While much of education focuses on language, math, science and social studies, we remain committed to promoting each child’s ability to think through and solve problems. Project weeks allow for this type of focus and development in students. Problem solving skills are the foundation upon which young children learn to make decisions and meet the complex challenges of future education and careers.

Metacognition, or higher-level thinking and problem solving, develops when children reflect, predict, question and hypothesize. We encourage children to think about a problem or need, create a plan and then carry out that plan. Even in our youngest preschoolers, teachers allow them freedom to implement a strategy even if they know it will fail. The failure often teaches the student more than they could learn from any book. We even have a saying in Early Childhood at St. James, “Mistakes are opportunities for learning.”

Executive function is another important skill that we seek to build from preschool through eighth grade. Simply put, executive function is a broad term that encompasses the tasks involved in regulation of thoughts, emotions and behaviors. It is sometimes likened to the air-traffic controller at a busy airport. While there are many tasks under the umbrella of executive function the most pressing are sustained attention, time management, task initiation, cognitive flexibility and impulse control.

During our project week, each class has formed small groups. Each group unites under a common problem, idea, or in this case, candidate, and each group must work together to establish a common goal. For some classes, this means working together to create advertisements and campaign for a cookie or ice cream. For others, this is forming a group to work on construction of the necessary components to the voting process (ballot, ballot box, voting booth, etc.). However the groups are formed, what remains the same is their work on metacognition and executive function.

Children begin by sharing ideas in a group facilitated by their teacher. In these groups they must learn to be flexible thinkers and socially savvy as they work to balance their ideas with the ideas of others, to compromise, and create a common goal and plan. Teachers observe students as they work to implement their plan and create an end product. On this journey they often encounter failure (for example, thinking that glue will hold cardboard boxes together). These failures challenge students to be flexible thinkers as they reflect on the process and adjust their plan.

Part of every project is a culminating event. This is an opportunity for students to share their learning with others, be it peers or parents. Talking about learning requires the analyzation and reflection of activities and learning that has occurred to determine what is most pertinent to share with others. Students take pride in this process as teachers take a back seat to the child initiated learning and problem solving, allowing for not only the development of metacognition and executive function, but independence and self-esteem as well. So let’s celebrate the growth and learning that is occurring all around us this week and all the time at St. James!

The Process


Students research with teacher.


Students work together to begin to create the ballot box for their election unit.


During their group work, they decide the ballot box needs a curtain. Students work together to put the curtain on the rod.


Through team work, they completed their task!


Next, they need to figure out how to attach the curtain to the ballot box. They decide to use glue and discover it doesn’t work.


So, they try tape and ask the teacher for help. It works!


The voting booth is complete.

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