Project Week: Learning for its Own Sake

Project Week: Learning for its Own Sake
Posted on 01/22/2024
project weekGoing above and beyond
As students brought in their Project Week Projects, one teacher overheard some juniors talking about their eleventh-grade research project on Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War. One group had built a map of Greece which was so large that it required two sawhorses to hold it. They had researched the intricacies of a particular battle, and the physical map allowed them to demonstrate the troop movements. As this group was sharing with their fellow classmates, they said, “We went way over the required hours we needed for the research, but we didn’t know or care because we had so much fun doing the project.” That statement is the heart of Project Week. It is learning for its own sake. It is having time for leisure, the space and time to encounter something in the world, to delve into it, and understand it better. In other ways, Project Week is one powerful way we live out our mission: to develop young men and women who are fully human and fully awake to the world.

What is Project Week?
During Project Week, students do independent research projects at home for one week before classes resume second semester. The range of projects includes Life Science, Medieval History, Geography, American History, Mathematical Explorations, Ancient History, contemporary social/political issues, and Physics. Students select a topic and then receive training on research so that they can accomplish their goal of learning more about their topic. The skills taught are sequential and grade-appropriate, building year-to-year so students can gradually conduct more in-depth and advanced research. And they do it all for its own sake. No grade is given for this project. It is emblematic of a liberal arts education that learning is freeing and worthwhile for its own sake. Project Week provides this opportunity in a real tangible way. They dedicate hours of work (at least 30 per the project requirements) to finding sources, researching, exploring, writing, and editing. Though there can be arduous stretches (it is hard work!), we have heard countless students over the years express the joy of learning something that they wanted to pursue on their own just because. Just because they wanted to learn more. I recall one senior last year who told me that for one of her projects, she spent more than 60 hours on a project, and it didn’t bother her because she loved what she was learning. 

Building a community of learners
And one of the most striking things about Project Week is that it culminates in our community of learners. On Project Day, students turn in their research and many present their topics as all students are freed for the day to walk around and see what other students produced. It’s a delight to see high school students talking with sixth and seventh graders about their research and reminiscing about what they researched when they were in middle school. One of our most treasured traditions, Project Week is a hallmark of liberal education at MacLaren because it is centers on learning for its own sake.

— Benjamin LaBadie, Head of Upper School

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