Doing Dioramas: Does A Project Need To Be For Everyone?

This past week has me thinking a lot about project-based learning. Back in January, I read a fabulous blog post by Cathy Baker about this approach. Over the past number of years, I’ve engaged many children through the use of projects. This was as true in Grade 6 as it is in Kindergarten. Usually though, projects were for everyone. From the Big Body Bonanza (gosh, I loved that name!) to our Art Gallery, these full class projects captured many wonderful memories.

But lately I’ve been wondering more about projects that do not include the full class.

Recently, we decided to extend on some of the building, creating, and storytelling that children have been doing with the introduction of dioramas. Some children used this artistic space for some sensory painting. They found the back-and-forth of the brush strokes to be calming, and as they painted over the cardboard, they also got to explore how to create different colours and make different lines and shapes. There was some problem solving in action, even if not always intentionally.

Other children really immersed themselves in this diorama project. Instead of just completing their diorama in one day, each day brought a new addition to their creation. One group of students in particular, looked at how to create different rooms in a house, extend their house with an “outside space,” create furniture, make people, and even include the use of multi-media elements, such as paint and plasticine. As children worked together on one day, they thought about what to add the next. It was through our conversations with students that we could then plan extension possibilities for the following day. This diorama project lasted for over a week, and we still want to hear more of the story behind one of the biggest creations on Monday. (Sometimes the day after Halloween isn’t the best time for this in-depth storytelling. πŸ™‚ )

For the past month, we’ve been working hard with students on revisiting their work and slowing down. This diorama project really allowed a group of children to do that.Β Was it for everyone?Β No. Even with multiple entry points, some children never came to this space. This has me wondering though,Β does it matter?Β 

The students that got involved in the diorama work, met all Four Frames of the Kindergarten Program Document, as they …

  • connected and collaborated with other children (Belonging and Contributing),
  • engaged in social problem solving skills as part of the building process (Belonging and Contributing and Problem Solving and Innovating),
  • engaged in scientific, mathematical, and artistic problem solving skills as part of the design process (Problem Solving and Innovating and Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematics Behaviours),
  • communicated through writing, drama, and art (Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematics Behaviours),
  • learned and used new vocabulary as part of the design process (Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematics Behaviours),
  • measured, counted, weighed, and created patterns as part of their dioramas (Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematics Behaviours),
  • used their fine motor skills to create these works of art (Self-Regulation and Well-Being),
  • and engaged in learning opportunities that helped them self-regulate (Self-Regulation and Well-Being).

These are just some of the more obvious connections to the Kindergarten Program Document, but there are other specific expectations addressed as part of this project. That said, these same expectations can be met in different ways. I can’t help but think of a couple of children that didn’t go to this diorama space, but got very involved in shape creations over the past couple of weeks. Here are some of the things that a few children did.

In many ways, the same expectations listed for the diorama project could be attributed to these shape creations. In one example, a child is doing some drawing and writing with my teaching partner, Paula. The interesting thing here is that the storytelling that he does with his shape creations seems to have extended to the storytelling that he does with his pictures. He’s also considering shapes when drawing his pictures: giving him more confidence in drawing than he had before.

Two entirely different experiences here, meeting the needs of different students, but with similar expectations in mind.Β Yes,Β we have 28 children in our class. Coordinating and tracking 28 projects could be a challenge, but I’m wondering if with open-ended experiences, multiple entry points, and similar considerations in the different spaces around the room, we can make all of this work. For some children, a more formal project that builds on experiences each day is key. For others, providing small extensions in the spaces that they revisit each day, might be more valuable. I think this goes back to a conversation that I had with a fellow educator recently:Β everything in our classroom is placed and done with intentionality.Β It’s in doing this that we can see the same expectations in different spaces and really program with the child in mind.Β What do you do? Does project work need be for everyone, and if it’s not, how do you meet these same expectations in different ways?Β I wonder now if my projects from years ago needed to be as specific as they were back then, or if there might be different ways to get to the same end goal.


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