On the Border of Chaos & Order: Project Based Learning in Kindergarten

 

“The essence of independence is to be able to do something for one’s self. Adults work to finish a task, but the child works in order to grow, and is working to create the adult, the person that is to be. Such experience is not just play… it is work he must do in order to grow up.

 – Maria Montessori 


The article Perfecting with Practice: Project Based Teaching by Suzie Boss, lays a wonderful foundation for those educators looking to make the leap into Project Based Learning. As a Kindergarten teacher, this framework coupled with PYP curriculum and a strong emphasis on play-based learning is the perfect recipe for authentic learning engagements in my classroom.

Suzie Boss writes, that “Inquiry is at the heart of project learning.” As much as I  agree with her on that, I’d take one step further with the anatomy analogy and say if that inquiry is the heart than play is the backbone.  As an Early Years of working at conceptually based schools, I believe it’s the concoction of inquiry,  play, and experimentation that really helps foster critical thinking skills and promote big ideas.

Each day my Kinder students become more and more accustomed to inquiry and big ideas and solving authentic problems.  At first, the thought of relinquishing control and transferring more ownership over to the students felt a bit daunting.  However, I quickly realized once I got out of the way, that’s when the magic happened.  I had embraced the power of letting go and started looking at the learning through the macro lens.  By embracing project-based learning as my foundation I helped keep my students tethered to learning but unbounded by their own desires and creativity.

Suzie’s Boss’ article Perfecting with Practice also reminded me of  Mitchel Resnick’s TED Talk Kindergarten for our Whole Lives.  Throughout his TED Talk, which I’ve also included below,  he dives into what he calls the four P’s of Practice. Those are as followed.

Projects
Passions
Play  & Peers



Starting with Passions

It’s been said if you want to get to know someone spends an hour playing with them.  You’ll learn more from that one hour than days of conversations.  In the Early Years, where students wear their hearts on their sleeves, a few play sessions combined some astute observations and notetaking and you will allow you begin to tap into the interests of an early years learner.  Take iTime, for example, ( also known to other educators as Genius Hour) undoubtedly our most popular time throughout the week. My Kindergarten students consistently look forward to iTime because they know that that time is personal to them.  It’s a dedicated time and space for creative thinking.

iTime activates my student’s natural desire to learn and empowers them to embrace their imagination and design thinking skills.  Our classroom Makerspace is an organic entity that has taken on a life of its own and treasured by my students. Each week they take part in iTime where in addition to them learning about the creative process, they are constantly exploring, experimenting and tinkering.  In a sense, iTime is grassroots,  student-driven,  Project Based Learning. Fueled by their individual wonder and passions, my students take iTime very seriously. Here’s a great article that speaks to more of benefits of personalized learning  or “iTime”

Also, have a look at some of the focus and levels of engagement from my students below.

 


Make it Relevant to Make it Work

Although iTime is one way to tap into my student’s passions and make it work on a personalized level.  I began to reflect on my Kindergarten class as a whole and wondered which learning engagements fit best with their needs, Project Based Learning or Challenge-Based Learning?

After reading Kim Cofino’s blog post “ 3 steps to transforming your classroom,” I realized is that Understanding by Design or Project-Based Learning would work really well with my 5 & 6-year-old students. Understanding by Design allows me to revise lesson plans to keep them aligned with the learning goals thus acknowledging the ebb & flow of Kindergarten.

Other learning frameworks although, great, do not necessarily fit as well as my Project Based Learning.  For example, Problem-Based Learning & Challenge Based Learning isn’t exactly relevant or age appropriate for my students. Don’t get me wrong, delve into Problem-Based Learning from time to time, but that is mostly when we are attempting to solve or focus on classroom or individual conflicts.

By keeping my focus on the Project-based learning model,  I help my students become prosumers as they generate a cycle of creation, reflection, & refinement.  It will also change the way they perceive the world. In my class, there is no problem too big to attempt to solve. Providing children with Time, space, resources and an authentic audience equips them for the real world.

Learning to collaborate on large-scale problems and give and receive feedback throughout the process is one key to success, both in the classroom and in life.


Overcoming Obstacles  

Project Based learning helps the students learn how to think big and come up with big goals and ideas.  Of course, like any type of teaching, this takes scaffolding, patience, and practice.  One obstacle, although not terribly big one is the fact that things in Kindergarten don’t always move in a linear direction. Some of the learning will probably be circular but I suppose the nice part about Project-based learning is the freedom and flexibility that comes with having an overarching goal/set of learning outcomes. UBD units, for example, allow me to revise lesson plans to keep them aligned with the learning goals.

I find that when they have an authentic audience to provide them with the feedback they are much more responsive. This sometimes can become challenging, especially if we have already exercised the options of our Grade 2 reading buddies, the admin team, or our parent community.  One thing that I would like to do more to help circumvent this obstacle is to seek out more global connections. Perhaps through my PLN on Twitter along with #KchatAP & #Kinderchat groups.  It’s important that my students continue to present their learning to an authentic audience, one that expands beyond the grounds of our school.

I’m a firm believer that Kindergarten students are more than capable of handling big ideas and understanding/handing real-life authentic problems so I’d never completely discount something and underestimate the ability of my students.

Mitchel Resnick’s book, Lifelong Kindergartener, has been on my radar for a long time and as a Kindergarten teacher, I wholeheartedly agree with his views regarding teaching and learning through his philosophy and the four P’s.

Although it often requires the right delivery, time, space, a bit of essence and a lot of repetition, my Kindergarten students and I are able to make learning look like an organic roman candle of student interest, engagement, and enjoyment; unbridled and glorious.


Final Wonderings?

What does learning look like in your classroom?

How do you harness and promote creativity with your students?

How do you embrace the four Ps (Projects, Passions, Play,  & Peers) in your teaching?

One thought on “On the Border of Chaos & Order: Project Based Learning in Kindergarten

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