I love the personal project season at Prairie Creek. Our fifth graders present their honors projects next week. They have been busy putting the finishing touches on posters, polishing up research papers and practicing presentations. They will each take a turn presenting to an audience of peers and guests over the course of the first three days of the week. Next Thursday morning, projects will be set up in the gym so younger friends can tour them. We'll celebrate the conclusion of the honors projects that evening with words from mentors and, by tradition, ice cream sundaes.
This afternoon, a visiting educator from Wisconsin, asked if I could show her around our school. She was eager to gain an insight into the personal project process.
I thought it would make best sense to start by showing her the fifth graders in full honors project flow. To get upstairs we had to first navigate our way past pairs of fourth and fifth grade partners who were absorbed in presentation practice (the fourth graders will also be presenting their projects next week). We then stopped by the Robins' room where Cathy kindly gave our guest a brief overview of the honors projects before I connected her with some fifth graders who were all too happy to share their studies.
I explained to my guest that there was a great deal of detailed planning and work undertaken by the teachers, support staff and mentors to scaffold the multi-month exploration of a single topic. I showed her the project resource page on our website. We chatted about how the progressive education characteristics of this project process - questioning, curiosity, intrinsic motivation, creativity, critical thinking - were partnered by intentional teaching of skills relating to organization, research, non-fiction writing and communication.
Warming to my task as a personal project tour guide, I suggested that we drop down through the developmental ages to help her understand how a fifth graders were so comfortable in the process. Quite simply, I explained, most of them have been engaged in personal project studies since kindergarten.
The 2/3 classes are just at the beginning of their personal projects. One of our second grade children proudly shared his know/wonder chart that he had been working on at the outset of his study of mollusks (the 2/3s will present their projects on the afternoon of April 29).
We then made our way down to the Nuthatches K/1 class. Earlier in the day, I had been invited to join the class circle while the children whip-shared their initial project topic ideas. Amy, the Nuthatches teacher, was already introducing our youngest children to a central component of the project process - the Know/Wonder chart that our 2/3 friend had just shared. The children were being asked to consider how much they knew about each topic and how much they wondered about it. The idea of this construct is to help children understand that projects probably won't have much of a research lifespan if children are already subject experts or, just as problematically, if they are really not that curious about the topic.
Over the next few weeks, the K/1 children will all choose a topic and then with the help of teachers and older students research their "I wonder" questions. They will create a visual representation of their learning to share with families and Prairie Creek older friends at the project fair on May 6. I wrapped up our tour of the project process by introducing our visitor to a couple of the Nuthatch children who gave her an impressive and articulate summary of the topic choice and know/wonder process.
Before parting, I shared with our visiter one last, essential, project component - parent support. Thank you for engaging with your children as they work on their projects. We'll hope to see you at one or more of the project presentation opportunities over the next few weeks.