We often receive questions about project-based learning. Many of the questions focus on how to do project based learning if you are used to one-time activities.
How do you start to build---in a community of learners---structures to extend learning?
Often the process starts by rethinking our ideas about how learning is introduced. Take the example of tossing a ball.
If you think of extended learning opportunities as a ball toss between children and early childhood educators, you can begin to see how you might extend a project. The ball represents the idea to explore. The ball can be tossed by either of the co-learners (children or adults). Much like a ball toss, the idea might not be caught, thus rolling away, or may be tossed for a brief period of time before the ball is dropped.
When an idea does catch the imagination of the co-learners, together an intentional game of toss begins. The goal in this game is to keep the momentum going, making adjustments in speed, distance and direction to account for any changes in the children’s interest. If we pace ourselves and genuinely respond to the children’s interest, we can extend learning.
Tossing the ball works best in small groups. To keep everyone actively engaged, small groups are best suited for understanding where the ball came from and where it might go next without loosing momentum (interest).
Speed is important, too. If we throw the ball to fast, then the catch might be missed, just as an opportunity in a project might be lost.
Tossing the ball requires attention. Each co-learner needs to be paying attention to each other, to assure that the toss lands in a co-learners hand, and doesn’t roll away. It means that as co-learners, children and early childhood educators are paying attention to subtle shifts in direction, and make adjustments to continue momentum.
Timing also plays a role in keeping the ball in motion. Keeping interest high through the revisiting of content and layering makes a difference in the depth of the project.
Using the metaphor of the ball toss, we can begin to see that co-learning is an active dialogue between children and adults sharing together, and building upon each co-learners skill and interest to extend the experience.