Internet Resources for Project Work

Dianne Rothenberg
ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Online Communication: Help and Guidance in Doing Project Work

Access to the online world can reduce the isolation of a teacher who might be the only one in her school using the Project Approach, or who is trying out the Project Approach for the first time. One reason that Internet access is helpful to those new to the Project Approach is that the most important kind of Internet resource available for project work is other knowledgeable educators, including teachers and experts experienced in the Project Approach who can be contacted via the Internet. Many of these individuals belong to listservs, or Internet discussion groups related to the Project Approach. Although many listservs may occasionally include discussions of project work, the following listserv is devoted entirely to discussion of projects in the classroom:

PROJECTS-L@postoffice.cso.uiuc.edu

For more information on PROJECTS-L, see the flyer in this section of the Catalog for details.

Teachers use listservs in the following ways:

  • to ask a question;
  • to seek help in finding resources;
  • to elicit the help of colleagues in brainstorming about a problem encountered during the implementation of a project;
  • to discuss ideas for displaying and documenting children's work; or
  • to share with colleagues the outcomes of a completed project.

Belonging to a listserv can expand a teacher's network of peers beyond his or her geographic limitations to an international community of learners who are interested in, and may be knowledgeable about, either the Project Approach or the topic at hand. Listservs can provide a comfortable context for asking questions about project work and discussing concerns about children's progress.

Web Sites on the Project Approach

Web sites that focus on implementation of the Project Approach are another kind of resource for teachers undertaking project work. The number of Web sites that offer information on implementing projects of various kinds is increasing; but it's not always easy to find Web sites that offer information on the Project Approach as implemented in early childhood classrooms. Project-based learning (PBL), for example, is an instructional strategy that is generally used in upper elementary and secondary classrooms. PBL has been defined as "student learning by working on complex, open-ended, realistic (or real world) projects. Doing scientific research, composing music, writing an interpretive essay, and diagnosing a case are all examples of project-based learning" (citation: http://www.learner.org/edtech/rscheval/flashlight/challenge2.html; October 2, 1998)

While project-based learning is similar in some respects to the Project Approach as described by Katz and Chard (1989), project-based learning usually differs significantly in the types of topics judged as appropriate for first-hand, close investigation and observation. To learn more about project-based learning and explore its characteristics, you may want to visit this site:

The Power of Project-Based Learning
http://glef.org/FMPro?-DB=articles1.fp5&-format=articles.html&-lay= layout%20%231& Linking%20Relation==Art_290&-find

Another problem in locating Web sites on the Project Approach is that both Project Approach and project-based learning are terms commonly used in business and industry. A search on AltaVista, one of the most comprehensive "search engines" available on the Internet (at http://altavista.digital.com/) on "project based learning" (2923 "hits") and on the "project approach" (3797 "hits") may yield some useful sites, but most of the Web sites or parts of Web sites retrieved are not useful for early childhood educators.

One of the most productive ways of locating useful sites on the Project Approach, therefore, is by depending on the links from an authoritative Web site to high-quality, already evaluated sites. Authoritative Web sites are those sites produced by an organization or individual who has expertise in a particular area and who provides high-quality information on that topic. Many authoritative Web sites also provide selective links to other high-quality sites in the same topical area. ERIC/EECE performs this function in early childhood education and maintains several high-quality links on its Web site to appropriate Project Approach Web sites or parts of sites (this section of the ERIC/EECE Web site is located at http://ericeece.org/project.html) http://ecap.crc.illinois.edu/poptopics/project.html.

Links to the following sites are available:

The Project Approach Home Page
http://projectapproach.org

This site offers the most extensive collection of information on project work in early childhood and elementary school settings. In addition to explanations of project work, 15 projects conducted by educators around the world are described in detail.

Expanded Documentation: Strategies for Communicating How and What Children Learn, by Judy Harris Helm, Ed.D.
http://www.rebusinc.com/ws_ed.html.

This short article highlights documentation strategies for teachers.

The Project Approach at Carl Cozier School
http://wwwcoz.bham.wednet.edu/projecta/projappr.htm

The teachers at Carl Cozier School have been working with the Project Approach for five years. This Web page summarizes their use of the Project Approach.

Enhancing Classroom Information Resources

Children's observations of how adults find and use facts and nonfiction information can provide good examples of the importance adults place on literacy. The need for information in context, such as in the course of the investigation in a project, offers teachers a chance to increase a child's interest in text and in the development of reading by modeling use of encyclopedias, other reference books, and the Internet to solve real problems.

In most preschool and elementary school classrooms, children are encouraged to use books, encyclopedias, and other reference works to find information about the objects they are studying. All too often, however, classrooms, school library media centers, and nearby libraries may need to augment on-site collections with additional recently published, high-quality topical information. The teacher can use the Internet to find information available on topics that are likely to be investigated in her class using search facilities on the Internet such as AltaVista (http://altavista.digital.com/) or Inference (http://www.infind.com/) and might begin this process after a concept web has been produced.

Some Internet sites contains basic reference tools, such as up-to-date encyclopedias, that may not be available in every child's center, preschool, or elementary school classroom. The following sites offer access to dictionaries and encyclopedias and other basic reference sources:

Internet Public Library http://www.ipl.org/ref/RR/Editor's note: This url has changed:http://www.ipl.org/div/subject/

Encyclopedia.Com
http://www.encyclopedia.com/

Australian A to Z Animal Archive
http://www.aaa.com.au/A_Z/

Encyberpedia: The Living Encylopedia
http://www.encyberpedia.com/eindex.htm

In addition to general works, the Internet can provide access to some specialized and useful collections of information for projects. For example, students engaged in a project at a nearby pond may need supporting information to help them classify the frogs in the pond or identify their sounds (try the Froggy Page at http://web.cs.mun.ca/k12media/resources.libraries.theme.frogs.html). Students observing and graphing lunchroom eating habits can find ideas for analyzing lunchroom leftovers at the PEERS Recycle Exploration Unit Web site at http://www.eosc.osshe.edu/peers/peumodels/recycle3.html. Using search engines to find similar information for other kinds of projects can offer teachers a chance to model appropriate Internet use for finding information.

Conclusion

The Internet can support project work, especially for children in the elementary grades, although some resources can also be useful to younger children. The process of using Internet-based information sources can help teachers model the use of information. The growth of the Internet since the first Project Approach Catalog (1996) was published suggests that its usefulness to those of us interested in the Project Approach will continue to increase.


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