Exploring a worthy question
Building skills and knowledge during the project
Collaborating with classmates
Solving a problem in your own way
Presenting your solution
Project-Based Learning with preschoolers starts with our teaching team presenting an open-ended problem for the children to solve each week:
What will you build with the recycled materials?
What games can you create to play together in the sandbox?
What imaginary germ will you design?
What imaginary machine will you build to use in the snow?
How will the leprechaun get into your leprechaun house?
Our teachers work to support the creativity and interests of the children, as well as to introduce a wide range of concepts that will provide a foundation for future learning. Some problem-solving experiences are one or two days long, for example when our preschoolers learn about germs and design imaginary germs. Some projects spread over multiple weeks or months.
Children with different ages, interests, and developmental readiness can work on the same project because our teachers are experienced with differentiating the curriculum for highly capable children who have asynchronous abilities (for example: both a brilliant imagination and an inability to share the markers).
Some children solve problems at a sensory/exploratory level at the beginning of the year: they play randomly with the materials, and only after creating something do they decide how it solves the problem. When our teachers see intentionality growing ("I'm going to build a skyscraper!"), they form small groups of children and begin teaching the steps of Project-Based Learning: planning, researching (which at the preschool level means remembering things children learned about earlier in the week, or background knowledge they've brought from home), designing, iterating, hopefully revising (although revision isn't expected at the preschool level), and finally presenting the child's solution.
We use Project Based Learning to frame our longer projects. This framework is used at the middle school and high school level to support 21st Century Learning (see www.bie.org and www.P21.org). Bellevue Discovery is a pilot program fro adapting PBL to early childhood.
Over the last eight years we have developed this framework for Project-Based Learning with highly capable preschoolers:
We start with a Driving Question
and explore ideas related to that question for a few days, weeks, or months:
What is a machine?
What is a city?
What is a quest?
We explore multiple topics related to the Driving Question. Teacher-guided activities provide opportunities for advanced thinking, open-ended problem solving, and gaining skills, while being developmentally appropriate for preschoolers.
For our Planet Earth project, our Driving Question was,
“What is a planet?”
We explored gardens, rocks, fossils, geography, volcanoes,
inside planet Earth, and outer space.
A typical short-term project begins with Language Experience: we read a high quality fiction or non-fiction picture book, looking at themes, content, writing mechanics, and phonics. We immerse ourselves in the story, adding song, movement, drama, and art to our exploration. The teachers then introduce a problem related to the literature for the children to solve.
When we explored gardens, the children’s problem was:
“What can I discover when I dissect a dandelion?
Often the children's project work is presented at an end-of-week gallery: we invite families to arrive 15 minutes early at pick-up time to view the children's projects and talk with the Early Childhood Specialist about the process:
What were the many steps the children took to design and build solutions to the problem?
Projects in the Dragonflies class continue for several months, culminating in a Project Presentation in which the children showcase their learning for their families.
For our Planet Earth Project Presentation,
each child designed an imaginary planet,
complete with 2-D and 3-D representations and a planet report.
On Planet Day our families attended the presentation as space travelers:
collecting passport stamps as they visited the planets,
talking with the children about their discoveries,
and writing comments in the Planetary Guestbooks.