Brandy Freeman and her preschool students have immersed themselves in the study of frogs through project approach. As its definition states, a project is an in-depth investigation of a topic worth learning more about. The investigation is usually undertaken by a small group of children in a class, sometimes by a whole class, and occasionally by an individual child. The key feature of a project is that it is a research effort deliberately focused on finding answers to questions about a topic posed either by the children, the teacher, or the teacher working with the children.
According to Freeman, her students have been exploring frogs through books, short videos, songs, small group activities and morning meeting activities. The classroom is covered with frog pictures and information, and their question of the day always has something to do with frogs and the vocabulary the students have been learning. “The vocabulary words we have been using daily include amphibian, carnivore, herbivore, predator, prey, habitat, instinct and metamorphosis. They look like big words for preschoolers, but because we are using them with an something they want to learn about, they are understanding and using these big words.” Frogs have been embedded into basically every aspect of the day for reinforcement, including the playground. For example, predator and prey are emphasized by turning their chase games into predator vs. prey and determining who is who. At the lunch table the students discuss the foods they eat to determine if they would be a herbivore or a carnivore.
Children learn different skills through project work. A few benefits to highlight include capturing information through a photograph, learning how to find answers, learning to ask questions and observational drawing. “I like using project approach because it gets children very involved in learning. They are the leaders of their investigation. The topic usually follows the children's interest. I can use project approach to teach all of my other subjects too, and it is in a meaningful way to the children in my room because it is based on their interest,” said Freeman.
There are three phases to the approach. Phase one is finding a possible topic, phase two is investigating and phase three is culminating or sharing new knowledge. Currently, the preschoolers are in the second phase. Freeman added that a project usually spans 6-8 weeks depending on the interest of the children. To help students with their phase two investigation, Freeman invited Jane Shuttleworth from Lakeside Lab to visit the classroom. In preparation for Shuttleworth’s visit, the students made a list of what they already know about frogs and then developed a list of questions for which they wanted answers. Shuttleworth was given the questions ahead of time so she could prepare child-friendly answers. Freeman then typed the student questions out with pictures so they could independently ask their questions. The students practiced asking their questions first at school, and then they took them home for a few days to practice with their families. They were well prepared when Shuttleworth came, and most of them could ask their question independently.
After the questions were discussed, Shuttleworth brought tadpoles and frogs into the classroom which got the excitement brewing. The students discussed the different stages of a frog’s development and got an up-close look at the frogs and tadpoles. One student, Aspen said, “I don’t want to touch those,” as she squeamishly pointed into the jar with tadpoles!
To help wrap up the project, students took a trip to Moose Pond. While there, they explored the area for frogs and tallied what they saw. They also took time to draw out their findings, which luckily, included a frog.