Highlands Blog

Project Work at Highlands

What is Project Work?
A project is an in-depth investigation of a real-world topic worthy of student time, attention, and energy. Projects in the classroom challenge students to apply skills, knowledge, and strategies from various content areas as they conduct authentic research, analyze data, think deeply about problems and draw conclusions. As students participate in project work they not only learn new concepts and content, but they also practice competencies they will apply to independent learning beyond the classroom. Project-based learning provides the opportunity for students to practice formulating essential questions, conducting research both individually and in groups, evaluating and synthesizing results, communicating those results to others, and reflecting on the strengths of their work and ways to improve it in the future.

What happens during a project?
The Project Approach at Highlands typically follows four phases. A preliminary planning phase happens before a project is introduced to the students. During this phase the teacher selects a real-world topic based on student interest, the school’s curriculum standards, and the availability of resources then collaborates with fellow teachers and staff members to combine prior experience, knowledge, and ideas into a topic web of potential areas of study. Through all of the Phases of Project Work, content specific curriculum standards are continuously being taught and assessed by the teachers.
 
Following the preliminary planning, Phase 1 begins when teachers introduce the topic in an interesting way, students are able share their stories about personal experiences with the topic and create representations of these stories that are posted throughout the classroom. During this sharing phase, the project takes shape as students generate questions and “I wonder” statements about the topic. These items are also displayed in the classroom throughout the project. During Phase 1 teachers evaluate a student's ability to discuss prior knowledge and formulate important questions.
 
Phase 2 of the project is characterized by activity. During this project phase, teachers arrange for students to interview experts, do field work on or off campus, and further investigate the project topic through real objects, print materials, videos and internet resources. As students make and carry out plans, record observations, collect data, interview experts and conduct experiments, they represent what they learn through displays in the classroom. Students and teachers have regular discussions on what has been learned - and these discussions often lead to new questions. During Phase 2 teachers evaluate a student’s planning, follow through, observation, and research skills, as well as how well students apply academic skills and work cooperatively with others.
 
During Phase 3 teachers and students plan and prepare for a culminating event where each student or small group of students take on the role of expert and share what they have learned with an authentic audience. Teachers help students select material to share and work with them to review and evaluate each presentation. During the culminating event, students serve as expert docents complete Phase 3 of their project by sharing what they have learned with the Highlands and broader Birmingham community. On December 13, Highlands hosted eNight as our Fall Semester Project Based Learning cumination event. During this event, students took the role of experts to share what they learned with an audience of peers, parents and others. 
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Highlands School, 4901 Old Leeds Road, Birmingham, AL 35213, (205) 956-9731
Highlands School's 'whole child' approach to education and commitment to academic excellence, creative expression, and leadership development prepare and motivate students in grades 4k through 8 to make a positive difference in an ever-changing world. Located in Birmingham, Alabama, Highlands School holds dual accrediation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Southern Associations of Independent Schools (SAIS).

For more information, visit www.highlandsschool.org.