“It’s like an art gallery, ” says Naomi, age 6. Students are looking at each other’s work, praising it, and asking questions. They are all genuinely excited for what they have accomplished, and what their classmates are doing. They are taking time to help one another, support one another, and show pride in their work.
“I didn’t think they could do it,” said new teacher, Sarah, “but they did, beautifully.”
It was the first independent research choice project for most of our 6 though 8 year-olds. Not every school or every teacher can trust this process. But I did, and I encouraged Sarah to do so as well, so she dove head-first into it with them. On a day towards the end of the project, the excitement is palpable, and the feeling of achievement is real. They are close to completing posters, dioramas, iMovies, Venn diagrams, and more.
While it was not pure project-based learning, where kids solve a real-world problem, it was a first step that involved choice, creativity, collaboration, learning new skills, and communicating learning. For a few weeks, there was lots of research in books and on iPads, and students sharing new knowledge.
“Did you know that a baby whale is as big as a school bus?”
“Can you help me find Collared lizards?”
“Where are there the most forests? Russia!”
All week, the floor is strewn with paper, glue, bits of clay and string and sand. The energy is high, and kids flow freely from the art room to the hallway to the classroom finding spaces to work with one another and with teachers and administrators who offer help or guidance when needed. Satchel runs into the office and says, “I’m finished!,” and then later he comes again, “Eli is almost finished with his movie and then you can see it!”
“Do you like doing these projects?,” I asked a few students who were in the office returning iPads. “Yes!” they shouted, “It’s so much fun!”
The official presentations and “gallery walks” reflected all of their learning and joy. Parents, classmates, and other Levey classes visited to learn and admire their work. We all felt pride and excitement in their accomplishments. This is the essence of learning at Levey.
Gerri Lynn Chizeck is Head of School at Levey Day School in Portland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org