In Ms. Charlotte’s kindergarten class at Nea Community Learning Center (Nea), learners begin a life-long love of learning with a project-based curriculum where they Engage, Excel, Explore. The flexibility of project-based learning allows facilitators (teachers) to alter projects to fit the needs and emergent interests of the children, while engaging students in fundamental learning.
One of the cornerstone projects for Nea’s youngest scholars is a curriculum based on weather. Kindergarten learners study different weather patterns throughout the unit, which encourages science exploration. Most recently, Ms. Charlotte’s class studied rain and what happens when it rains too much. This learning occurred at the exact time that rain in San Jose caused major flooding. Nea’s flexible learning model makes project-based learning dynamic. Facilitators can modify aspects of projects to make them relevant to current events or student interests, resulting in more engaged learners.
Ms. Charlotte felt it was a perfect opportunity to marry the weather unit with a service project. She told learners what happened in San Jose, showed news coverage of the flooding and asked them if they would like to help. Based on learners’ enthusiastic responses, Ms. Charlotte contacted the Salvation Army of Silicon Valley and determined that learners could do a sock drive.
With Ms. Charlotte’s help, learners created a video that was emailed to the Nea community, encouraging families to donate socks to the flood victims. Learners also created signs and posters encouraging donations, which were hung around the school.
Once the donations are received, the learners will write letters to the community thanking them for their donations and also to the Salvation Army. Incorporating skills such as video production, poster making and letter writing into the project is an engaging way to teach and strengthen core language skills.
For the math component of the project, learners will need to count, organize, chart and sort what they have collected. This incorporates a number of kindergarten standards and makes math relevant to everyday life.
In addition to academic standards, Nea learners are required to demonstrate their ability to uphold the Nea principles of compassion, organization, teamwork and problem solving. Once the socks have been amassed, Nea will arrange for the Salvation Army to come talk to the learners about community service while collecting the socks and letters.
Jana Chabre, Nea’s Assistant Lead Facilitator explains the benefits of project- based learning. Jana explains, “Project-based learning is interdisciplinary and brings social studies, humanities, math, science, language arts and geography together all at the same time instead of separate processes.” Within Nea’s projects, common core standards are taught in an all-encompassing curriculum.
Jana continues, “One specific benefit of Nea’s core projects is bringing the outside world into the classroom, rather than limiting learning to a schoolroom or textbook.” Core projects in different grades expose learners’ understanding of the world around them by bring together individuals, local history and customs from the community.
Finally, Jana mentions that the themes of family and community are woven throughout core projects in every grade. Learners explore their own family histories, visit elders, and read Cinderella stories from around the world. Locally, they learn about plants that are native to Alameda and the Bay area. Older pupils learn about the bridges in Alameda and their importance in commerce and engineering, which culminates in a walk across the Bay Bridge. Throughout Nea’s project-driven curriculum learners are actively captivated and encouraged to Engage, Excel, Explore.