Project-based homeschooling, part 2

Published by Lori Pickert on October 8, 2007 at 10:02 PM

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I wanted to write about J’s comic project, but I've been feeling like I needed to first go through some sort of introduction of terms and what I mean when I say “project,” vis-a-vis project-based learning.

Of course, I’m breaking my own rule (cough, guideline) by calling it the “comic project” (I want to call it the “comical project”) but I’m wide open to what direction it may take … and the fact that later we may be calling it something entirely different.

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Doing projects in the classroom means educating parents (and grandparents … and neighors … and well-meaning postmen). Parents are often doubtful that you can begin anywhere (absolutely anywhere) and get somewhere meaningful (and fast). Teachers who are trying to learn the Project Approach or the Reggio Approach are often dubious as well. After all, in school we separate out the subjects and follow strict learning standards and benchmarks to make sure everything gets covered. Project-based learning, seems, by comparison (to some) a little haphazard.

The fact is, with every project I’ve ever been involved with, the kids started at a particular point, sometimes quite obscure, and always — always — managed to end up with a very wide-ranging, dense web of knowledge. Like a spider spinning, it didn’t matter where they started — from the top of the mailbox, from the corner of the front gate — they always ended up with a big, showy web of knowledge, skills, and experiences.

yarn.jpgAnd when they learn this way — when everything is related meaningfully to everything else, and they are following a path of knowledge that makes sense to them — they have a much deeper, more complex understanding at the end.

Some educators believe that project topics should be chosen very carefully, and I believe that is more or less true for someone who is beginning their first project. After several years, however, I feel comfortable doing projects on virtually anything. It is an “approach,” after all, and I facilitate projects in my very own particular way, not following a set recipe devised by someone else. I’m informed by other educators’ methods, but I’ve arrived at my own way of working with children and projects.

Next, I’ll talk about how we choose project topics.

All pictures taken by J, age 7.

2 comments

Comment by Allison on June 12, 2010 at 03:19 PM

I teach in a multi-age classroom, 3-5 year-olds. I am using the project-based approach in planning for the room. I'd love to not do any lesson plans, but our NAEYC accreditation requires it. Anyway, I'm having a hard time deciding if we need a culminating event at the end of each project. You see, all of our projects (weather-->spring-->bugs-->gardening-->small animals-->zoo animals-->maps) have flowed from the previous study. Do I need a culminating event? I know that the flow of the projects is important, and my students have continued to look at the clouds and bugs through all of our projects.

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 27, 2010 at 05:47 PM

allison, i am anti-culminating event because it is so often a forced and teacher-directed or defined thing. i much prefer organic, reggio-style project work in which new questions and avenues of inquiry are continually being asked/explored; the only way an entire group of children manage to move through the "three stages of project-based learning" is if the teacher herds them through, hurrying some and urging others to slow down.

there is a time when the majority of children are ready to move on; however, we always preferred to approach this, again, organically. we would slowly take down materials from the previous project and move them further away from the heart of the classroom action (not get rid of them altogether). we would occasionally, through necessity, decide as a group that we were ready to take down a large construction or dramatic play creation .. then the children would play in it (usually with much more attention than they'd given it for awhile!) a few more days before it was dismantled (usually keeping some key portions for display or use elsewhere).

so, i think a more gentle segue between projects makes more sense and is more natural. like you, our projects usually flowed into each other, usually in surprising ways.

also similar to your experience, some and even most of our children would retain a strong interest in some particular thing for a very, very long time (across school years) .. we never fought this but tried to respect it and give them room to maintain that interest (and sometimes it would spark new investigations or they would find a great connection to the current project) but we would simply no longer give it strong teacher support as a current investigation. hope that makes sense!

hope this helps! let me know what you're doing - i'm very interested! :^)

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