What is a project and why are projects profound conduits for learning?
A project is a careful study of a topic of interest to students. Topics are chosen based on teachers’ observations of children’s play and language and are often connected to something with which the children have already had experience. Projects involve hands-on investigation, finding the answers to questions, reading about a topic, visiting sites or places, talking to other people who know about the topic and representing learning through a variety of media. Throughout the project work, students’ learning is documented by teachers and children through the use of written anecdotes, transcripts of conversations, artwork and photographs. The documented information is used as evidence of the student’s understanding and growth, as a catalyst for future investigations and as a tool for developing self-reflection and planning skills. Projects can last a long time (months), a couple of weeks or a morning, depending on the interest and the potential within the topic itself.
What students are learning when they engage in project work:
Social Emotional Skills . Cognitive skills . Language/Literacy . The Arts . Science . Math . Motor Skills
Social Emotional Skills: collaboration; sharing ideas; listening; taking turns; persisting when challenged; creating alternative solutions; expressing ideas and feelings through a variety of mediums; taking turns; making decisions and choices; developing confidence in abilities and interests; accepting responsibility; positive associations with learning; sharing ideas; developing empathy, curiosity, initiative; being able to identify and label feelings; developing the ability to interpret facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice; how to identify their learning strengths and strategies; developing community awareness; developing an awareness of the customs of others cultures and how all people are alike and different; developing an awareness of home, school and neighborhood communities; developing independence and the ability to care for oneself in developmentally appropriate ways; developing community awareness.
Cognitive skills: how to expand on ideas and elaborate on play; how to reflect on work and revise ideas; developing symbolic play and the ability to use representational objects; developing the ability to match identical objects; colors, sounds and textures; problem-solving.
Language/Literacy: writing and drawing as a method of representing ideas, using books and pictures as reference; storytelling; being able to match sensory experiences to descriptive terms, such as sour/sweet, warm/cold, rough/smooth, hard/soft; retelling sequence of events from a story; developing print awareness and, when age-appropriate, strengthening emergent reading skills.
The Arts: developing musical appreciation and understanding of rhythm, beat, pitch and tone; acquiring techniques and skills for using a variety of art materials; learning about the properties of various art materials and tools; developing the ability to express their ideas through a variety of mediums, such as art, storytelling, music, dance and creative movement.
Science: sorting and classifying; predicting; hypothesizing; theorizing; developing questioning abilities; developing methods of gathering information; observation and documentation.
Math: concepts of shape, size, weight, position, symmetry, balance, direction and number; tools and strategies for measurement; positional/quantitative concepts, such as big/little, tall/short, more/less, full/empty, up/down, over/under, beginning/middle/end, forward/backward, next to, front/back, etc.; developing mathematical concepts and skills, such as one-to-one correspondence, counting, sequencing, seriation, temporal ordering and identification of shapes.
Motor Skills: how to challenge their bodies; how to plan their actions; developing fine-motor skills through purposeful manipulation and problem-solving with small objects; developing balance, strength, dexterity, flexibility and spatial awareness through physical movement.