ERIC Identifier: ED368509
Publication Date: 1994-04-00
Author: Katz, Lilian G.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
The Project Approach. ERIC Digest.
Although project work is not new to early and elementary education (Sharan
& Sharan, 1992), interest in involving children in group projects has been
growing for several years. This renewed interest is based on recent research on
children's learning (Kandel & Hawkins, 1992), a trend toward integrating the
curriculum, and the impressive reports of group projects conducted by children
in the pre-primary schools of Reggio Emilia (Edwards et al., 1993).
WHAT IS A PROJECT?
A project is an in-depth investigation
of a topic worth learning more about. The investigation is usually undertaken by
a small group of children within a class, sometimes by a whole class, and
occasionally by an individual child. The key feature of a project is that it is
a research effort deliberately focused on finding answers to questions about a
topic posed either by the children, the teacher, or the teacher working with the
children. The goal of a project is to learn more about the topic rather than to
seek right answers to questions posed by the teacher.
THE PLACE OF PROJECT WORK IN THE CURRICULUM
the project approach do not suggest that project work should constitute the
whole curriculum. Rather, they suggest that it is best seen as complementary to
the more formal, systematic parts of the curriculum in the elementary grades,
and to the more informal parts of the curriculum for younger children. Project
work is not a separate subject, like mathematics; it provides a context for
applying mathematical concepts and skills. Nor is project work an "add on" to
the basics; it should be treated as integral to all the other work included in
the curriculum. SYSTEMATIC INSTRUCTION: (1) helps children ACQUIRE skills; (2)
addresses DEFICIENCIES in children's learning; (3) stresses EXTRINSIC
motivation; and (4) allows teachers to direct the children's work, use their
expertise, and specify the tasks that the children perform. PROJECT WORK, in
contrast: (1) provides children with opportunities to APPLY skills; (2)
addresses children's PROFICIENCIES; (3) stresses INTRINSIC motivation; and (4)
encourages children to determine what to work on and accepts them as experts
about their needs. Both systematic instruction and project work have an
important place in the curriculum.
For older children able to read and write independently, project work
provides a context for taking initiative and assuming responsibility, making
decisions and choices, and pursuing interests. For younger children, project
work usually requires teacher guidance and consultation.
THEMES, UNITS, PROJECTS: SOME IMPORTANT
Related to project work are themes and units. A theme is
usually a broad concept or topic like "seasons," or "animals." Teachers assemble
books, photographs, and other materials related to the theme through which
children can gain new awareness. However, in theme work children are rarely
involved in posing questions to be answered or taking initiative for
investigation on the topic. Nevertheless, theme topics can provide good
subtopics for project work.
Units usually consist of preplanned lessons and activities on particular
topics the teacher considers important for the children to know more about. When
providing information in units, the teacher typically has a clear plan about
what concepts and knowledge the children are to acquire. As with themes,
children usually have little role in specifying the questions to be answered as
the work proceeds.
Both themes and units have an important place in the early childhood and
elementary curriculum. However, they are not substitutes for projects, in which
children ask questions that guide the investigation and make decisions about the
activities to be undertaken. Unlike themes and units, the topic of a project is
a real phenomenon that children can investigate directly rather than mainly
through library research. Project topics draw children's attention to questions
such as: How do things work? What do people do? and What tools do people use?
ACTIVITIES INCLUDED IN PROJECT WORK
Depending on the ages
and skills of the children, activities
engaged in during project work include drawing, writing, reading, recording
observations, and interviewing experts. The information gathered is summarized
and represented in the form of graphs, charts, diagrams, paintings and drawings,
murals, models and other constructions, and reports to peers and parents. In the
early years, an important component of a project is dramatic play, in which new
understanding is expressed and new vocabulary is used.
Project work in the early childhood and elementary curriculum provides
children with contexts for applying the skills they learn in the more formal
parts of the curriculum, and for group cooperation. It also supports children's
natural impulse to investigate things around them.
THE PHASES OF A PROJECT
In PHASE 1 of a project, called
GETTING STARTED by Katz and Chard (1989), the children and teacher devote
several discussion periods to selecting and refining the topic to be
investigated. The topic may be proposed by a child or by the teacher.
Several criteria can be considered for selecting topics. First, the topic
should be closely related to the children's everyday experience. At least a few
of the children should have enough familiarity with the topic to be able to
raise relevant questions about it. Second, in addition to basic literacy and
numeracy skills, the topic should allow for integrating a range of subjects such
as science, social studies, and language arts. A third consideration is that the
topic should be rich enough so that it can be explored for at least a week.
Fourth, the topic should be one that is more suitable for examination in school
than at home; for example, an examination of local insects, rather than a study
of local festivals.
Once the topic has been selected, teachers usually begin by making a web, or
concept map, on the basis of "brain-storming" with the children. Displaying a
web of the topic and associated subtopics can be used for continuous de-briefing
discussions as the project work proceeds. During preliminary discussions the
teacher and children propose the questions they will seek to answer through the
investigation. During the first phase of the project, the children also recall
their own past experiences related to the topic.
PHASE 2, FIELD WORK, consists of the direct investigation, which often
includes field trips to investigate sites, objects, or events. In Phase 2, which
is the heart of project work, children are investigating, drawing from
observation, constructing models, observing closely and recording findings,
exploring, predicting, and discussing and dramatizing their new understandings
PHASE 3, CULMINATING AND DEBRIEFING EVENTS, includes preparing and presenting
reports of results in the form of displays of findings and artifacts, talks,
dramatic presentations, or guided tours of their constructions.
PROJECTS ON EVERYDAY OBJECTS
One example of an
investigation of an everyday object in the children's environments is a project
called "All About Balls." A kindergarten teacher asked the children to collect
from home, friends, relatives, and others as many old balls as they could. She
developed a web by asking what the children might like to know about the balls.
The children collected 31 different kinds of balls, including a gumball, a
cotton ball, a globe of the earth, and an American football (which led to a
discussion of the concepts of sphere, hemisphere, and cone). The children then
formed subgroups to examine specific questions. One group studied the surface
texture of each ball, and made rubbings to represent their findings; another
measured the circumference of each ball with pieces of string; and a third tried
to determine what each ball was made of.
After each group displayed and reported its findings to the others, the class
made and tested predictions about the balls. The children and the teacher asked
which balls would be the heaviest and which the lightest, how the weight of the
balls was related to their circumference, which balls would roll the farthest on
grass and gravel surfaces after rolling down an inclined plane, and which balls
would bounce the highest. While the children tested their predictions, the
teacher helped them explore such concepts as weight, circumference, and
resistance. Following this direct investigation, the children engaged in a
discussion about ball games. They discussed which balls were struck by bats,
clubs, mallets, hands and feet, racquets, and so forth.
A project on a topic of real interest to
children, such as the "All About Balls" project described here, involves
children in a wide variety of tasks: drawing, measuring, writing, reading,
listening, and discussing. From working on such a project, children learn a rich
new vocabulary as their knowledge of a familiar object deepens and expands.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Chard, Sylvia C. (1992). THE PROJECT
APPROACH: A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR TEACHERS. Edmonton, Alberta: University of
Alberta Printing Services.
Edwards, C., L. Gandini, and G. Forman. (Eds.). (1993). THE HUNDRED LANGUAGES OF CHILDREN: THE REGGIO EMILIA APPROACH TO EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION. Norwood, NJ: Ablex. ED 355 034.
Kandel, E.R. and R.D. Hawkins (1992). The Biological Basis of Learning and
Individuality. SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN 267(3, Sep): 78-86. EJ 458 266.
Katz, L.G. and S.C. Chard. (1989). ENGAGING CHILDREN'S MINDS: THE PROJECT
APPROACH. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Sharan, Schlomo and Yael Sharan. (1992). EXPANDING COOPERATIVE LEARNING
THROUGH GROUP INVESTIGATION. New York: Teacher's College Press, Columbia
Trepanier-Street, Mary. (1993). What's So New about the Project Approach?
CHILDHOOD EDUCATION 70(1, Fall): 25-28. EJ 471 383.