Project Learning: Exploration, Discussion, and Discovery

Article excerpt

Archaeology is usually considered a science dealing with dead cultures and civilizations but could become an interesting topic for students to purposefully and meaningfully engage in project learning in the arts. By giving the students a purpose for engaging in specific activities, the work becomes more relevant to them. They will not be creating artworks because the teacher said so, but because they will feel the need to present what they were doing and learning throughout the project.

The project approach in art education offers possibilities for development of different hands-on activities derived directly from students' interests. Forman (1998) points out that the project approach may seem similar to progressive education from the 1930s. There are, however, some contemporary additions to those past approaches. The first addition is the sophisticated use of symbolic representations to help the students reflect on their own thinking and formalize their practical knowledge, and the second is the facilitation of constructive conflicts between the students to help them heighten the logic of their final solutions to problems.

Helm and Katz (2001) define projects from a socioconstructivist perspective as interactive activities that develop knowledge and understanding by offering multiple perspectives of phenomena over longer periods of time than regular learning encounters. Another distinction between learning encounters and socioconstructivist projects is that projects have more contexts that provoke a given set of concepts and a community atmosphere. Themes and units are related to project work. A theme is usually a broad concept or topic, such as "animals" or "seasons," but in theme work children are rarely involved in posing questions to be answered or in planning investigations. Units usually consist of preplanned lessons and activities on specific themes that the teacher considers important for the children to know more about. Both themes and units are important in art education, but they are not substitutes for projects.

The Importance of Sociocontructivist Projects

The socioconstructivist approach to education encourages students to ask questions and seek answers and to collaborate with peers and adults. Learning encounters that are based on this approach emphasize the important role of creative thinking and art-related expression in the development of peer culture and a sense of classroom community. Projects are based on a strong conviction that the visual arts are successful communication means for children and ways of making their thinking visible. As Helm and Katz (2001) point out, expressing thoughts, and at the same time discussing in groups and revisiting ideas and experiences, is the premier way of gaining better understanding and learning. (See Figure 1.)

Projects are activities that promote deeper understanding through active engagement, and they must, therefore, have relevance to the students' interests. The topics for short- and long-term projects may derive directly from teacher observations of students' spontaneous play and exploration. They may also be selected on the basis of an academic curiosity or social concern on the part of the teachers or parents, or serendipitous events that draw children's and teachers' attention. Regardless of their origin, successful projects are those that generate a sufficient amount of interest and uncertainty to provoke children's creative thinking and problem solving and are open to different avenues of purposeful exploration. As children proceed in an investigation, generating and testing their hypotheses in a playful manner, they can be encouraged to depict their understanding through many symbolic representations and media, including drawing, painting, sculpture, dance, music, dramatic play, and writing.

Project work leads to multidimensional problem finding and problem solving. A child's spontaneous play on a rainy day, for example, can turn into an extensive exploration of the properties and magic of rainbows or lightning. …