Towards the end of the last school year, in addition to her mom-assigned fourth-grade curriculum, my daughter began completing independent projects. At the time, I hadn't really heard or read much about this form of child-directed, self-teaching, and was not exactly sure what it should look like or be like. While I am an eclectic homeschooler and delve into the shallow end of "un-schooling" occasionally, I have never jumped head first into ANY ONE style of learning.
Independent project-based learning, while not exactly "unschooling", has been a wonderful addition to her school days. She has been able to freely explore topics that she is interested in or passionate about while still maintaining the consistency of other forms/methods of learning.
This first few projects and presentations were a bit of a learning curve for the both of us. Eventually, she and I tweaked the original guidelines just a bit.
- I no longer require her to choose a new topic every month. Most projects, typically, last only that long. But, a few have spilled over into the first few weeks of the next month. In truth, the time frame is not important. I want her to exhaust a topic...for the most part, I want her to learn all she can and all she wants about anything and everything. I still give her a tentative completion date, but use this more as a guide than a hard-and-fast rule. I am more than willing to give an "extension" if I sense that she wants to continue to explore and has been diligent with her learning time.
- After hearing her formal presentation, each audience member (usually family/extended family) is allowed to ask questions and is then encouraged to give two positive comments and one constructive criticism. This has REALLY helped her to improve her public speaking ability and comfort level.
- Since project-based learning is very three-dimensional and difficult to keep record of, for the sake of school legalities, I have kept a brief log of most of her resources...next year, she will be assigned to do this...and a brief description of how the learned material was eventually presented to others. I will be adding this log to her section of the annual homeschool portfolio at the end of the school year.
5th Grade Independent Projects
Whole Foods vs. Processed Foods
After EXTENSIVE on-line research (youtube videos, blog articles, recipes, label reading, etc.), she made homemade versions of three popular snack items (Cheez-Its, microwave carmel corn, and ranch dressing dip) and conducted a taste test with family members to see if they preferred the store-bought or the home-made varieties. She, then, showed the taste-testers a chart that she had made of the ingredient lists of both varieties.
She also gave a thorough presentation of the harmful effects of processed foods, the processed food industry, and GMOs. My favorite quote from her speech...
"If a tomato has been sprayed with so many pesticides that a bug won't even eat it, why would I want to eat it?!"
Scripture Verse Memorization
In addition to memorizing and reciting the entire chapter of Psalm 23, she also put together a brief presentation for her younger brothers' benefit on how to correctly look up/find a particular verse in the Bible.
American Sign Language
During her oral presentation, she explained what signing is and how it was developed in America, gave a few helpful tips to communicating with the deaf culture, and then demonstrated the sign for each letter of the alphabet as well as samplings from the following categories: animals, sports, family, feelings, and food. Her presentation, along with an ASL play we all attended together, has sparked an interest for all the other kids and I to learn some conversational signs.
After watching several "introduction to crochet" type videos, she spent a few weeks creating a one-of-a-kind infinity scarf. (For future reference, dark brown is a REALLY bad choice of color to use when learning to crochet. The dark fibers make it hard to see your completed stitches.)
After spending a couple of weeks researching, planning, creating, and scheduling possible Tot School ideas, she "presented" her findings by testing them out on her baby brother. She spent a half hour in the morning and a half hour in the afternoon ever day for two weeks teaching through play. I don't know who loved it more, The Newbie or me!
When asked why she chose Tot School as an independent project, she said, "He'll only be a tot for a little while longer and I don't want to miss it."
After reading three different biographies of Amy Carmichael, she wrote a biographical report about the beloved missionary. During the presentation, she read her report, used a map to detail Amy's extensive travels, and shared a few personal stories from Amy's ministry to the people of India. In addition, she also gave a few cultural explanations so that the stories of Amy's life would make more sense to her listeners.
She's already cookin' up plans for next year's topics. I can't wait to see what they are, but more importantly, what she learns from the process.
For more ideas to get started incorporating independent, project-based learning into your homeschool days, be sure to visit my Project-Based Learning Board on Pinterest.