Building an Independent Project

Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright

All children have interests or hobbies.  Whether it’s a favorite sports team or a passion for photography, individual interests are excellent opportunities for personalized learning.  Not only does independent study allow students to learn more about topics, it also teaches them how to problem solve and present knowledge in creative ways. 

When supervising student projects, it’s important to help students focus their research with a specific guiding question.  For example, if a student wants to research photography, we might discuss recent innovations that have improved photography.  The student’s guiding question might be, “What digital photo enhancements are most beneficial, and what are the best software programs for editing and enhancement?”


Recently, I came across a great independent study project idea for students interested in engineering, architecture, historic preservation, or history.  To commemorate their 125th anniversary, Architectural Record chose 125 of “the most important works of architecture built since the magazine’s founding in 1891.”  What a wealth of material and history to investigate!  From the Chrysler Building in New York to Shanghai Tower in Shanghai, students have 125 options to  select from.  They could investigate why a building was built, who designed it, and why it was designed it a certain style.  They might focus on physical features such as form, size, materials used, color, design etc. 

Other investigations might include research into the “forms of value” attached to the buildings.  Author Graeme Talboys has written about researching a building’s forms of value such as the following:


Symbolic value – For example, a castle is a symbol of power.  The way it was built and sited can increase or diminish that role.

Sentimental value – The building you live in may have more sentimental worth than monetary worth.

Social value – Hospitals are buildings of great social value.

Economic value – Factories, airports or railway stations.

Historic value – Any building where historical events have occurred or buildings that are outstanding examples of their type.

Spiritual value – A church, mosque, synagogue, temple or a place of peace and contemplation.

Cultural value – Museums, arts galleries, gardens etc.

Whatever topic your students decide to research, it is important that they express their own ideas about how they will gather, organize, and present their information. While teaching independent research skills is quite an undertaking (and worthy of another post), the skills students learn lead to success in school and in life. 

Woolworth Building, Cass Gilbert
Woolworth Building

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Debra Lemieux

If Then Creativity



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