St. James students will undertake their first week of project-based learning from November 16-20. For five straight days our teachers will put aside their normal routines and try something different. Using kids’ innate curiosity as a foundation, we will focus on topics related to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Teachers will then empower their kids to help plan learning for the week.

Our early childhood program excels at inquiry-based learning. Our elementary division is masterful in arranging for unique field experiences. Our middle school students thrive on well-developed research and collaborative learning skills. This week of project-based learning allows us to share these emphases and focus across the grades on important life skills while exploring a topic of high interest that strikes close to home.

For much of a student’s grammar school career, the various subjects that make up the curriculum are taught in relative isolation. Any connection between what is being taught in, say, math and reading or science and English is marginal. However, during this unique week our students will use their reading, writing, math and other skills to attack a problem. This problem will be in the form of a question that a group of students has collaboratively formulated and is challenged to answer. When someone asks the teacher, “Is this math, social studies, or language arts?”, her answer will be, “yes, all of the above.”

Throughout the week students will enjoy a variety of activities, which they have helped select and design. Because there will be very little teacher-directed scenarios (such as: I talk, you listen), students will bear a greater responsibility for their own learning. They will quickly grasp the importance of working together toward a common goal with their teammates.

To prepare for this week, some teachers have already started the discussion about the Chicago Fire. Some have already provided a field experience for their class. Some have led their class through the reading of a related novel. All of our teachers attended a workshop back in September at the Chicago Historical Museum to bolster their own knowledge base. And all of our teachers have been preparing for the variety of possible directions their kids’ inquiring minds could take this.

As the week comes to a close, students will have an opportunity to demonstrate what they’ve learned through skits, speeches, power point demonstrations, models or crafts they’ve produced, etc. This project week truly puts the kids’ interests at the forefront and better helps to develop their collaborative approach to problem-solving.



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