The St. James kindergarteners have been working up to Project Week over the past month. We started slowly by taking walks in our neighborhood while Ms. Meghan and I noted what caught the children’s interest. It became apparent that the class was very interested in the L trains that they saw on our walks. It started with a simple question, “Why don’t the trains have a whistle?” They talked about the lack of a whistle on every neighborhood walk we took and then we knew that our Project Week topic was going to be the Chicago Transit Authority L system.

You might be wondering what the L train has to do with the theme of the Great Chicago Fire that first through eight grade students are learning about. Well, nothing on the surface. Early childhood students learn best through hands on, concrete experiences. They need to be able to manipulate and observe real world objects in order to fully understand concepts. Historical events are abstract concepts to the youngest learners and difficult for them to grasp; however, kindergarten age students can and are expected to be able to be aware of how the past influences people’s lives. The destruction, reconstruction and expansion of the city of Chicago necessitated the advent and expansion of the L train system. City workers needed a way to get from the outlying neighborhoods to the city center for jobs. In this way, the two topics are linked and provide a learning platform for younger students.

Leading up to Project Week the kindergarteners made a trip to the Armitage L station. We sat on the platform and made our first in a series of observational drawings. When doing observational drawings, students are instructed to draw what they see, not what they want to see. For example, if the student is drawing the train sitting in the station he or she would draw the train, the platform, maybe even passengers on the train but he or she would not draw flowers or rocket ships because those things are not actually there on the platform. Observational drawings are a valuable teaching tool. Working on observational drawings helps students to slow down and notice details. The kindergarteners started to notice things like numbers on the trains, different colored signs, and lights on the sides of the trains. Completing observational drawings brings an element of reality to an art form that is often based in fantasy. Students can discover how to organize what they have learned and communicate an understanding on a topic through these drawings. This communication of understanding through observational drawings is used by early childhood teachers as a form of assessment to determine if students are gaining knowledge and it helps the teachers understand what each student is paying attention to in his or her drawings.

The kindergarteners completed several different observational drawings during this project. As part of the planning component, students did focused observational drawings (where the drawing focused on a certain area) of the station and the platform areas because they voted to recreate the L station inside the classroom as the culminating activity for this project. After we returned to the classroom, the students created a planning web to figure out what items needed to be included in each area and then planned what materials would be needed to make these items. The students will work together in self-selected groups to complete a portion of the culminating models. After the models are created the students will work on explaining what they learned by using the models and giving a brief presentation to families. They are excited to show what they have learned about this important component of the city of Chicago. Families are invited to see the presentations on Friday, November 20, at 2:45.

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