Saturday, November 24, 2007

NAEYC 2007 Session: Project approach

Teaching science through the project approach: How to choose a topic
Presenters: Ann-Marie Clark, Lilian G. Katz

A project is an in-depth investigation conducted by the children. The children do the work, not the teacher. To begin a project, create the Question Table, which is a large sheet of paper with the column headings Questions, Predictions, Findings, and Source. Once the questions are established (for younger children, simply ask them what they want to know and rephrase it in question format), note any reasonable predictions they will make and what their basis is for each prediction. As the project continues additional questions will probably be added. Allow the children to collect the data they think will answer their questions.

Children represent their observations by drawing or creating constructions. Ideally they will have more than one opportunity to make sketches, which allows them to include their broadening understanding of the topic as the project goes on. They will notice and see different things with each observation. Children can take appropriate measures of objects and use a variety of graphic organizers to represent their findings (charts, graphs, etc.). As children discuss and report observations by their subgroups they acquire scientific terms and content.

Criteria for selecting a good project are:
· the topic is directly observable by the children (i.e. children who live in a desert can’t study a lake)
· the topic is within the experience of most of the children (i.e. children who live in a desert can’t study the local fish trade)
· the topic allows for first-hand investigation (they can go to it or it can come to them)
· the children can take the initiative
· the resources for answering questions are available and accessible
· there is representation potential (i.e. very young children can’t do a project on “friendship,” though older children with project experience might be able to)
· topic experts are available to answer questions
· there is parent involvement potential
· the topic is sensitive to the cultures represented in the community
· the topic is potentially interesting and worthy of deepening their interest (i.e. a project on pirates is inadvisable even if you had them around because you don’t want children to deepen their interest in criminals)
· the topic is related to local curriculum goals
· the topic includes opportunities to apply basic skills
· the topic is optimally specific, neither too broad (space) or too narrow (the teacher’s dog)
· the topic will involve children in how other people contribute to their well-being (garbage collection might be a good project)

Important note: project work is never the whole of your curriculum. This point came up when several teachers asked how to do projects when they are required to have a certain number of uninterrupted minutes each week on the various academic areas and integration of those areas was not supported. Lilian commented that if you give a project a better name, like “intentionality intensives” or something similar, administrators are more likely to approve of reinforcing disparate academic areas with projects.

There was some discussion as to the ages of students who are ready for projects. Some teachers have done small projects with children as young as 2, while most teachers seemed to think 3 was a good age to start. My only confusion was with representations, since many 3 year olds in our program are not yet making representational art. As we don’t model for the children, it seemed unlikely that asking them to draw what they see would be productive. Several teachers, and Lilian, responded that teaching them to draw at a young age is beneficial to them in many ways and gives them a method of expressing the explorations in the world.

My opinion is that project work would be beneficial for the 3s and up. The pre-K class already does the basics of project work, omitting the formal reporting of the questions and results.

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