PROJECT BASED LEARNING
FernLeaf understands that children have a natural curiosity for exploration and discovery.
Experiential and project based learning provide opportunities for students to develop practical life skills through authentic learning experiences that promote:
critical thinking, and
Because Project Based Learning offers invaluable hands-on learning experiences and extends beyond the classroom and into the greater community, students gain confidence, understanding, and perseverance.
Project Based Learning brings learning to life for students as they work on projects over extended periods of time, from weeks to months, while engaging in real-world problem solving in order to answer complex questions. They demonstrate knowledge and skills by creating public presentations and products for authentic audiences.
As a result, students develop deep content knowledge as well as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication skills. Project Based Learning unleashes a contagious, creative energy among students and teachers.
What does Project Based Learning look like?
To begin a project, the teachers choose a topic. The topics are chosen to align with the group’s learning standards, interests, talents and needs. The following are the learning steps of project work:
INTRODUCE A PROJECT WITH A PROVOCATION
The provocation is used to engage the students and spark their interests and curiosity about the topic. For example: an artifact, photo, news article or specimen.
SHARE PERSONAL STORIES ABOUT THE TOPIC
The students are given opportunities to share their personal stories about the topic. This connects the students to the topic. Students may write, act out stories or tell stories verbally.
DOCUMENT THE PERSONAL STORY
The students choose a form to document their personal story. Some ways the students may document their learning is through acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, writing…the possibilities are endless!
DEVELOP QUESTIONS TO GUIDE THE LEARNING EXPERIENCE
The students develop a question or a series of questions that they have about the topic and are interested in investigating. Students are encouraged to use the STEM words WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW. These questions guide the investigation.
CATEGORIZE THE QUESTIONS
The students and/or the teacher take their questions and put them into categories, narrowing down the topic and interests. Students with the same interests may investigate together to find their answers.
RESEARCH AND INVESTIGATION
Students work in small groups or as a whole class to conduct the research. The research will look different depending on the students’ interests and the questions they want to answer or a problem they want to solve. Research might include: reading a book, conducting an internet search, interviewing an expert, performing an experiment or going on fieldwork.
The students use their findings and discoveries to create a representation of their learning. This will look different among the students and the topic. Some representations of the learning might include making a book, writing a play, making a poster, creating a model, building something or writing a song. The possibilities are unlimited!
SHARE AND CELEBRATE LEARNING
When the project is complete the students share their understanding with their peers, class and/or community. This will look different depending on the project.
Examples of Project Work at FernLeaf
FERNLEAF IMPROVEMENT PROJECT
The FernLeaf Improvement Project was a school-wide project that focused on improving certain elements of our campus. Every student was assigned to a multi-age group based on similar interests. Some of the campus improvement projects included building garden beds, making blue bird houses, designing a nature trail, building an obstacle course and making some cozy learning spaces. To this day, the school utilizes everything that was built, and the students take great pride in their work and accomplishments.
A group of first and second graders identified that our campus was in a dire need of playground equipment. They spent some time conducting research about playground equipment by visiting local parks to get some ideas. After an extensive investigation the students developed a plan which included a list of supplies and materials. With the support of lots of parent and staff volunteers over many cold Saturday mornings, our school community built a swing, climbing wall, sandbox and monkey bars. Our playground equipment is all thanks to these ingenuitive young minds who saw a problem and came up with a plan!
The third graders expressed an interest in learning about food. To launch this project the teachers arranged for groups of students to visit local restaurants, chosen based on their favorite types of food. During these investigations, the students got the inside scoop about the operations of a restaurant including prepping, cooking and meal presentation. Students participated in a cooking competition, made cookbooks, and took on the role of food vendors for our school community.
The fourth and second grades concurrently started a car investigation project. The fourth graders’ project focused on the mechanics of vehicles, while the second graders’ honed in on the aspects of force and motion in relation to vehicles. The students had a first-hand learning opportunity to work alongside a mechanic and an engine designer. Both grades had the opportunity to use a fieldwork experience to go to Traveler’s Rest Speedway and interview the youngest race car driver in that division. After the interview, the investigators had a chance to check out Tanner’s race car, trailer and the track. Some students would debate that the highlight of this fieldwork was the ride that they got to take around the track in mud-covered vans, while others would say it was getting to watch Tanner race around the track at high speeds. For the culmination of the fourth grade project, the students partnered with WNC Wheels and organized a car show for the greater community. The culmination of the second graders' project was designing and building a toy car track for our campus.
To launch this project, our second grade students went to MOOG (the famous synthesizer factory in Asheville) and AMOS (Asheville Museum of Science) to spark curiosity in our students. Through experimentation, the students learned about how sound is made including pitch and tone. A local band — The Paper Crowns — spent a day collaborating with our students helping them understand how instruments work. The students played a wide range of percussion instruments including congas, tambourines and cymbals. To finish the day off, the students got to move and groove at their own private concert. For the culminating project, the students made their own working instruments for a sound garden on our playspace.