George Lucas Educational Foundation
Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Project-Based Learning in the Early Years

July 20, 2014

I've recently finished my training to become an elementary teacher and have been lucky enough this year to find myself with a wonderful class of K/1 students. Whilst, over the last few years, I've had experience running projects in all years from K through to 6, it's been this year that I've made the perilous leap into PBL in the early years. Having run a couple of cool little projects with my class this year, I'd like to explain how PBL with this age group compares to PBL with older students.

Firstly, the process is the same. You begin with a good question to drive some decent inquiry, you have an authentic audience with which to share the fruits of the students' hard labour - an audience that will be interested in the things your kids will be learning, making and doing.

Earlier this year my students made a series of videos about Australian animals for a kindergarten class over in Indiana. The class over in Indiana (the Kinder Panthers) reciprocated and made ebooks about American animals for my class. The interaction between our two classes (via intro/thank you videos) from across the globe really drove the motivation for my students to learn, create the best products possible and had them excited about the project.

Other aspects of PBL in K/1 that are identical are the inclusion of essential 'need to knows' and revision and reflection. Regardless of the project, we regularly gather as a class or in groups to discuss whether we have learned enough about the topic to create and share something that will inform, entertain and/or persuade our audience.

I would also suggest that the discover, create, share process (pioneered by my wife, Bianca Hewes) inherent to PBL is the same regardless of age group.

So how is it different?

Well, as kindy kids are at varying levels of ability when it comes to literacy and numeracy, and most at the very early stages of learning to read and write, they need more support with some of the inquiry process. Rather than spitting out information to a bunch of 5 & 6 year olds and expecting them to remember it, I have found that voice and choice helps in allowing students to pursue lines of inquiry relevant to their interests. In the case of the Australian animals project, I provided my class with some links to highly visual websites with information about such animals and had year 5 & 6 students come and help them read through the links on animals they were interested in to answer their research questions.

I'm also lucky to have a year 2/3 class next door who we regularly work with and these older students are also great at helping my younger kiddies read through more complex texts. It also helps if you have a worksheet/gdoc/proforma for students to complete, just to guide their inquiry a little toward answering the driving question.

I also have the older/more capable kids in my class complete any difficult, demanding writing aspects of projects and take on group leadership roles whilst the others can contribute to their group's work through less demanding but equally important (for example artistic/creative) means. PBL naturally differentiates.

Another thing about PBL with kids of this age is that it's probably good to choose projects with foci in areas like science, history/society and culture so that literacy and numeracy can be given the treatment it deserves at this foundational stage, outside of 'PBL time'.

Anyway, that's my take on PBL in the early years - same but different. If you haven't given it a go yet, I'd say to not be afraid, jump on in and have some fun engaging in some authentic learning with your kindy class!

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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  • K-2 Primary

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