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Project-Based-Learning at Bellevue Discovery

Project-Based-Learning at Bellevue Discovery: It’s not just for the children

If you have been to a Bellevue Discovery Curriculum Discussion recently, you’ve seen Jeff, our Head of School, and me geek out together about project-based-learning. Adding Jeff to our team has given me more time (and inspiration) to focus on our curriculum at Bellevue Discovery.

We use the framework of Project-Based-Learning, with a driving question guiding a long-term project, building toward children designing their own answers to the question. (This week, the children presented their answers to “What is a Machine?” for our Prototype Review Board.)

One of my driving questions these days is: How do other preschools support inquiry-based learning?
I visited the Hampshire College Early Learning Center over Spring Break while on a college tour with my son. Hampshire College is a project-based-learning university, and their early learning center is influenced by that philosophy.

Hampshire College Early Learning Center

  • 3 full-day classes (infant, toddler, preschool)
  • Preschool class has 20 children, with a 1:10 teacher-child ratio plus student interns
  • All of the families are connected to Hampshire College
  • Mission and Vision Statement: https://www.hampshire.edu/elc/early-learning-center-mission-and-vision

Hampshire ELC director Cassie Smith and I had a wide-ranging discussion about supporting inquiry-based learning with preschoolers. The ELC uses a Reggio approach and emergent curriculum: Cassie called it “negotiated emergent” since preschool teachers can’t support 20 individual projects at a time. (We laughed remembering our own attempts at that!) Cassie views project-based-learning as what happens at the staff level to surround the children with “adventure, exuberance and joy.”

We talked about the challenge of helping parents understand inquiry-based learning since most of us experienced an academic/traditional education ourselves. Since the focus with inquiry-based is on the process of learning, not the final product, it can be hard for parents to understand what is happening in the classroom.

At Hampshire ELC, the lead teachers are given 30 minutes a week to document the children’s learning through photos, quick emails (“I saw Sima enjoying the blocks today”) and the class newsletter. Cassie has found found that working collaboratively on staff meeting days is the best way to create more in-depth documentation. She said focusing on one small aspect of children’s learning is most effective – for example, their most recent collaboration was a documentation board titled “Windows and Doors.” Through photos, children’s quotes, and teacher reflections, the staff documented the children’s interest in peeking through things to see what other children were doing.

I have returned to work with more questions to explore with Jeff and the teaching team. I continue to feel confident that the framework we have developed at Bellevue Discovery –which should always be a work in progress – truly does follow best practices in preparing our children for the future.

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