Friday, September 27, 2013

Project Based Learning: A Road Map for Success in Early Years

For a number of years, I have been an enthusiastic proponent of project-based learning in early years. Our collaborative project Little Hands, Big World (with colleague Leah Obach) has been an ongoing series of multidisciplinary, student-led learning experiences--many with an environmental/sustainability focus. So what have I learned that could make your journey into project-based learning smoother?
It can't be forced. The real-life problem or issue needs to come from the students themselves. I’ve tried to bring my ideas to the students because I see terrific learning opportunities, but both the students and I have felt a lack of enthusiasm and reliance on the teacher’s lead. The best projects have arisen from an issue that is very real to the students, easily observed, and directly impacting their lives. Our Hopping to Help project began with a student bringing a frog for show and tell!
 Be willing to step back and let students do the heavy lifting. It is so tempting to do the work yourself—after all, you can do it ten times more quickly than your students, right? But the most authentic learning comes from students determining and executing the important steps of the project. When we are immersed in a project, we begin every day with a class meeting and generate/modify our to-do list. Referred to throughout the day, it sets an intense focus as all tasks are essential and laden with rich learning! Occasionally the students and I decide that a task is best completed by an adult but they are part of that decision.
 Engagement and enthusiasm run high. Managing it can be challenging. In kindergarten, learners are in different places with self-regulation. When students are truly immersed in a project and taking ownership for its success, their energy can be boundless. Channeling it requires careful management, clear expectations, redirection, and reinforcement. Students can quickly be brought back on task when they are reminded that they have a very real job to complete that is crucial to the project’s success.

Make a difference while building important skills. Project-based learning requires risk-taking. Things won’t go perfectly, the learning will be messy, and your classroom will be even messier. However, the benefits are numerous and often immeasurable. The synergy, sense of purpose, and making a real difference while meeting learning outcomes and developing 21st century skills can be addicting-- you and your students will be planning your next project as the previous one draws to a close!

*This post was orginally published on Microsoft Partners in Learning Hot Topics blog. View the original post here .

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