Hands-on work and group collaboration nourishes multiple learning styles.
Project-based learning starts with wondering, a question, a problem to be solved. "What does it take to build a robot?" leads to writing down a plan, followed by research on robots. The next step might be tracing out design, followed by learning how to measure and scale materials for building.
Meanwhile, during breaks from construction work, the whole class enjoys a science fiction chapter book on robots. A guest expert comes in to speak to the class on robotics and artificial intelligence. In a language class, students learn about various computer languages humans use to communicate with technology such as robots.
Historic Influences on Progressive Education
"The world cares little about what a man knows; it cares more about what a man is able to do... Education is not a thing apart from life -- not a 'system' nor a philosophy; it is direct teaching how to live and how to work." Booker T. Washington
Projects can be initiated by group inquiry and evolve over time. For example, our first graders were interested in bugs. This prompted a thorough study of different species of insects. They were particularly fascinated by ants. Eventually, the students decided to turn their classroom into a working ant colony, with themselves as the ants. They built tunnels and laid out their classroom anthill using proportional mathematics.
The Children's School has multiple projects going on at any given time. Children in the lower grades may focus all their learning around one theme, such as coral reefs or medieval England. A middle school student might have four concurrent projects with four different themes: exploring different government structures with one faculty member; understanding the operation of simple electronic switches and motors with another; tracing the role of the hero or heroine theme across various genres of literature in another class; and simultaneously working on their own individual project to create a small business model for a campus cafe.
7th-Graders Make Masks While Learning About Local Issues
Our project-based learning and social justice curriculum continued during our remote learning program in spring of 2020. Our 7th-grade class decided on a service project to make masks for residents of the Little Village area of Chicago.
While Illinois stayed home, a demolition project unleashed a horrendous dust cloud in the neighborhood, which was already plagued with a high level of industrial pollution. This combination might make residents of the area more susceptible to serious complications if they contract the coronavirus.
Students and their teacher, Ms. Melissa Barone, used videoconferencing to discuss the environmental and health problems the demolition caused Little Village. They also worked on how to safely gather materials, as well as how to make and safely deliver the masks to community groups in the affected area.
The project helped students learn about local current events and how communities must balance the interests of industry, business, and residents. It also gave students a way to move beyond fear and helplessness during Covid-19, and instead choose positive action and engagement through helping others.