. 1 According to Dewey, problems originate in
"something unexpected, queer, strange, funny or disconcerting"
(p. 74), or in "some perplexity, confusion or doubt" (p. 12). The
pupil has a "genuine problem," "in whatever perplexes and
challenges the mind so as to make belief uncertain" (p. 9). A
problem is thus seen to be "a question involving doubt" (as defined
by Webster), and the specific discussion of training pupils in
problem-solving would be based on the discussions of training in
reasoning and scientific thinking provided by eminent psycholo-
gists. Clearly the issues and concepts involved in this discussion
are largely distinct from those of motivation or interests.
Project teaching. On the other hand, project teaching, when
conceived as the pupil-planning of practical activities, is clearly
a subdivision of the larger topic, problem-solving. In project
teaching, the pupil is always confronted with some problem, but
a problem of a practical 2 character, as distinguished from merely
theoretical or speculative problems. Thus, a practical project
problem in history might be "How shall we dramatize the Life of
Washington and his troops at Valley Forge?" while a theoretical
problem would be "Who was the greater general, Washington or
Frederick the Great?" In another connection, I have given a
full discussion of problem-solving in general with examples of both
theoretical and practical problems being solved by pupils. 3 Our
further discussion of practical project problems in the next article
will supplement that discussion and show the development of
project methods in manual training, assembly exercises, the kinder-
garten, geography, history, and agriculture.
1 D. C. Heath & Co., 1910.
See definitions of practical and theoretical on page i.
J Elementary School Journal, XXI (September-December, 1920). See also the
author's Types of Elementary Teaching, chapters. Boston: Ginn & Co. (in press).
12 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL [February
m. HISTORY OF RECENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR PRACTICAL PLANNING
BY PUPILS Continued
B. DEVELOPMENT OF PROJECT TEACHING IN SPECIAL APPLICATIONS
Manual training. Early sloyd system of imitative practical
exercises. Perhaps the first school subject to be extensively modi-
fied in actual practice by the "new education" of 1900 (which we
described in the preceding article) was manual training. In the
earlier development of this subject in this country, the exercises in
woodwork had frequently been patterned after those of the Swedish
sloyd, a system which originated about 1875. It was introduced
into Boston about 1886 and was soon widely adopted in American
manual-training schools. Among the articles made by pupils in
this system were such practical things as a blackboard pointer, a
penholder, a chopping board, a flowerpot stand, a hatchet handle,
a tool rack, a book stand, etc. These articles were made in regular
order by each pupil largely in imitation of the demonstrations by
the instructor. I had the good fortune, as a high-school boy, to
enjoy two years (1894-96) of such formal carpentering, two hours
a day, in a manual-training school in Cincinnati. I made certain
practical articles which are still in daily use in my boyhood home.
During this practice I developed skills which have frequently
proved useful in later life.
Project-planning advocated about ipoo. There was, however,
very little of the element of original planning by the pupils in the
system of Swedish sloyd practical exercises. On this account, the
Note on the "new education." Further light on the Froebelian element in the
"new education" is shed by the statement that W. N. Hailman, a noted Froebelian,
conducted a magazine, entitled the New Education, in Milwaukee, for six years
beginning in 1876. Its editor said that Froebel and Herbert Spencer were the prin-
cipal exponents of the "new education," and that the journal was established to aid
in the propagation of the views of Froebel and Spencer, particularly of the former.
For further details see N. C. Vandewalker, The Kindergarten in American Education.
New York: Macmillan Co., 1908. Pp. 32-33.
PROJECT TEACHING 13
exercises began to be strongly condemned by various leaders of the
"new education" about 1900.
Dewey on the " psychology of occupations." Probably the most
significant theoretical expression of the views on which the criti-
cisms of the sloyd were based was Dewey's article entitled "The
Psychology of Occupations," in which he defines an occupation as
"a mode of activity on the part of the child which reproduces, or
runs parallel to, some form of work carried on in social life." In
speaking of the methods to be used in teaching occupations, he says:
It is possible to carry on this type of work .... so that the entire
emphasis falls upon the manual or physical side This is the inevitable
tendency wherever, in manual training for instance, the mastery of certain
tools, or the production of certain objects, is made the primary end, and the
child is not given, wherever possible, intellectual responsibility for selecting
the materials and instruments that are most fit, and given an opportunity
to think out his own model and plan of work, led to perceive his own errors,
and find out how to correct them that is, of course, within the range of his
In the further discussion Dewey emphasizes the desirability
of more "personal experimenting, planning, and re-inventing"
in pupils' manual activities.
Colonel Parker opposed "logical sequence." Similar views were
debated in the meetings of the manual-training teachers as
reported in the early volumes of the Manual Training Magazine
(1901-3). Colonel Parker was frequently a vigorous speaker at
these meetings and advocated a change from the "logical sequence"
of the sloyd exercises to activities involving more original thought
by the pupils.
C. R. Richards on pupil-planning. One of the most effective
pleaders for more pupil-planning in manual training was Professor
C. R. Richards, whose strategic position as head of the department
of manual training at Teachers College, Columbia University,
gave him wide influence. Richards talked fluently the language
of the "new education," especially emphasizing "self-realization"
and "education through expression." He used the term "project"
1 Elementary School Record, I (April, 1900), 83. Reprinted in The School and
Society, p. 132. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1915 (revised).
14 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL [February
occasionally in his early papers to designate the pupil's exercises,
and in his later papers (particularly in the Teachers College Record)
he used it predominantly. His ideas concerning the place of pupil-
initiative and pupil-planning are brought out in the following
quotation from an article in the Manual Training Magazine:
To bring the element of self-expression into handwork does not mean that
we are to turn the pupil loose to exercise whim and fancy unrestrained. In
handwork, no more than in any other form of school work, should the pupil
be free from suggestion and guidance by the teacher Self-expression
does not mean that the pupil is expected to develop the entire plan and design
for each thing done. This would be too much to expect from the unformed
standards of judgments of young children, and could result only in crude
projects and unsatisfactory work. But recognition of this element may mean
that the general plan to attain an end will be developed from the pupils. It
may mean the adjusting and modifying of details within this general plan by
the individual pupil; and it may mean the working out of ways and means to
achieve this plan. It may mean these or many other things, but it should
always mean that the worker's own thought and feeling are contributing in a
real fashion to the end for which he is working. 1
From sloyd to projects and then a compromise. The change from
the systematic formal exercises of the Swedish sloyd to project
exercises in which pupils did considerable original planning had
taken place in a number of woodworking courses throughout the
country by 1910. For example, about that time a teacher of
manual training in a large city said to me,
We have considerable project work now. Thus, if a boy says he wants
to make a coaster wagon, we tell him he may do so if he can show us suitable
plans. However, the difficulty is that soon all of the boys are making coasters
just like the first one, and it becomes purely imitative work just as in the
Many experienced observers of these reformed project courses
felt that less tool skill was acquired than in the more systematic
courses. Consequently, there was a reaction and a tendency
developed to provide for both systematic tool practice and project-
planning in certain institutions.
Kindergarten. From formal constructions to pupil-planning and
experimenting. Closely related to the change in manual training
under the influence of general Froebelian principles is the change in
*C. R. Richards, "Handwork in the Primary School," Manual Training Maga-
zine, III (October, 1901), 3.
1922} PROJECT TEACHING 15
kindergartens from highly systematized formal constructions to
activities in which pupil-planning plays a much larger part. Dewey's
influence was a large factor in bringing about this change. His
conception of the need for it and of its harmony with Froebel's
principles is expressed in the following paragraph which continues
the quotation concerning Froebel's principles in Dewey's Chicago
school given in the preceding article:
This attempt, however, to assume what might be called the kindergarten
attitude throughout the whole school makes necessary certain modifications
of the work done in what is more technically known as the kindergarten
period that is, with the children between the ages of four and six. It is
necessary only to state reasons for believing that in spite of the apparently
radical character of some of them they are true to the spirit of Froebel. 1
The nature of the reformed kindergarten practice which Dewey
helped to bring about is well illustrated in the following quotation
from the 1917 course of study of the University of Chicago Elemen-
A means of organization is through objective projects, resulting in tangible,
relatively permanent play centers. These are the house itself with its kitchen
as the central feature, the grocery store, and the garden or farm.
When the children first come to school, they find, among other attractive
things, such toys as dolls, some doll furniture, kitchen utensils, and dishes.
They play with these freely, as they do also with blocks, sand, and clay. The
teacher may easily lead this play in the direction of cooking and serving plays.
There soon begins to take form in one corner of the room, therefore, a miniature
kitchen or dining-room. The teacher then produces a screen house with a
door and windows, which serves to inclose this little room, which may now
stay in place as long as it is wanted.
This playhouse now becomes the center of great interest and activity.
Clay utensils and dishes are made, a cupboard to hold them is built of blocks,
paper is cut for the shelves, paper doilies are cut and fringed, napkins are
folded, and a meal is planned. A trip to the grocery is necessary to buy a
cereal, which is then cooked and served by the children. This trip to the store
suggests the building of a grocery store in the classroom. This now becomes
the second problem or project. It calls for much planning and experimenting
and results very naturally in group work, since the final product is a structure
made of blocks and boards which is large enough for three or four children to
play in at the same time. Another excursion is needed to get suggestions as
to how to make shelves, the counter, and show windows, and to learn what a
1 Elementary School Record, I (June, 1900), 144. The School and Society, p. 112.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1915 (revised).
16 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL [February
grocery store really carries for sale. Numerous lesser problems present them-
selves for the children's solving: vegetables and fruits of clay must be shaped
and colored accurately enough to be readily recognized, and baskets made to
hold them; paper bags must be contrived; pictures must be made to show
what canned goods are in stock; pocketbooks and money for the buyers must
be provided and delivery wagons constructed. These are not made from
patterns or models, but are worked out by the children and the results tested
by actual use in playing in the grocery store. The teacher aims so to direct
the handwork that the children will grow steadily in their power to solve simple
problems and handle material skilfully.
The third project, the farm or garden, is subordinate to the other two,
partly because it is less familiar, partly because it is taken up again in the first
grade. The oldest children sometimes make a miniature farm in the sand
table, showing the grain fields, vegetable garden, orchard, and the main
buildings and animal inclosures and shelters. 1
A notable series of papers which express further the change in
kindergartens from formal imitative exercises to projects permitting
of greater pupil-planning was published in the Teachers College
Record for January, 1914 (Vol. XV), under the editorship of Miss
Patty Hill, one of the leaders of the progressive reform movements
among American kindergartners.
Assembly programs. A third phase of school work in which
we early find project-planning by the pupils being introduced is
in assembly programs. As occasions for formal recitations and
singing, such programs have been common from early times. The
change to pupil-project programs, however, in which the pupils
plan and devise the program and its activities, represents a radical
addition to the training provided by such occasions. One of the
most highly developed centers for such training was the school of
Colonel Parker; and, today, probably the best account of such
practice is found in the Second Yearbook (1913) of the Francis W.
Parker School. 2
Construction and dramatization in history and geography. The
assembly programs which the pupils devised frequently contained
the presentation before the audience of some construction project
from history or geography as illustrated in the pictures in the
preceding article. Often the program included the dramatization
1 Elementary School Journal, XVII (February, 1917), 401-2.
'Chicago: Francis W. Parker School, 330 Webster Avenue. $0.45.
1022} PROJECT TEACHING 17
of some phase of history or literature as illustrated in the examples
described in Section II of the first article. Similar projects fre-
quently furnished centers for much classroom work in the social
studies as illustrated in the kindergarten example given above.
Civic campaigns. With the appearance of Dunn's TheCommunity
and the Citizen* in 1909, the attention of many teachers of civics
was called to the possibility of active, practical pupil-undertakings
in the civic life of the school or the local community. Hence,
" clean-up " campaigns and other useful drives began to be frequently
planned and carried out by pupils under skilled teacher-direction.
Summary of special developments to this point. Reviewing the
special examples that we have given to illustrate the historical
development of project methods, we see (i) that as early as 1900
there was a clear-cut agitation for the introduction of more practical
planning by pupils in manual training and that the term "project"
was early used by Richards to designate pupil-exercises in this
subject; (2) that a revision of kindergarten practices along similar
lines was agitated about the same time and was gradually effected
in certain progressive schools; (3) that assembly programs (par-
ticularly in Colonel Parker's schools) early furnished practical
occasions for pupil-planning; (4) that construction and dramatiza-
tion projects soon appeared in history and geography; (5) and that
Dunn's work in civics (1909) tended to introduce some project
methods in that subject. It would be possible to determine the
origin of similar influential starting-points for project teaching
in science, English composition, and other subjects. Sufficient
has been given, however, to illustrate the historical development
of project methods in particular subjects. Hence, we shall give
only one further example, namely, the development of project
methods in high-school agriculture, a subject in which project
teaching has secured a somewhat precise legal meaning through the
influence of the Smith-Hughes law for aiding vocational education
and its interpretation by the Federal Board for Vocational Education.
Home projects in agriculture. Illustrates our definitions. The
description of project teaching in agriculture will illustrate very
1 A. W. Dunn, The Community and the Citizen. Boston: D. C. Heath & Co., 1009.
1 8 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL [February
well some of the points of definition with which we opened our
articles, namely, (i) that, according to the dictionary, "a project
is something of a practical nature thrown out for the consideration
of its being done" and that "to project" means "to contrive, to
devise, to scheme"; (2) that a pupil-project is a unit of practical
activity planned by the pupils (or pupil) ; and (3) that a pupil-
project gives the pupils practice in practical planning and makes
them responsible for devising ways and means and selecting and
rejecting methods of achieving some definite practical end.
Transfer from technical social life to school described by the
Federal Board for Vocational Education. Furthermore, our descrip-
tion of project teaching in agriculture will show how the idea of
projecting a practical plan was gradually taken over from the
general social situation (where the term project was used with its
ordinary dictionary connotation) into the supervised practical work
in agriculture in high schools, where it retains a meaning very
similar to its use in general practical affairs. These facts come
out clearly in the following quotation from the pamphlet on "The
Home Project as a Phase of Vocational Agricultural Education"
issued in September, 1918. by the Federal Board for Vocational
For many years the term "project" has been used [among scientific workers
of the Department of Agriculture] to designate carefully planned investigations
in agricultural science covering a considerable period of time, frequently
demanding several years for their completion. Such plans, including aims
and methods, have been submitted by the agricultural experiment stations
of the several states and approved by the Office of Experiment Stations in the
States Relations Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.
More recently the term "project" under practically the same conditions
has been applied to the projects in demonstration work and extension teaching
carried out under the Smith-Lever Act. The term carries with it the idea of
a program of importance, of some duration, and an expectation of certain
tangible and valuable results.
In connection with the teaching of agriculture in secondary schools the
idea of projects at home 1 crystallized and took on the name of "home
1 Examples of home projects are the following: growing an acre of corn, or cotton,
or some other crop; raising chickens, or cows, or other animals; improving the dairy
barn or other farm buildings; keeping records of a dairy herd to improve it, etc. The
Federal Board says, "Encourage the student to choose a sufficiently ambitious project.
If he is in earnest, he will prefer a man-sized task to a childish or miniature project.
A high-school boy knows he is not doing much farming if he is caring for one pig or
rearing six chicks or managing a very small garden" [p. n|.
1922] PROJECT TEACHING 19
project" about 1908 in Massachusetts, receiving the sanction of the State
Board of Education under suitable legislation in 191 1 . This plan, with modifi-
cations which do not change the principal points of the definition, had been
adopted in most of the states which had constructive legislation on agriculture
in the secondary schools previous to the enactment of the Smith-Hughes Act.
In its work on secondary and elementary school agriculture, the United States
Department of Agriculture had previously accepted the prevailing conception
of the home project, issuing several publications on this basis.
Since the Federal Board for Vocational Education intends to develop and
extend this plan, it seems undesirable that the term "home project" should
be applied to less important exercises.
It is desirable also that the term "class project" shall be applied only
to rather ambitious, well-planned lines of work for which we might use the
term "home project" if they were located at home. 1
Rules for administering home projects. The bulletin from which
this quotation is taken outlines in detail the conditions under
which "home projects" must be conducted in order to be approved.
A summary view of these conditions is given in the following quo-
THE ESSENTIALS OF A HOME PROJECT
1. A carefully drawn plan covering a considerable extent of time, with a
definite aim, including some problems 2 new to the pupil and outlining with
sufficient detail the methods to be employed. This plar should be written and
should be an exhibit in connection with the second essential.
2. An agreement between parent, pupil and teacher, based upon the plan
already prepared and so prepared as to eliminate later disagreements. The
boy's financial privileges should be clearly stated.
3. Instruction hi the school both in regular course and in special individual
study to the end that the project work may be done intelligently and that the
home may furnish the kind of laboratory practice best adapted to the school
4. Detailed records of method, time, cost, income, and other important
factors which shall finally be summarized in
1 "The Home Project as a Phase of Vocational Agricultural Education," pp. 7-8.
Agricultural Series No. j, Bulletin 21. Washington: Federal Board for Vocational
2 The problems which a student confronts in doing his planning are illustrated
by the following from a poultry project: "i. Shall I purchase pure-bred fowls or
must I take over the farm flock as a basis for improvement? 2. Shall I aim at pro-
ducing eggs for market, meat for market, breeding stock and eggs, or some other
end ? 3. Shall I be obliged to construct new houses, to renovate and remodel old
houses, or may I use good houses now on the farm ? 4. Shall I plan to grow poultry
feed as a correlated plant project?" [p. ii).
20 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL [February
5. A report including both a story and a complete accounting for the entire
6. Supervision by a competent instructor of such a nature as to help the
student to succeed in his project, to encourage him at times when difficulties
arise and to hold him to his agreement; incidentally to impart instruction
supplementing that of the classroom.
The supervisor should demand records of the student and should in turn
make reports to his supervising officer. 1
Conclusion of historical view. The examples which we have
presented of the introduction of project teaching in manual training,
the kindergarten, assembly programs, history, geography, civics,
and agriculture illustrate how the movement has affected actual
school practice from 1900 to the present. They show how the
"new education" which was stimulated by the broader Froebelian
teaching and which was propagated by Teachers College, Colonel
Parker, and Professor Dewey, has gradually secured vigorous
recognition in the actual project practice in many American
IV. VALUES OF PRACTICE IN PLANNING PRACTICAL ACTIVITIES
Develops skill in practical planning. The most obvious values
of such project teaching as we have described are clearly implied
in the fact that skill in the planning of practical activities is very
necessary and useful in the world at large. Successful inventors,
designers, architects, engineers, organizers, managing editors,
dramatic producers, practical promoters, executives, farmers,
housekeepers, etc., all have to have skill in planning practical
activities. Project teaching anticipates this need by giving pupils
practice in such practical planning in the ordinary school, instead
of leaving it all to the "hard school of practical experience" after
Appeals to practical and executive instincts. In addition to the
obvious direct educational value of such practice in practical
planning, project teaching has the additional value of securing the
pupils' attention through appeals to certain practical and executive
instinctive interests, such as the instinctive interests in construction,
problem-solving, communication, the management of people, etc.
1 Ibid., p. 9.
1022] PROJECT TEACHING 21
Such appeals, however, are not peculiar to project teaching since
many other types of school activities may appeal to these same
V. LIMITED SPHERE OF PROJECT TEACHING
Not the sole type of valuable activity and learning. As we have
defined project teaching, it is only one type of procedure needed
in pupil training, not the sole type. There is much valuable
activity and learning in social life (including the school) that does
not consist of planning practical activities. In fact, a large part
of the work and learning of artisans, clerks, bookkeepers, librarians,
teachers, farmers, housekeepers, even executives and scientists,
consists in the routine juggling of mental and material products.
Hence we have a large place in the school for the learning of organ-
ized facts from textbooks and for drill in acquiring routine skills.
It is quite significant that while the enthusiasm for project teaching
is sweeping the country, at the same time the scientific investigators
of methods of teaching reading, spelling, handwriting, and arithme-
tic are placing special emphasis upon the scientific diagnosis of
each pupil's needs in each skill and the prescription by the teacher
of specific practice exercises suited to each pupil's peculiar needs
One of the social objectives and one of the modes of learning. By
conceiving project teaching as the planning by pupils of practical
activities, we thus avoid the danger of overemphasizing it to the
exclusion of other social objectives and other modes of learning.
Skill in planning practical activities thus becomes one among many
co-ordinate objectives of the school; and practice in such planning
becomes one among several forms of learning.
VI. TECHNIQUE IN PROJECT TEACHING
Teacher needs wide knowledge, executive ability, and skill in
directing problem-solving. The successful direction of the practical
planning of pupils calls for greater knowledge and skill on the part
of the teacher than most other forms of teaching, (i) The wide
knowledge needed is illustrated by some absurd mistakes in matters
of scientific and historical fact which I have observed in the project
teaching of even highly skilled, experienced teachers. These
22 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL [February
mistakes arose from the fact that the solution of the practical
project problems with which the pupils were concerned carried
the class into scientific and historical fields where the teacher was
not well informed. (2) In managing group projects, the teacher
commonly needs skill in organizing and directing subdivided labor.
She needs to be able to direct the organization of committees and
to keep track of the varied activities of individuals who have been
assigned special phases of the project. Thus, project teaching
requires greater executive ability in the teacher than textbook recita-
tions or routinized drill. (3) Finally, the teacher needs skill in
guiding pupils in problematic thinking. Such skill is discussed at
length in the chapter on "Problem Solving" in the author's
Types of Elementary Teaching. 1 As brought out there, we find
that the successful direction of problem-solving involves on the
part of the teacher skill in getting the pupils to do each of the
following: (i) To define the problem clearly; (2) To keep the
problem hi mind; (3) To make a variety of suggestions; (4) To
criticize and evaluate each suggestion; (5) To organize the think-
ing systematically and to summarize from time to time its net out-
Regrettable absence of precise knowledge concerning practical
planning. It is to be regretted that we cannot give a more precise
scientific discussion of giving pupils practice in practical planning
than we have done. Unfortunately, we have little quantitative
evidence to indicate how large a part practical planning plays in
the lives of typical individuals as contrasted with the part played
by the routine juggling of mental and material products or with
mere leisurely rumination and enjoyment. Furthermore, we have
little quantitative evidence to indicate the possibilities of improving
pupils of various mental endowments in their ability to carry on
practical planning; the best devices to use; and the cost and value
to society of the improvements effected. About all we know is
that practical planning or projecting does play an important part
in the world's activities and that some schools are giving pupils
practice in it along the lines described.
1 Boston: Ginn & Co. (in press).
1022} PROJECT TEACHING 23
Contrast precise objective investigations in handwriting, etc. In
contrast with this confused condition we may note the illuminating
progress that has been made by mathematically precise investiga-
tions of the social objectives and of the best methods in teaching
handwriting, spelling, and beginning reading. Here the "newer
education" of 1910-20, using exact statistical and experimental
methods, has determined, for example, that quality 60 on the Ayres
handwriting scale is all that is needed for ordinary business pur-
poses; that in much skilled handwriting the letters are formed
predominantly with the fingers; that some 3,000 common words
are all a pupil needs to know how to spell for ordinary social pur-
poses; that fifteen minutes a day of specific snappy drill is all that
is needed in either handwriting or spelling in order to attain these
objectives; that pupils who have not had good specific training
hi phonetics are likely to be inferior in accurate reading; and dozens
of other reliable conclusions, such as are summarized in the Eight-
eenth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education,
Part II. 1
Problems needing investigation: social frequency, mental abilities,
cost, etc. Obviously, similar precise knowledge should be obtained
concerning the social needs and standards and the best methods for
giving pupils practice in practical planning. Such knowledge
can come only from precise statistical and laboratory studies
which would reveal such items as the following:
1. What persons in various occupations are primarily routine
workers and what ones are primarily responsible for practical
planning ? Many subordinate problems come under this, such as
the amount of routine work required of the thoughtful manager
of enterprises; the number of occasions for practical planning
that occur in the work of the routine bill clerk, sales clerk, lathe
2. What degrees of skill in practical planning can be acquired
by persons of various degrees of mental ability (imbeciles, morons,
and backward, average, and superior persons) from various amounts
1 "Fourth Report of the Committee on Economy of Time in Education," Eight-
eenth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part II. Blooming-
ton, Illinois: Public School Publishing Co., 1919.
24 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL [February
of instruction ? For example, Goddard states that a certain grade
of feeble-minded person can learn to use machinery and care for
animals but cannot plan.
3. What are the specific elements of skill in practical planning
and how can these elements of skill be best practiced ?
4. How can we measure the initial ability of each pupil in
practical planning (i.e., before instruction) and the amount of
improvement effected by the practice provided?
5. What is the cost to society of the improvements achieved
with each grade of mental ability and the consequent desirability
of continuing or discontinuing the training?
6. How much technical knowledge and skill should be given
pupils before they are given practice in practical planning in each
particular subject or vocation? Here, for example, profitable
investigations could be conducted in successful schools for training
architects, since the work of the latter involves so much planning
and designing and also so much technical skill and precise technical
Inspiration from a great city planner. It is likely that while the
results of such investigations would lead to some skepticism con-
cerning the value of practice in practical planning for students
of low intellectual endowment, they would also greatly enhance
our estimation of the value of such practice and training in the case
of students possessing considerable natural talent for the original
designing of practical enterprises. For the latter, we may well
set up such educational objectives as we see realized in the achieve-
ments of great practical planners like Daniel Hudson Burnham,
architect and planner of cities, who dominated the plans for the
Chicago World's Fair, designed the first skyscraper of Chicago, the
Flatiron Building of New York, and the famous city plans of many
great cities, including the ambitious and beautiful project for the
city plan of Chicago.
In Burnham's own words, we may find the large social value
of skilled planning suggested in the following quotation of his
motto for city planners:
Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably
themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work,
1022] PROJECT TEACHING . 25
remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but
long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing
insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things
that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.
Practical publications. For teachers who desire a variety of practical suggestions
for the actual organization of projects, the following publications are suggested:
" Second Report of the Committee on New Materials of Instruction," Twentieth
Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part I. Bloomington,
Illinois: Public School Publishing Co., 1921. $1.30. Over two hundred examples
briefly described, from the kindergarten through the junior high school.
Yearbooks and studies in education of the Francis W. Parker School. Chicago:
Francis W. Parker School, 330 Webster Avenue. $0.45 per volume. While each
volume contains specific accounts of projects, Volume II (1913) on "The Morning
Exercise" and Volume V (1918) on "The Course in Science" are particularly full of
concrete descriptions of the actual organizing of projects.
ILQS ANGZLES, CALi
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA LIBRARY
This book is DUE on the last date stamped below.
A s j - longer sci jdies issued from
time to time, covering problems in the historical,
experimental, and statistical study of education.
Prices announced for each issue.
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