Monday, October 14, 2013

Our First Project This Year: Phase I

Getting started with a topic for project work is often the most difficult part of the process.  There are many sources for provications to get the children interested in a particular topic; materials on a table for them to investigate, a visitor who comes to the school to share something, an interesting item or discovery the children find outside and many others.  Sometimes the ideas comes purely from the children and other times, the impetus is provided by the teacher.  As Lillian Katz once explained in her Engaging Children's Minds seminar, children will not be interested in something, to which they have never been exposed.  Giving them many different materials, interesting objects, nature items from your environment,  exposure to people in your community and so on widens the topics in which they could become engaged.

In our threes classroom, the teacher began by reading some owl stories and songs.  The children liked the books so she invited a naturalist to come to the school and not to do an entire program on animals, but to bring an owl. They were able to see an owl up close, ask questions, meet a typical prey source (she also brought a gerbil) and hear about how they could see some owls right in our neighborhood.  They were very engaged in this owl visit, so now the teacher has the beginning of project.  How will this class develop this further?  Since this class has not been exposed to project work that much, she will need to scaffold the process for them, giving them options as to how to represent their learning.

In my class, the four year olds, as we were observing the children during the first several weeks of school, many of them were playing fire fighter with the dress up materials.  They were turning the brooms and mops into  hoses and "spraying" their friends.  They were filling their jacket pockets with the "supplies" that they would need.

 I had a few pieces of tubing used in our sensory table, so I added this to the dramatic play area.  Some of this spraying was upsetting to the other children, so we brought it to a question, "do you think fire fighters spray each other in the face?"  We pulled out a few books we had and could not see that in the books.  Another boy told the class about his birthday party at the fire station.  Many of the children had attended over the summer and the discussions about the party became quite lively as the children excitedly recounted what they had seen.

With this interest that spanned the group, we decided to invite the local fire chief to visit us and bring his truck up our hill for the children to investigate.  Before this we shared  memories of fire trucks and visits to stations.  The children drew a fire truck from memory.

photo 1-1

We discussed the things we were wondering about or the things many of them thought to be fact, in preparation for our visit.  Before the chief arrived, I talked to him about how this wasn't the standard preschool fire safety visit.  We had some specific questions for him ( which I emailed him beforehand), we also wanted time to sketch the truck. The girls were asking about women fire fighters, so he made sure to bring Fire Fighter Sarah with him.  
I find that if you talk to the experts about your teaching process and talk to them about the specific areas of interest of the children, most are more than willing to stray from a standard program they may give to others and focus on those areas.

The children noticed so many details about the truck in their sketches such as the headlights, the wipers, the various letters and numbers on the truck and all of the "buttons".

They also were interested in the wheels as they were as tall as they were.  We started to develop a pretty extensive vocabulary together in our discussions after the visit.

Because the children were so interested and engaged, we knew this was a study worth pursuing.

Then one of our students went home and excitedly told her family about the day.  It turns our her dad is a volunteer fire fighter.  He brought in some old equipment for us to have and invited us to visit his station.


Some dramatic play, sharing of a previous experience and a visitor...our project study has begun.  

1 comment:

  1. My class is currently in Phase 2 of their Owl Project. I hope you will keep us posted on the owl project at your school. I would love to see how it develops. Thank you!