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The Project Approach

January 23rd, 2019

Perhaps you’ve heard this term thrown around in the Early Learning Center (ELC) here at Siskin Children's Institute, but what does it actually mean? According to the Project Approach’s website, it “refers to a set of teaching strategies that enable teachers to guide students through in-depth studies of real-world topics. Projects have a complex but flexible framework within which teaching and learning are seen as interactive processes. When teachers implement the Approach successfully, students feel highly motivated and actively involved in their own learning, leading them to produce high-quality work and to grow as individuals and collaborators. A project, by definition, is an in-depth investigation of a real-world topic worthy of a student’s attention and effort. The study may be carried out with an entire class or with small groups of students—most often at the preschool, elementary, and middle school levels. Projects typically do not constitute the whole educational program; instead, teachers use them alongside systematic 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 of how our teachers in the Early Learning Center use the project approach in their classrooms as well as some of the projects they’ve been working on. 

One thing I quickly learned when I started working at Siskin Children's Institute was that we do things a bit differently!  You may have heard that we often do 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 and interest. Provocations provide an invitation for a child to explore and express themselves. They should always be open-ended and provide a means for expression where possible. We make provocations inviting in the classroom by using fabrics to “set” the table, arranging materials in new or interesting ways, and adding new materials. The images below show a provocation that was set up for the fall. The materials were simple: leaves, rocks, and acorns.  The book Leaf Man was also displayed. This provocation worked on social skills (emotions on faces that they created, sharing with friends, etc.), fine motor (small pieces), math (shapes of face/features, how many, etc.), literacy (using/appreciating books) and daily living skills (clean up after yourself so that someone else can enjoy the space).
- Ms. Jazmine, ELC Teacher

The children in my classroom consistently had “pizza” marked in the “ALL” category during lunches, they consistently made each other pizza in the home living center, and they all were thoroughly engaged during our Fancy Friday Cooking Experiments. The staff and I all kept notice of this and realized that we could introduce a Pizza Project into the classroom. We already knew that the full class participated in most of the activities pertaining to pizza and cooking so it seemed like a no-brainer. We developed a web to brainstorm with each other as staff members and then afterwards with the children (this part of the project-approach lets the teachers see what the children know about the topic). From that we realized that we could venture into discussing where cheese is made, how tomatoes are grown, and how to measure ingredients 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 part of the project allows us to “ask the experts”). The project has really been amazing. The children have fully engaged in the project and a lot of individual education goals have been met. We are concluding our project with a class written and illustrated book entitled, If You Give a Kid a Pizza. After reading and re-reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, the children all contributed ideas for the sequencing of the book. They then became the illustrators and drew pictures for each page as well as having an individual picture in the book. We will be reading the book to Classroom 5 and the Administration in the coming week. As you can see, the project-approach allowed us to take something as simple as pizza and create something so much larger and educational.  
- Ms. Maddie, ELC Teacher


My classroom has worked on several projects as a team this year! Once our class learned about working as a team, we planned a special project for our grandparents. The children chose poems, created posters about the poems, made and wore costumes, practiced the "show" and presented their "welcome to Grandparent's Day" project to a roomful of pleased and proud grandparents. The children chose a project about owls and nocturnal animals after reading the book Owl Babies. They were curious about owls so they asked questions to learn more. They expressed their interest in owls by building nests out of boxes and used branches to create a habitat for owls. An expert brought a real owl to our classroom so we could see a real owl and find out more! One of the most meaningful projects my classroom worked on was the project to help a classroom friend "give back" to the Make a Wish group. They decorated boxes with Disney characters for donations, made posters to ask for donations, explained the project to other classes, counted the donations and made a colorful artistic card for our friend when he left for his trip. The children keep asking questions, exploring solutions and working together as we learn.
- Ms. Ann, ELC Teacher

The Project Approach looks different in every classroom and every age. Since I have younger students (2-3 y/o), a lot of the ideas are thrown out to them by us teachers and they build off of those ideas. Whatever their response is gives us an idea of if the interest is high enough to start a project on it. We might do different activities every day of the week and observe them and take notes on what they say, if they take interest in it and how much interest shows in order to make the decision on if we will make this our next project or not. Once we’re in a project, I find it really important for me when creating the lesson plan, to not do a project related activity every single day of the week. I’ve found that if you do nothing but activities on that project, the children can sometimes get burned out. I will put no more than 2 project related activities on my lesson plan for the week. Some of these activities take more than one day to complete.  Sometimes your class is working on the same one activity for the entire week. Example: If you want to make instruments for your music project, it might take a whole week to gather up materials, ask parents for supplies, make the actual instrument, see if it works, decorate the instrument etc. Also, every activity that we do still meets the state standards for their age and we make sure to include a lot of documentation 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 us check them in and out whenever we wanted. The Creative Discovery Museum came and did a lesson on rhythm and the science behind it. The school had the UTC Marching Band come and play songs on the playground, and to close out our project we held a Christmas Concert Fundraiser. Parents brought in all kinds of supplies for the children to make their own music instruments, and our parents also suggested different non-profits in the community to choose to donate all of our proceeds from the concert to. The entire ELC and families from our own classroom were invited to come hear our class sing “Jingle Bells” and give a donation. It was such an amazing experience to see our project come full circle. 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 all of the classrooms to enjoy, or raising money for another school that needed new musical instruments.
- Ms. Cristina, ELC Teacher

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