I love the project approach because it enables our students to go in-depth with their learning. Preschoolers love to investigate and explore the world around them, and project work takes them on an intellectual adventure in which they can initiate, investigate, and follow through on their questions and interests. This level of investigation results in more meaningful learning and increased engagement from our students. They become “experts” on their project topic and are proud to share what they have learned. Our project culminations display the breadth and depth of their investigations.
But I also love the project approach because it covers all areas of the curriculum in an engaging way. It allows us to teach the necessary academic skills while also achieving more complex intellectual goals (such as formulating questions, problem-solving, cooperation, making predictions, and speculating about cause and effect). Academic tasks such as early literacy skills, letter recognition, counting, color and shape recognition, writing, etc., are all achieved through the active student participation in the project approach—without any boring, repetitive worksheets! In fact, because the children are curious, absorbed, and interested in a project topic, they more eagerly approach academic goals that might be met with resistance if offered in a discrete, decontextualized manner.
During the early stages of our box project, for example, we offered graph paper and helped students practice drawing “boxes.” This required excellent pre-writing practice including proper pencil grip, making straight lines, and drawing the right angles required by many letter-formations. But I can guarantee that the students were more excited about “drawing boxes” than they would have been about rote letter-writing practice!
Students also used early math skills in purposeful ways. We measured boxes for our grocery store. This included counting with one-to-one correspondence and recording numbers and results. We also used early math skills for box-nesting activities, comparing different size boxes, and graphing the results of various box-related surveys.
Even more important than these early academic tasks, however, were the intellectual goals we achieve during the project. During our box packing and egg-drop experiment, for example, we practiced scientific inquiry. We asked a question (will the egg survive the drop?), predicted an outcome (yes or no?), tested theories with an experiment (packed and dropped the boxes full of eggs), analyzed the results (opened the packages), and reported the outcome (on a graph).
During our box boating/voting activity, the children had to work together to move their team across a large room (the “ocean”) in a big box (the “boat”) in order to cast their vote in a ballot box. They had to negotiate who would ride and who would push, how many could ride at a time, how many were needed to push effectively, and how to take turns to get everyone across the room. The children were also required to work together to effectively choose and pack a box of containers during one of our field experiences. This involved cooperation and trial-and-error.
Projects engage students, allow them to become experts, and accomplish curricular objectives — all while simultaneously achieving higher-level intellectual goals. At the end of a project, students have been challenged by and engaged in the topic, have increased confidence in their own knowledge, have solved problems, have learned from asking and answering questions, have developed their early literacy and numeracy skills in purposeful ways, and have worked cooperatively with their peers.
We announce our new project today!