What a joy it is to have students working with the Project Approach within our building. As the excitement builds for the students and the teachers, it is amazing to see the level of understanding that these small children have. Their zest and zeal for learning is so basic and natural…learning is just part of growing. It is not an assignment or a task to be completed, as often becomes the case as they grow older. Encouraging the students and teachers to continue with this strategy is not difficult. As we continue on this journey, however, there are a few challenges for which I am learning to be better prepared. Flexibility on my part seems to me to be one key to supporting successful implementation.
We have 15 classes within one building and 3 classes off site. Having the flexibility to regularly make changes in schedules for teachers who are implementing projects can be difficult with a large staff. It is also challenging to help them access resources. For example, when two classes made a decision to investigate how food gets to the grocery store, it took a local connection to bring about a firsthand experience for the children. Local trucking firms send trucks through Decatur each day to deliver corn to the manufacturer. By connecting with this community resource, we were able to have a large semitrailer truck stop by for our morning and afternoon classes. This allowed the children to have time to photograph and sketch the insides of a cab. They were able to sit in the driver’s seat. To support this learning, I was able to ride with the driver and record authentic video of how the corn is unloaded. Wow!
Finding transportation for field trips also can be very challenging and requires flexibility. As the students prepared to visit a local grocery store (on a tight budget), we were pleasantly surprised to find that the local transit system allows young students to travel for free. All that was needed was to plan the departures and returns around the bus route schedule. We found that we could make the trip itself an adventure. Not only did this strategy allow the students to reach their destination, it also created an interest in transportation and in locations that buses travel to in our community.
Flexibility has also been necessary for specialists in our school, because they must adapt their therapy styles to accommodate changes in classroom routines. I have found it helpful to encourage the speech and language pathologists (SLPs) to participate in the actual study with the students. This participation allows the SLPs to assist teachers in advancing children’s vocabulary levels. In that way, they are better able to help children learn to formulate questions and thoughts using higher-order thinking skills. For example, on a recent tour of Walmart, SLPs were able to assist students in a “real-world” circumstance and could collect data on their students’ ability to transfer new speech and language skills to “real life.”
Finally, if a class decides to build a large construction, finding the gym or hall space for display can be difficult. One idea that has surfaced in our experience with the Project Approach is to display the students’ large sculptures in locations throughout our community. We believe these displays showcase the learning of our students. For example, the students in one class made a semitrailer truck to bring groceries to the Walmart that they had created in their classroom. We are hoping to take the truck and display it at our local Walmart.
Aissa Norris, Principal
Pershing Early Learning Center