Five-Year-Olds Pilot Their Own Project Learning

Five-Year-Olds Pilot Their Own Project Learning

November 25, 2019 21 By Stanley Isaacs


>>Narrator: Creating the school
to serve nearly 500 three- to five-year-olds might seem
like the recipe for disaster. Some days are chaotic here. Like when the Auburn
University Pep Squad shows up. Or when a tornado touches
down nearby.>>Principal: Boys and girls, please move into your weather
locations at this time. We will come around
and check on everyone.>>Narrator: But on a typical
day, the students and staff at Alabama’s Auburn Early
Education Center are busily engaged in learning adventures, like sailing
a cardboard cruise ship to Africa.>>Teacher: Okay, Jordan
and Dylan are going to pass your life vests out to you.>>Narrator: Or flying a
plastic plane to Brazil.>>Teacher: You go ahead and
give Ara your boarding pass.>>Narrator: For them the lifelong
learning exploration can’t begin too soon.>>Teacher: Bon voyage!>>Narrator: Just about
everything that goes on here involves long-term projects
that students undertake as a class.>>Sandy: Do you know where
that is, what it’s called?>>Student: South America, Brazil.>>Sandy: It is Brazil
and this is the place that you are you are studying about.>>Student: That is a big place!>>Narrator: The theme
for each project evolves out of the natural
curiosity of the kids.>>Teacher: Here is some
information about the camel, and it says, “The animal…”>>Narrator: Once the students decide
on a theme, teachers guide them to resources and books
and on the Internet, to help focus their efforts.>>Lilli: Let’s say that
the theme is Brazil. And they begin to study
Brazil by going the Internet, they look up information. Then they decide if
we want to go there. And the teachers pose to them,
“Well, how can we get there?”>>Student: And if they didn’t have
the map, they couldn’t get there.>>Sandy: They couldn’t get there!>>Lilli: Then they may decide,
“Well, we’re going by plane, we need to construct some
type of model of plane. And the teachers get the Internet
resources, the book resources. They take them on the field trip.>>Sandy: Where did you get
the information to know that?>>Sandy: Well, we went to the Auburn
Airport to see all the instruments. There was instruments inside
planes to make it work.>>Student: These make us how fast
we’re going, how slow and these…>>Lilli: The kids are very
highly motivated to be involved, because they’re doing
it for a reason. It’s not just an arbitrary
“cutesy” activity that has no real meaning
or value for them. So that’s why teaching using thematic
curriculum keeps the kids very engaged in the activities.>>Teacher: You have to have your
passport to get on the plane.>>Student: This is your Captain
speaking, we’re flying to Brazil, and we don’t expect
a lot of turbulence.>>Lilli: All of it involves
developing the plan, carrying it through, writing about
it, and cooperation, problem solving, critical thinking, are all pieces
to getting that project complete.>>Stayce: Remind everybody
what we decided that we needed at our funeral.>>Narrator: With a bit of
skillful coaching, everyday events, like the death of the class
pet praying mantis can trigger engaging projects.>>Stacye: Can you share with
them what you decided needed to go on the tombstone?>>Student: Bugs’ name.>>Stacye: Bugs’ name.>>Narrator: After her
students decided to give the deceased a
funeral, teacher, Stacy Jones, found a way to fold all of their
required curriculum into the project. Among other things, they
practiced writing and drawing by designing invitations
for the ceremony.>>Stacye: I got in science. I got in social studies. I got in math, I got in writing. I got in everything all through
an authentic purpose for learning. They were interested. And once you have been interested,
they can’t get enough information. They love school, because they’re
interested, because it’s authentic.>>Student: I went to the dentist for
them to take pictures of my teeth. And I got…>>Narrator: Since most kindergartners
favorite subject is themselves, personal stories are at the center
of the literacy curriculum here.>>Student: I forgot
that I had a virus. And when I went home,
I threw up on myself. Are there any questions?>>Narrator: Each day, three students
get a chance to tell their story, and answer questions about it.>>Stayce: At the beginning of the
year, every story is one sentence. “I went to the beach.” “I went shopping.” “I went to the mall.” And as the children are asking
these questions, they realize, “I need to be sure
to say these details, because it’s a pretty
important part.”>>Student: I fell, and then
I hit my head on my table. It was a round table,
and it was a coffee one.>>Stayce: Journal is great. Academically, they’re writing,
they’re reading every day. But more importantly,
they’re going to be talking to people the rest of their life. So that’s my big push for it
is learning how to socialize and communicate with other people.>>Stayce: All right, which
story are you going to vote on? Are you going to vote on the teeth? Are you going to vote on the sick?>>Narrator: The students consider
each story and vote on which one to write about and
illustrate that day.>>Stayce: Hey, guys, I’m
looking for those periods that go at the end of sentences.>>Stayce: Now I hear
another sound in “hi-s.” “Hi-s.”>>Student: “C?”>>Narrator: Early student
writing rarely conforms to conventional spelling rules. But principal Lilli Land sees value
in allowing creative alternatives.>>Lilli: A five-year-old
child should not be expected to spell every word
conventionally correct. Many 35-year-olds may not spell
every word conventionally correct, but use “spell check” when
they’re on the computer. But with a young child, you want
to turn them onto the writing. “Man, I can write this! You know, I can be an author!”>>Student: I’m having a good time.>>Lilli: So you get those juices
going, you get the kids interested. They write, and then the way that they write gives the
teacher very useful information about where they are in their
development in the stages of reading.>>Coach: I would probably
say you’re exactly right. Most of the time we’re going to see
that “s,” it’s going to be an “s.”>>Stayce: Right.>>Coach: And we’re still
looking at September so let’s look at where he is now.>>Stayce: All right.>>Narrator: In addition to
a dedicated reading coach, the Center has installed “Smart
Boards” in every classroom to enhance their literacy effort.>>Sandy: What’s that letter?>>Student: “b.”>>Sandy: “b.” All right. Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to pull this
“b” on top of that “d.” Pull it down. Now, are they the same? No.>>Sandy: Before you
could show it to them. But the fact that they can bring it
over and put it on top of each other, and because they can manipulate it,
makes it so much easier for them to learn, and it’s so
much fun for them to do. And they’re actually in charge of it. they have the power. And therefore, it’s more
pertinent to them, I think.>>Sandy: What’s that letter? “n”>>Sandy: What’s that letter? “e”>>Sandy: What’s that letter? “n”>>Sandy: Look how smart you are. You’re so smart, I
can’t even take it! All right, what comes after…>>Interviewer: How do you like
going on the big white boards, and going on the Internet?>>Jared: You can just learn!>>Lilli: Technology has really
just taken us to another level.>>Teacher: It says, “All the
plants or plant life of a place.”>>Lilli: When kids have questions
about things that they are learning, then it’s just with a click of
the mouse, and they’re there. And not only can they
just get information, but they can see all
kinds of pictures. They can see video clips. So it just opens the door
to their world of learning.>>Sandy: Look! It’s not anaconda. It’s an otter! Why do you think the
otter’s coming up there?>>Student: Because he eats anacondas!>>Sandy: He’s probably saying, “Look! I have dinner. I’m going to eat me some
anacondas,” isn’t he?>>Sandy: These kids have a very
authentic, real purpose for learning.>>Teacher: Now, Jordan’s
going to stamp your passport.>>Lilli: We’re trying to teach
them to be lifelong learners. What are resources? When you want to find
something out, what do you do? You don’t go to an adult, and
just have them feed you all the information you know. You have to learn to
be a problem solver. And you have to be resourceful. And we have to keep them excited
about the process of learning.>>Student: Don’t go yet! Because there’s lots of airplanes
and birds covering the sky.>>Student: Okay. I’m hanging up.>>Narrator: For more
information on what works in public education,
go to edutopia.org.