It is summer and school is out. That doesn’t mean the learning stops and many children are in school-based summer programs. Many teachers also stay involved in these programs in the summer and are creating fun ways to approach summer learning so it doesn’t feel like “school.” They plan programs that shift from more direct instruction to student focused projects. Both teachers and students benefit.
Research on how children learn best found that hands-on, playful learning experiences are essential. Summer is the perfect time to put this into practice and, hopefully, continue into the school year. Young children thrive when they participate in collaborative and interactive activities. A project-based approach is not about one project or an instructional activity. It is open-ended providing the children with opportunities to discover answers as they work through a problem or seek to explore something they are interested in. This interest driven and hands-on activity is what helps keep the children motivated and focused.
Where do you start? Start with the children. Ask questions about what they are interesting in–music, movies, space, sports, etc. Discuss with them what they would like to know. This is sometimes called the driving question. For example, how is a sport or game created? Now the fun begins. The students choose what to do next. They can explore rules of favorite games, decide to design a new sport, or create a video to help others learn a game. Teachers act as guides to help the children plan and organize their project. By working together the children learn from each other, collaborate and make friends. Best of all they are learning all along the way.
The greatest benefit to students in project-based learning the development of 21st century skills needed for school and in life. These skills are in addition to the core skills in reading, math and science – collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication, self-regulation and working memory. The children are also learning to test things and change directions if needed. They learn to apply learned skills to new situations and real world problems. For teachers, the greatest benefit is that they are working with highly motivated students.
While it may be more difficult to shift your approach when you are back in the classroom in the school year you can still apply the basic principles. Create a learning environment that challenges students to explore topics more deeply, uses real-life situations of high interest to motivate students, and provides opportunities for them to work collaboratively.