Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Teachers are Learners - Illustrating a Year of Project Work - Part 2

The following is the second part of a series of posts illustrating the ways our teachers took on the different principles of project work last year. You can find the first post here.

Emphasize dispositions such as critical thinking, perspective-taking, intellectual and emotional risk-taking, persistence, and bold imagining.

From the outset of her group’s investigation of ramps, Irene was guided by the question that inspired the project, “What happened?” As she brought children together to work at both building and using ramps, she also helped them to build the language, skills, and endurance of scientists and engineers. Over the course of their investigation of ramps, Irene offered children opportunities to make, test, and revise their predictions, as well as to solve problems and obstacles that arose during their tests. If a piece of their ramp broke, she supported them through the process of working together to fix it, make sure it worked, and realign it if not. She helped them to expand their repertoire of questions to include not only “What happened?” but “Why did that happen?”, “How can we fix it?”, and “What will happen if…?”

Watch for opportunities to integrate learning domains such as literacy, math, and scientific processes.

Throughout the center, teachers have found numerous ways to integrate learning domains into their projects. Although they were working with very different age groups, Irene and Seana both encouraged children to work at making predictions, testing them, and observing the results. Seana and Monica helped children stretch their writing muscles through writing lists and letters, while Tracy encouraged her younger preschoolers to write their intended messages on the sea monster signs they created.  Two teachers also used checklists to help children remember their work and analyze it later; the checklist made for Seana’s airplane group helped them note down their observations of how different airplanes flew, while Kerry’s group used a checklist to keep track of which colors of moon sand the different classrooms wanted them to make. In addition, by helping the children in her group follow the recipe to make the moon sand, Kerry gave them experience in both measuring and counting.

Find a starting place.

“How will I find a project?” This was on the mind of many teachers when we first started discussing project work. During the weeks that followed, two Preschool 2 teachers found their respective projects in very different ways, illustrating that there is no right way to begin a project. For Seana, inspiration came from an ongoing interest in paper airplanes already present in her classroom. After inviting several children to hone their airplane making and flying skills, she identified a dedicated group who came together again and again to fold, fly, and observe their planes. For Monica, on the other hand, the seed of a project sprang from a single lunchtime conversation. When a small group of children began to discuss the prospect of building a house for their classroom, she was struck by the enthusiasm and practicality of their conversation. She brought the group together for more conversation, and soon the House Group was born. Although each teacher found inspiration for a project group in very different circumstances, in both cases their projects grew out of their careful attention to children’s interests – whether ongoing or just beginning.

Write documentation that allows teachers, children and families to reflect on what's happening and contribute.

Documenting project work is unique in that it’s important that the larger class be made aware of what the project group is doing and because of the sheer volume of work children are creating on a regular basis. Kerry’s documentation in Toddler Two South honored the thoughts and questions of children by sharing them with everyone as the project progressed. She placed large pictures at children’s eye level so that they could reflect upon and revisit their work together. The size of the photos allowed multiple children to consider the pictures at the same time. The Preschool One team found that they were meeting so often with their groups, they didn’t feel they could adequately make a polished piece of documentation about every meeting. They knew that it was important to capture all of the children’s ideas, and record all of the different provocations that were part of the work, so M., Kara and Tracy started collecting “raw” notes in a binder that children and families could peruse. The notes allow anyone to get a real sense of the work that was happening, and provided the team with an organized way to reference their notes in team meetings when planning curriculum.

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