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The Project Approach

January 23rd, 2019

The Project Approach

“The Project Approach”. Perhaps you’ve heard thisterm thrown around in the Early Learning Center here at Siskin, but what doesit actually mean? According to the Project Approach’s website, it “refers to a setof teaching strategies that enable teachers to guide students through in-depthstudies of real-world topics. Projects have a complex but flexible frameworkwithin which teaching and learning are seen as interactive processes. Whenteachers implement the Approach successfully, students feel highly motivatedand actively involved in their own learning, leading them to producehigh-quality work and to grow as individuals and collaborators.

A project, by definition, is an in-depth investigation of a real-worldtopic worthy of a student’s attention and effort. The study may be carried outwith an entire class or with small groups of students—most often at thepreschool, elementary, and middle school levels. Projects typically do notconstitute the whole educational program; instead, teachers use them alongsidesystematic instruction and as a means of achieving curricular goals”.


To learn more about the Project Approach click here.


Below you will find several first-hand accounts ofhow our teachers in the ELC use the project approach in their classrooms aswell as some of the projects they’ve been working on. 

One thing I quicklylearned when I started working at Siskin was that we do things a bitdifferently!  You may have heard that we oftendo provocations, but what are they? Put simply, provocations provoke!They provoke thoughts, discussions, questions, interests, creativity and ideas.They can also expand on a thought, project, idea andinterest. Provocations provide an invitation for a child to explore and expressthemselves. They should always be open-ended and provide ameans for expression where possible. We make provocationsinviting in the classroom by using fabrics to “set” the table, arrangingmaterials in new or interesting ways, and adding new materials. The imagesbelow show a provocation that was set up for the fall. The materials weresimple: leaves, rocks, and acorns.  Thebook Leaf Man was also displayed. This provocation worked on socialskills (emotions on faces that they created, sharing with friends, etc.), finemotor (small pieces), math (shapes of face/features, how many, etc.), literacy(using/appreciating books) and daily living skills (clean up after yourself sothat someone else can enjoy the space).

Ms. Jazmine, ELC Teacher

The children in Classroom 3 consistently had “pizza” markedin the “ALL” category during lunches, they consistently made each other pizzain the home living center, and they all were thoroughly engaged during our FancyFriday Cooking Experiments. The staff and I all kept notice of this andrealized that we could introduce a Pizza Project into the classroom. We alreadyknew that the full class participated in most of the activities pertaining to pizzaand cooking so it seemed like a no-brainer. We developed a web tobrainstorm with each other as staff members and then afterwards with thechildren (this part of the project-approach lets the teachers see what the childrenknow about the topic). From that we realized that we could venture intodiscussing where cheese is made, how tomatoes are grown, and how to measureingredients to name a few- this would allow us to teach all of the TN-ELDs.From there we explored pizza boxes, cooking with yeast, cutting pizza,delivering pizza, and even going to Community Pie for a field trip (this partof the project allows us to “ask the experts”). The project has really beenamazing. The children have fully engaged in the project and a lot ofindividual education goals have been met. We are concluding our projectwith a class written and illustrated book entitled, If you Give a Kid aPizza. After reading and re-reading If you Give a Mouse a Cookie,the children all contributed ideas for the sequencing of the book. Theythen became the illustrators and drew pictures for each page as well as havingan individual picture in the book. We will be reading the book toClassroom 5 and the Administration in the coming week. As you can see, theproject-approach allowed us to take something as simple as pizza and createsomething so much larger and educational. 

Ms. Maddie, ELC Teacher

Classroom11 has worked on several projects as a team this year! Once our class learnedabout working as a team, we planned a special project for our grandparents. Thechildren chose poems, created posters about the poems, made and wore costumes,practiced the "show" and presented their "welcome toGrandparent's Day" project to a roomful of pleased and proudgrandparents. The children chose a project about owls and nocturnalanimals after reading the book Owl Babies. Theywere curious about owls so they asked questions to learn more. Theyexpressed their interest in owls by building nests out of boxes and usedbranches to create a habitat for owls. An expert brought a real owl to ourclassroom so we could see a real owl and find out more! One of the mostmeaningful projects classroom 11 worked on was the project to help a classroomfriend "give back" to the Make a Wish group. They decoratedboxes with Disney characters for donations, made posters to ask for donations,explained the project to other classes, counted the donations and made a colorfulartistic card for our friend when he left for his trip. The children keepasking questions, exploring solutions and working together as we learn inClassroom 11.

Ms. Ann, ELC Teacher

The Project Approach looks different in every classroom andevery age. Since I have younger students (2-3 y/o), a lot of the ideas arethrown out to them by us teachers and they build off of those ideas. Whatevertheir response is gives us an idea of if the interest is high enough to start aproject on it. We might do different activities every day of the week andobserve them and take notes on what they say, if they take interest in it andhow much interest shows in order to make the decision on if we will make thisour next project or not. Once we’re in a project, I find it really important forme when creating the lesson plan, to not do a project related activityevery single day of the week. I’ve found that if you do nothing but activitieson that project, the children can sometimes get burned out. I will put no morethan 2 project related activities on my lesson plan for the week. Some of theseactivities take more than one day to complete.  Sometimes your class isworking on the same one activity for the entire week. Example: If you want to makeinstruments for your music project, it might take a whole week to gather upmaterials, ask parents for supplies, make the actual instrument, see if itworks, decorate the instrument etc. Also, every activity that we do still meetsthe state standards for their age and we make sure to include a lot ofdocumentation in the hallways as well as hanging up in the classroom.

One of my favorite projects we ever did was a music project.We had the Chattanooga Symphony lend out their instruments to us and let uscheck them in and out whenever we wanted. The Creative Discovery Museum cameand did a lesson on rhythm and the science behind it. The school had the UTC MarchingBand come and play songs on the playground, and to close out our project weheld a Christmas Concert Fundraiser. Parents brought in all kinds of suppliesfor the children to make their own music instruments, and our parents alsosuggested different non-profits in the community to choose to donate all of ourproceeds from the concert to. The entire ELC and families from our ownclassroom were invited to come hear our class sing “Jingle Bells” and give adonation. It was such an amazing experience to see our project come fullcircle. Each step of the way we made sure to include the community in some way,whether that was hanging up bell charms in the trees on the playground for allof the classrooms to enjoy, or raising money for another school that needed newmusical instruments.

Ms. Cristina, ELC Teacher

Michael's Story

December 13th, 2018

"It is this unique experience of the staff at Siskin that helps special needs parents on their child’s journey. I will miss them all when Michael goes on to his next step, but I know that he will be ready due to Siskin’s dedication to kids like my Michael."      

-- Patty, Michael's mom 

Michael was born in September of 2013. He had some signs of Down syndrome at birth but the doctors told us not to be alarmed and that they were ordering the tests just as a precaution. We received a positive diagnosis of Down syndrome four days after he was born. We found out three days later that he had a congenital heart defect which would require a major heart surgery to repair by the time he was 6 months old. It was a week of shocks to say the least.

Michael’s new diagnosis threw me immediately into research mode to try to find out the best way to help my new son. I had not up until that point been around anyone that had Down syndrome so I was really in the dark about what to do. A nurse in the hospital and my pediatrician had told me about the Tennessee Early Intervention System (TEIS) and Siskin Children’s Institute. I called TEIS a few weeks after Michael was born. I was quickly set up with a case manager to discuss Michael’s immediate needs and what we may need in the coming weeks and months. The heart defect was of course the determining factor in how much intervention he needed to receive right away. I was immediately assigned a physical therapist to call whenever I felt he was going to be ready for some assessments. We started in-home physical therapy when Michael was about two months old. Physical therapy and occupational therapy continued weekly along with some feeding therapies along the way, until Michael was about eight months old when he went to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for a heart surgery to repair his Atrioventricular Septal Defect. The surgery was a great success and he started back on his normal therapies in our home until he was almost two years old.

As Michael was approaching his second birthday, we had stepped up his physical therapy in the home and even in the therapist’s outside office in Hixson, but Michael was still not walking. His therapist suggested that Michael had nothing physically preventing him from being able to walk. He did have one piece that was missing in his therapies which was that he hardly ever was around other children his own age. She felt that he would greatly benefit from being in a classroom with other children his own age. I started to send him to a mother’s day out a couple of times a week, but Michael did not do very well in this setting. No matter how hard the teachers tried Michael cried almost constantly and was not able to really integrate with the other toddlers because he was so upset all the time. Luckily in those first few weeks I had sent him to the mother’s day out, Siskin’s Early Learning Center called me to tell me a spot had opened up for Michael in a classroom. 

We started sending Michael to Siskin three days a week. From the first day in classroom four, Michael really blossomed in his growth and learning.  The teachers and students in the classroom went above and beyond to help me and Michael with the transition. Within a few days Michael did not cry hardly at all after I left. He started to receive in-house physical therapy and began walking within two or three weeks of starting at the Institute. 

Michael just turned five years old in September of 2018 and has been in four different classrooms at Siskin since he started. The therapists, teachers, administration and students have been just awesome. They have been our family’s partner through this journey from the first few weeks that Michael was born to his transition this coming spring to kindergarten in a public school. I am a parent of four children and Michael is my youngest. When he was first born, the fears that I had for him centered on the transitions in his life. I worried about his transition from baby to toddler and then to young child getting ready for the big public school. I also worried all the time that I was not doing enough for Michael because of my obligations with my other children. 

Although it is normal human emotion to worry about your children, the worry of a special needs parent is sometimes overwhelming. The staff of Siskin is always learning and gaining more experience through working with generations of special kids growing up there. It is this unique experience of the staff at Siskin that helps special needs parents on their child’s journey. I will miss them all when Michael goes on to his next step, but I know that he will be ready due to Siskin’s dedication to kids like my Michael.     

- Patty, Michael's mom

Early Intervention & Addiction

November 30th, 2018

Unfortunately, it’s an experience most of us on the home-visiting team have had—working with a parent who is struggling with addiction. Most often, these are parents who love their child very much, but they are trapped in an addiction cycle that prevents them from responding to their child as they should, implementing interventions to teach their child new skills, and sometimes, even caring for the basic needs of their child. As developmental therapists who visit weekly in families’ homes, we know that the emotional health and stability of a parent has a great impact on a child’s development, and this past week, one of our home visitors was able to help a parent access help she desperately needed at the time she was ready. 

A couple of months ago, one of our Siskin developmental therapists, asked to attend a training focused on understanding opiod addiction and learning techniques to offer help to those affected. She learned so much about the truth of addiction, including how it affects a person’s brain and their ability to make logical decisions, even in the interest of their child. She also learned about helpful resources that are available and how to respond when a person is ready to seek help.

At the same time, this team member had spent months building rapport and trust with a young mother in our early intervention program, understanding that this mom was struggling with addiction, but not judging her. Many home visits felt to be wasted time, as she could not participate well in discussion about her child, practice new teaching ideas or brainstorming to solve concerns regarding her child. Our developmental therapist waited patiently and continued making her weekly visits, also reaching out to a grandparent who was helping to care for the child. This past weekend, this mom contacted our staff, sharing that she could not go on living the way she has been and asking how she could get help for her addiction. We were ready to offer a resource for addiction recovery, as well as encouragement, and we learned this morning that this mom is on her way today, traveling to get the in-patient treatment help she desperately needs.

In early intervention, we know that supporting and helping young children with special needs begins with supporting their parents and caregivers. What will impact a young child more than any specialized intervention or therapy will be having a mother who is emotionally and physically healthy, stable, and able to respond to her child on a daily basis. As a team, we are grateful and honored to be able to visit families in their homes, build trust through the process, and then, be available to support a young family like this one in such a life-changing way when we have the opportunity.

Author: Deidra Love, Director, Home & Community-Based Early Intervention