Project Based Learning in Early Childhood Engagement

Pre-K through 3rd grade is considered to contain some of the most important years in development. These are the years in which children learn the necessary building blocks of every subject as well as build self confidence and an awareness of the world around them. Falling behind or losing confidence during this period pushes students into a continual cycle of catching up or struggling to meet minimal requirements as they advance through school.

Take a minute to imagine the years in school as the process for building a house. PreK to 3rd grade would involve planning, clearing land and laying the foundation for a future home.  With more meaningful experiences and attentive mentors present in a learner’s life, the size of the house is increased, the quality of materials is improved, and a firm, balanced foundation is laid.

If you live in North Texas you know that a damaged or poorly engineered foundation can lead to broken pipes, cracked walls and tilted door frames, all of which cost both time and money to repair. It works the same way with early childhood education.

With the rise in educational standards, many of America’s teachers are acting more like administrative assistants and data analysts than teachers.

Lesson planning, conferences, professional development, behavioral reports, standardized testing. Because we are limited to 24 hours in a day and 8 hours in a school day, instructional time has decreased over the years to the current state:

 

http://www.umich.edu/~hiceweb/papers/2001/performance/Schneider_NAEP.pdf http://www.umich.edu/~hiceweb/papers/2001/performance/Schneider_NAEP.pdf

 

By the time a learner reaches 4th grade, they will have received roughly 1,008 hours of language arts, 648 hours of mathematics and 228 hours of science.

Don’t freak out yet. A decrease in instructional time does not ultimately affect student achievement, but it does decrease the chances of seeing project based and engaging scientific experiences on the curriculum.  It also means less time for hands-on experiments with the rise in lecture and reading instruction to meet standard requirements.

Simply put, the minimum requirements for building a home have been met.  The house will be made; it will be structurally sound and ready for a homeowner.  Unfortunately, it’s not a custom built home, with no fancy furnishings or paint on the walls. And with so many other homes just like it being placed on the market, it will be hard to stand out.

 

“But time and resource constraints, in addition to safety concerns, make authentic science inquiry difficult to model in the classroom. As a result, simple inquiry tasks such as one-variable experiments, observations, and illustrations are commonplace. These simple inquiry activities are recipe-like, straightforward, and generally do not require the student to engage in problem solving or critical thinking and are poor models of authentic science inquiry. As a result, students leave school without the ability to reason scientifically”

 

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/blogs/education/2015/06/this-scientist-learned-by-doing-science-and-your-students-can-too/

Project based learning, specifically in science education, is known to greatly improve student achievement.  And allowing students the ability to experiment with various subjects that blend together, like natural history, architecture, or graphic design, encourages students to customize their learning.  Positive experiences increase awareness and trust in each student’s skills and talents.

Pros and Cons of Project Based Learning for Teachers

Pros:

  • Encourages self discovery and persistence
  • Develops the engineering process
  • Encompasses many education standards
  • Involves real world problems (local, regional, global)
  • Improves communication skills
  • Builds team work
  • Fosters emotional intelligence
  • Engages critical thinking

Cons:

  • Requires a large amount of time and planning
  • Teachers need to reverse engineer projects to limit problems and gauge proper time management for the project
  • Students can lose confidence and motivation when projects do not immediately work or they hit a problem
  • Certain projects may require help from experts

The good news is that SED can help with some of this. Contact us if you would like SED to visit your school or event for a special, hands-on g

Resources

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Children who read become adults who think.

 

Reading has this amazing ability to inspire our imaginations.  Growing up we became “lost boys” and solved crimes with Nancy Drew.  Books taught us to be creative, to look past reality and accept a world of flying cars, intergalactic voyages and dystopian societies.  Books teach us to view the world from another person’s eyes, to understand our culture, to see the flaws and to go on an adventure.  

 

We’ve collected some of our favorite books that took us on an adventure, that challenged our staff as children and showed ambitious characters. Also, included are new book that have impacted the current generation of thinkers.

 

Classics:

Originally published in 1988, this book elementary book still holds its own.  Matilda follows a young girl who seeks comfort in books and knowledge.  Before entering school she is a regular at her local library and once in school she outpaces her kindergarten counterparts.  There is plenty of magic, friendship and adventure to keep your learner engaged.

 

Another oldie, published in 1985, follows the life of an expectation boy named Ender.  Ender faces continued hardship and trials which sometimes propel him to persist and other times leave him overwhelmed and defeated.  This is a humanistic story that is easily relate-able to many gifted students across generations.

 

So this isn’t a full book, but 12 kid friendly poems.  The books has inventive illustrations and will have your learner creating their own poetry.

 

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.

— Charles William Eliot

 

New:

 

This story introduces business and marketing concepts while wrapped in a children’s book that features two siblings. Evan, the older brother who is great with people and Jessie, a math genius who is skipping a grade and will be joining her brother in fourth grade, spend the last few days of summer fighting in a lemonade war.  The first to raise 100 dollars in five days wins it all, while the loser walks away empty handed.

 

 

A middle school genius, Willow, is obsessed with science, zoology and learning new languages. Counting by 7’s explores the journey of a young and eccentric young girl after the death of her parents.  Willow finds a new norm, family and acceptance of her quirky ways.

 

 

A classic underdog story of a middle school boy,Benji, who spends just as much time in the hospital (seizures) as he does at home. With the help of his new therapy dog, Elvis, Benji makes new friends and faces his fears.

 

From classics that you grew up with to new contemporary stories that students enjoy, books increase vocabulary, ignites imagination and teaches patience.  We will continues to introduce books that influenced the staff at SED and we would like to hear about the books that touched your heart as a child.  We would also enjoy hearing about the book that are currently motivating students to generate ideas and shape the future.

 

– SED

 

Tomorrowland

Walt Disney’s new movie Tomorrowland released this past weekend with some interesting reviews. This family movie for all ages attempts to discuss the world’s big “What If” questions.

What if we could change our future for good?  What if we could solve poverty and end wars?  What if we could reverse climate change?

The most memorable quote for me was:

You’ve got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation, explain that one. Bees and butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, the algae blooms. All around you the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won’t take the hint! In every moment there’s a possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it, you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality.

— Tomorrowland

The challenges that we face are hard questions that demand a curious mind and essential skills from all walks of life. In the end, Disney doesn’t actually answer those questions or many of the others present in the film.  What they did answer is the question of who.  Who is responsible, capable and needed to solve the world’s current concerns as well as those yet to come?

The answer is simpler than you think. We need dreamers, innovators and those who believe we can change the world, even if it is a small and simple step in the right direction.

So why  post about Tomorrowland?

Tomorrowland wasn’t wrong in its assessment of the world or our need for gifted and encouraged individuals to address the challenges upon us.  In many ways, Tomorrowland works as a blueprint for spurring on gifted individuals, children and adults alike.

 

Support and Mentorship:

The main character Casey, in many ways, has the support of her father and brother, but support isn’t enough. Eventually curiosity gets the best of her and she starts searching for anyone who can tell her about Tomorrowland, almost like a mentor.

 

Support:

Support can come in  multitude of forms, such as a caring parent, the teacher who recommends a student for a gifted program, or even an online community of like-minded believers. And, support is necessary — we all have our good and bad days, but what happens when it turns into a week, month or year? Having an outside perspective or an encouraging word can make all the difference in completing a project or letting the dust gather.

 

Mentorship:

Yes, there is a difference. A mentor is someone you can learn from, a person to help focus your ideas and efforts.  In short, mentors give curiosity direction.  A good mentor builds up your foundation of knowledge.

A painter needs to know the various types of brushes, paints and canvases as well as how to utilize them. An apprentice first learns from past works and innovations; they use this knowledge to fill in the gaps and develop a firm foundation.  Mentors are there to explain, guide and help move apprentices through the different levels of skill application and mastery.

Knowledge without application is wasted brain space, and application without innovation is just repetition.

Access to Resources:

Disney: Tomorrowland shows a range of resources, probably the most important being the pin Aethna gives to Casey.  This pin displays the possibilities of Tomorrowland and inspires Casey. Inspiration is the spark of curiosity and creativity.

 

Reality: Resources can include anything a student needs to perform well at a task.  It can start with the very basic ability to read, topic-specific books and access to the internet.  Slowly, as students master each level of skill, new resources may be needed like computer software, laboratory supplies or transportation. One resource we often forget is time — it takes time to fully understand any bit of new information.  It takes roughly 50 hours of practice to become comfortable with any skill (math, music, sports, etc.).

On top of that 50 hours is the time required to experiment combining new information with old information, and this usually involves failure.  Failure is just as important as success, because it teaches students limitations of the skill they are practicing and about themselves.  It is a simple way of narrowing the scope of a project; once you know what doesn’t work, you can try another angle until you come across the perfect set of variables.

Grit:

Perseverance. Grit. Determination. Discipline. Self-Control.

Disney: Casey and Aethna both have an almost fearless faith in their ability to change the world.  In very different ways, they fight to keep their dreams alive.

Reality: Motivation and passion to strive for a long-term goal, in spite of trials and challenges.  Individuals with grit tend to reach higher academic and personal success.  Now grit, in and of itself, doesn’t automatically assure success.  What it does mean is that an individual is set on a goal and will try everything within their power to achieve this goal.  It means gritty individuals will spend more time practicing, they willingly search for opportunities to learn and they forego short-term and momentary pleasures for future success.

Some people have a natural bent towards grit and others learn to be gritty.  The science behind grit boils down to optimism, creativity and a drive for excellence. Optimism comes in a few forms, (1) the ability to face a challenge without debilitating fear, (2) seeing failure as part of the journey to success, (3) general positive belief in yourself and your goal.  Creativity comes in handy when obstacles arise.  Having the ability to view obstacles and solutions in different ways increases the chances of overcoming trials.

Excellence is a balancing act of personal responsibility and flexibility.  When we take ownership of a project or a to do list we are owning the choices we make and are more compelled to mindfully review decisions and own the results. Flexibility is essential because excellence can sometimes be confused with perfection.  The difference between excellence and perfection is your ability to appropriately change course when needed. Doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results is called the insanity cycle. Imagine it like this, excellence is innovation while perfection is repetition.  Both may work for awhile, but excellence and innovation will win out in the long term.

Now imagine a world called… I don’t know…. Tomorrowland, where scientists, artists and engineers can openly work on life-changing innovations.  A community of collaborators and mentors who have unlimited resources to research and develop products.  And this Tomorrowland would be a safe place to explore, fail and try again.  

Personally, I would rather have an invitation to Tomorrowland than an acceptance letter to Hogwarts.

Citizen Science

The practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research to increase scientific knowledge (Nat Geo)

It may be helpful to imagine Citizen science endeavors like Kickstarter for science.  There are many projects that require a large amount of time, effort or money, and those same things limit the range of science that can be achieved.  Citizen science projects allow a large number of well trained volunteers to contribute a small amount of time and energy to collect data, test hypotheses and make steps to advancing scientific discoveries.

Citizen science moves scientific discovery outside of university laboratories and peer reviewed journals by professionals who have letters following their name and into the hands of gifted high school students, retiree communities or enthusiastic educators. Instead of the degradation of scientific knowledge, like some supposed, two things have happened with the development of citizen science.

The Development of Diverse Communities

When science isn’t isolated behind doors and lab coats, it draws in people who would have never called themselves scientist or good at math.  Most participants begin a project for volunteer hours or because of the interesting topic. The projects that last build a deeply engaging community — a community where simply watching science happen is no longer acceptable.  Participants are “doing” science by providing new perspectives, unearthing relevant research and becoming the supportive backbone of small, yet valuable, puzzle pieces.  A big part of the citizen science community is the involvement of scientists and experts who help guide research efforts, act as mentors and arrange project management. Over time, the efforts of the many will lead to an increase in innovations and discoveries as well as a knowledgeable society.

Real life application

Our future.  Who hasn’t seen a news article about the dwindling number of students entering science and engineering degree programs?  We worry that the future will yield less innovation, our creative juices will dry up and world problems will go unanswered. If this is the future, if this is what society has to look forward to, I would be worried as well.  Who will be the next Neil Degrasse Tyson or Mark Zuckerberg?  Will our economy tank yet again?  And more importantly, how do you change this future? We know that this is a complex set of questions that have no quick and easy answer, but we also know that real life application of skills learned in and out of school has a lasting influence on the capabilities and skills of our future pioneers.

What exactly does this have to do with SED? Where do we fit in?

With a staff composed almost completely of science graduates, we want to build a community of future engineers, creative thinkers, doctors and scientists. We started by engaging our local schools and currently run Science After School and Science Club programs. But we are striving for more — more scientists becoming mentors and giving curiosity direction, more after school programs, more student-led projects and more kid scientists.  How about a fully functional lab open to the public with the sole purpose of citizen science? Imagine 10th graders isolating whole genomeswhile a Girl Scout troop is monitoring the degradation of various plastics in sunlight just down the hall.  

This does not have to be wishful thinking. This can be our future, and the only way to see it is to participate, join our community and do science.

Curiouser and curiouser…

Brushed my teeth, put on a killer blazer and now I am more than prepared to answer any question about my weaknesses and strengths. Yep, its a job interview. I researched the company and printed a fresh resume, so if this had been any other interview I would have been prepared. I would have been more than prepared, but I was interviewing at SED.

So what’s SED? What do we do? Why are we different?

SED is an acronym for Science, Entertainment, and Design, a company based in Coppell, Texas that engages K-12 students in all things science. Specifically, we work to foster and promote creativity, divergent thinking and excellence in the next generation of innovators and scientists by mentoring children to explore their world using the scientific method.

SED is a world where students have the opportunity to build robot pets, learn JavaScript, and isolate DNA.  We see the potential in students to become scientists and engineers in 3rd, 7th, and 12th grade, not years down the road.  Articles like, “Student sells app for Millions,” “Teen makes early detection method for Pancreatic Cancer,” or “Award winning teen age science in action” tells us that with guidance and mentorship, students can make innovative impressions on our world.

Why are we different?

The only way I can describe SED is Big Hero 6  meets TomorrowLand and it’s run by the characters in Alice in Wonderland… I guess that makes me, Alice — at least, I felt like Alice in Wonderland as one of the directors took me on a tour of the facilities. The Imagination Room (yes, you read that correctly) is home to a few dozen laptops, two pet rats that are used for behavior experiments, and wall-to-wall dry erase boards.  Around the corner is the Discovery Lab, a fully functional, research grade laboratory, and the last two rooms, named Curiosity and Design, are currently storing a student-built drone, LEGO robotic kits and a  3-D printer affectionately named “3-DPO.”

Why was the interview different?

SED hires scientists; the staff is made up of PhDs, Masters, and Bachelors of Biology, Biochemical, Zoology, Game Theory, Physics, and Environmental Science.  Students at SED learn from well trained scientists who break down big concepts into small challenges.  We utilize the curiosity of our students and we give it direction.  Before you start imagining the cast of The Big Bang Theory haphazardly attempting to teach children about Newton’s Third Law, SED’s in house Director of Education trains scientists to engage and encourage children in the fun and positive way that SED is known for. Instead of talking over their heads, we let our learners lead in his or her own interest.  With flexibility and patience, science instructors become the science teacher you always wanted, Miss Frizzle. Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!

If anything about SED interests you, if you know a student who is itching to become a mad scientist or a Javascript master…Well, the rabbit hole is always open.

Sincerely,
Alice