Project-Based Learning

I haven’t really thought about the big picture of project-based learning too much. Since I teach children who are much younger than elementary age, I guess I have been more concerned about offering them interesting environments and observing to see how they use materials. However, I ran into an article today that makes me think a little harder about the foundation of project-based learning. The concepts discussed in the article can be used for any age, and I think it is time for me to give this way of teaching some serious consideration. Here is the link to the article:

How to Trigger Students’ Inquiry Through Projects

The actual article is an excerpt from a book entitled Thinking Through Project-Based Learning: Guiding Deeper Inquiry by Jane Krauss and Suzie Boss. The article does a very good job outlining the steps that teachers need to take in order to begin using project-based learning effectively in the classroom. It will definitely give me something to think about.

Introspection on Teaching

Wow, it has been such a long time since I posted! I have been so busy with the new classroom and my school work that I haven’t had time to post anything. But I started a new course a week ago, and it has prompted me to step back and take a look at what my biggest values as a teacher are.

Now, this is pretty deep for me. I have a lot of values as a teacher, but I don’t take time and step back to figure out what they are. I usually just go with my research and my classes and use those values that are buried inside me to guide my way. But this course is asking me to look inside and dig them out. And so I am.

At first I came up with passion, because I am so passionate about what I do. But that didn’t say everything that I wanted to say. I am passionate, but when I looked up the definition of passion, it was more linked to religion than anything else. I am not a religious person, and this career is not like a religion to me. So I set out to find a word that better describes what I feel, and I found enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm is defined as an absorbing or controlling possession of the mind by any interest or pursuit. I think that effectively describes what I feel for teaching. So I settled on that and went about my work. The next step was finding quotes that talk about enthusiasm. I found some great ones, and then I went to bed.

I woke up this morning feeling like I was missing something. Enthusiasm is all well and good, and I have plenty of it, but what is it that I am the most enthusiastic about? Is it gaining knowledge? Being an intentional teacher? Making connections with my students? Watching their learning processes? Giving them opportunities to learn what they want to learn, how they want to learn it? Giving them opportunities to explore?

So this blog post is actually part of my introspection, a way for me to get those ideas out there and perhaps expand upon them – sort of a “thinking out loud”, if you will. I actually like the idea of exploration, because all I do all day long is watch children explore their world. Especially with the age I work with now; when children just turn two they are naturally curious about EVERYTHING, and when they find something that they want to do they will spend a lot of time doing it until they have it mastered.

An example: when we went about getting the classroom ready to open, we ordered new toys. I had expressed interest in some magnetic toys that consisted of plastic rods with magnets in them and balls that have magnetic qualities. These can be linked together to build…whatever. However, since these kids are just two, they spend a lot of time making towers with the rods, and do all sorts of things that make me want to pull my hair out with the balls. We also got some plastic see-through colored paddles for using at the light table, but these make such good ball-swatters that this is what they are being used for, at the expense of my sanity. There is one boy who goes back to this activity constantly, to the point where I am trying to figure out how to allow him to pursue his exploration of the balls in this way without losing my mind or having all of my colored paddles broken in the process (one of the balls actually broke the other day when I broke down and let them swat the balls around for an extended period).

When it comes to activities like this, I really miss my old classroom. It was huge! I had enough room in that classroom that I could have let these boys swat away on one side of the room and they wouldn’t have bothered me in the slightest. But my current classroom is about a quarter of the size of my old classroom, so balls rolling around the room becomes somewhat of a safety hazard for the other children in the room. However, I have a saying that I follow when it comes to activities like this: If the children are doing something and it gets on your nerves and you want to tell them to stop, first ask yourself “why?” Why do you want them to stop? Obviously, in this case, it is for safety reasons. But the activity itself is not harming anyone (except for my paddles, which are starting to chip, and the balls, which obviously won’t hold up under the strain of being swatted). So what can I do to allow them to play their ball swatting game without endangering the toys or children around them?

I’ve come up with a few ideas, but while I have been busy explaining this example, I have come way off topic. The topic was exploration, and how the children in my care are so curious and want to explore everything. Why not set up a theme for the year about exploration? This will give me a chance to intentionally set up the classroom in a way that will aid in their exploration. As a class we can become enthusiastic about exploring everything and finding new ways to use and implement the things that we are exploring.

That is all well and good, and satisfies another part of my assignment, but what value is it that I am most enthusiastic about? Perhaps it is curiosity. After all, without curiosity we couldn’t have exploration. Without curiosity I would not have done the independent research that led to me having the smoothest-running classroom that I have ever experienced, with the drive to create that experience again. I would not have discovered new ways to deal with challenging behavior, and I would not be anywhere near the path I am on now. In fact, without curiosity, I probably would not be teaching any more. It is children’s curiosity that motivates me and inspires me to find new things for them to explore, and it is my curiosity about how they will approach a topic that keeps me involved in their exploration.

Yes, I think I have found what I am enthusiastic about! Thank you for taking part in my brainstorming!