Kindergartners thrive during interactive activities. Project Based Learning or PBL understands this principle and takes an experiential approach to education.
PBL engages students to collaborate in discovering the answers to real world questions.
Project Based Learning
First, consider what Project Based Learning (PBL) is NOT. Although the word ‘project’ is in the name, PBL is not simply a project children individually work on in isolation.
It is also not a thematic unit, art activity, or twenty minutes of daily, hands-on time. In all of these models, the teachers instruct in a typical fashion, and at the end of the instruction, the students participate in a project, such as a poster, diorama, or report. In PBL, on the other hand, the project IS the main platform for learning. The experience frames the curriculum in a way that allows the students to learn the lesson while doing the project. Rather then giving them the answers upfront, this method requires students to search for answers on their own.
Some of PBL’s core characteristics are:
- The project is focused on one open-ended, essential question.
- The project goes deep. Students dig into the content for a rich, comprehensive understanding.
- The essential question is meant to inspire high-level skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving.
- The students experience a ‘need to know’ feeling – they’re self-driven to find the answers.
- The project allows for student choice, voice, and reflection.
- The project typically concludes with a presentation or sharing piece that involves an audience.
Planning a PBL lesson for any age group is an exciting but tricky experience, and it is especially difficult to plan for younger learners. Let’s take a look at some ways to support PBL in a kindergarten classroom.
PBL in Kindergarten
Children are immediately invested in a concept, if the teacher can grab their attention from the start. To get their attention, begin with a big question, invite a guest speaker, or use technology to introduce your topic. During the planning phase, it is important to brainstorm questions and expectations for a project.
Additionally, because kindergarteners need concrete, tangible steps to progress through a project, make sure you list the steps on chart paper.On a very practical note, make a specific space in the classroom to house materials, supplies, books, and other objects designed for the project. This can be the ‘PBL Corner’.
Be creative and bring in items for research and reference, as well as stuff to use on the project. Materials will range from books, photographs, art and craft supplies, magazines, display boards, and technology.
Getting Started in Your Classroom
Remember, the goal as a teacher is to provide instruction in a way that helps your students learn skills and make sense of the content in meaningful ways. Teachers want students to internalize what is taught so they can apply their knowledge outside the classroom. For example, a teacher would hope students would be able to apply simple addition skills in a store or when counting their allowance, and not simply when they are planning an exercise in a workbook. Keep this in mind as projects are planned.
For the first PBL unit, educators should start small. Choose a few simple objectives and focus student learning around them. Later, with more experience, incorporate more standards across a broader range, but for starters, zone in on three or four related lesson objectives.Use a backwards design process to map out the project. The process begins by identifying what the teacher wants the students to have a clear understanding of by the end of the project. With this in mind, create an essential question.
From there, develop strands to guide students as they work on answering this question. There will be time to add elements for differentiation as the project unfolds.
There are three ways a teacher can use PBL in his or her kindergarten classroom. First, would be to try to create overarching projects to cover the whole day. This fully integrated approach takes careful planning and attention.
In a kindergarten classroom, this may include workstations and focus on specific genres for reading and writing and math topics. This approach may be too open-ended for young learners, though some schools and districts do follow this approach.In the second model the students work on projects during specific times, usually science or social studies. While reading, math, and writing are sometimes integrated, the project mainly focuses on answering questions and investigating topics specific to science or social studies.
It may be done daily or several times a week. Many kindergarten teachers choose this model as it blends well with a young child’s attention span and the demands of the daily schedule.The last model is a modified version of PBL, in which students work on a single project on a very part-time basis. The subject matter is not usually integrated – students research and explore questions outside the base curriculum.
This approach is typically completed a few times a year, during breaks from core subject content or as small stand-alone units, and is good to use when the goal is to have students work in cooperative groups or when practicing a simple PBL model.
Aspects Specific to Kindergarten
Project Based Learning has several unique components when used in a kindergarten classroom. Because these students are new to the classroom environment, their attention to tasks may be shorter than older students. Consider the length of time that students can focus when mapping out a PBL unit. Also, remember these students have less experience with collaborating with others.
When forming small interest groups, the teacher may allow students to make decisions autonomously; if necessary assign some students spots they’ll benefit from the most. Many kindergarten teachers invite upper grade buddies to model and structure PBL experiences. These older students give younger students helpful guidance and can assist with research that may be too difficult for young readers.Finally, while all PBL experiences require real-life components, kindergarten classrooms are naturally set up to integrate features of the real world.
Take advantage of this by incorporating connections to the student’s lives as frequently as possible.
Project Based Learning is an instructional method that allows students to investigate their world. Based on a central theme, the project is worked on collaboratively and focuses on answering a question or series of questions. Although students work mostly autonomously, the teacher monitors and focuses the lesson towards new learning, based on both the lesson plans and the progress the group has made to date.
Every PBL experience ends with a presentation of some type in which students share their learning with the group.Because kindergarten classrooms have a naturally rich environment that support real-life aspects, such as kitchen sets and block areas, and because children are curious learners and enjoy hands-on opportunities, even very young children will benefit from using Project Based Learning.