Duke School Project Work
What is a project? Duke School bases its project work on the Project Approach developed by
Lilian Katz and Sylvia Chard. Katz and Chard define a project as an in-depth investigation of a
real-world topic worthy of student time, attention, and energy. The topic is based on student interest,
the school’s curriculum standards, and the availability of resources.
Projects, like good stories, have a beginning, middle, and end. This temporal structure helps teachers align the progression of activities with the development of students’ interests and personal involvement with the topic of study. This structure also helps teachers integrate and meet curriculum benchmarks—a crucial part of the process. Unlike several project-based learning strategies, which provide a theoretical framework but leave out the practical details, the Project Approach offers a step-by-step guide for planning and implementing projects—and for allowing the work to evolve with students’ interests and needs.
Below is an outline of the process involved in planning and implementing projects. More information, along with specific examples and advice from teachers in the field, can be found on The Project Approach website.
During the preliminary planning stage, the teacher selects a topic of study based on students’ interests, the curriculum, and the availability of local resources.
Phase 1: Beginning A Project
The teacher uses an activity or discussion as a springboard to discover what students know about the topic. Students share experiences orally and represent them through drawing, writing, or photography, and their representations are posted throughout the room. As a result of this phase (typically 2-5 days), student questions begin to emerge. Teachers post these questions and wonderings. These can be amended or added to as the project progresses. During this phase, the teacher evaluates the students’ abilities to share their experiences and formulate important questions.
Phase 2: Developing A Project
The teacher arranges for students to do field work and interview guest experts to address their questions. After field work is conducted, the teacher helps students gather resources to help with their investigations. These resources may include real objects, print, videos, or internet resources. At times, students will do the same research; at other times research will differ depending on the interests and abilities of students. As students make and carry out plans, record observations, collect data, interview experts and conduct experiments, they represent what they learn and share it with classmates. The teacher evaluates each student’s planning, follow-through, research, ability to apply academic skills, and ability to work cooperatively with others.
Phase 3: Concluding a Project
Teachers and students plan and prepare for a culminating event during which students take the role of experts and share with others what they have learned. Teachers help students select material to share and involve them in reviewing and evaluating their work. They also help them determine the best method by which they will share their knowledge, which allows students to capitalize on their interests and talents. For example, when second graders culminated their Butterfly Project, Olivia created a puppet show to illustrate the life cycle of a butterfly while Nathaniel constructed a butterfly robot and programmed it to travel across a floor map from North Carolina to Mexico to represent the migration of Monarch Butterflies.