Number. 21 © CDTL 2003
What Should You Learn from Project Work?
Professor Y.K. Ip
Department of Biological Sciences / Associate Director, CDTL

Project learning is a very important part of the curriculum in NUS (e.g. the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program or UROP). It is essential to your development of research skills, intelligent behaviours and thinking strategies. In project work, you will undertake the creation, execution and finished production of an experiment/review/survey/etc. The nature of the project is dynamic as it goes through conception, configuration, contradiction, confusion, reconfiguration and eventually culmination and celebration (Fogarty, 1997). Occasions will arise where you have to deal with controversies, to identify and solve problems, to create new ideas, or to make difficult decisions.

There can be three stages in project work in general (see Fogarty, 1997, for details). In the first level of activities, you should select a project with the help of the teacher. After consulting the teacher for guidelines, you should embark on the initial stage of reading for background information, researching and taking notes, building a reference list, interviewing experts, viewing films and videos, developing an outline, talking with peers, surfing the Internet, checking and double-checking sources, visiting sites, as well as gathering charts, maps and illustrations. Such activities lay the groundwork for the inventiveness of the latter two stages.

As a project enters the second phase, you should begin to try to make sense of the information collected. You may discover that some information is relevant and some is not. At this level, you should try to analyse whatever information you have, sort the information into meaningful chunks, and synthesise it in order to move the project forward. If a team of students is involved, members must find ways to share their information.

At the third phase, you should divide and prioritise tasks, check timelines, take any necessary emergency measures and stay alert. You would perform activities like model building, construction, assembling, synthesising ideas, rethinking or re-conceptualising, finishing touches, decorative details, evaluative testing, peer review, self-assessment, evaluation against criteria, expert review, final submittals and celebrations.

Certain intelligent behaviours are important for successful project work (e.g. curiosity, openness, reality orientation, objectivity, precision, confidence, responsibility, consensus and collaboration). When you undertake a project, you should focus on not only what you know, but also how you behave when you don’t know (Costa, 1991). It is only when you are confronted with questions and problems for which you do not know the immediate answer that you develop intelligent behaviours which include persistence, decreasing impulsivity, listening to others, cooperative thinking, flexibility in thinking, a sense of humour, drawing on past knowledge and applying it to new situations, and risk taking (Costa, 1991).

For a successful project learning experiment, it is essential for you to have not only a positive ‘I can’ attitude, but also the ‘I enjoy’ feeling. Only then will you want to undertake new projects and to solve new problems; and without realising it, you will voluntarily continue to learn throughout a lifetime.


Costa, A.L. (1991). ‘The Search for Intelligent Life’. The School as a Home for the Mind. Arlington Heights, III.: IRI/SkyLight Training & Publishing, 19–31.

Fogarty, R. (1997). Problem-based Learning and Other Curriculum Models for the Multiple Intelligences Classroom. Arlington Heights, III.: IRI/SkyLight Training & Publishing.


Back to Top