With Dawson’s commitment to modern learning, all of our families have heard the term Project-Based Learning (PBL). But they may not yet fully understand what it means and how modern learning is accomplished through the PBL process. The Early Childhood Butterfly Project, led by teacher Katie Figg, is one incredible example of how Dawson delivers this inquiry-based approach to teaching new information and demonstrating how learning takes shape.
PBL is rooted in the fundamental belief that in order to truly understand something, you must have a lived experience; you must dig and labor into an idea or project, charging through inevitable challenges and setbacks, until an outcome is actualized and the real lessons are learned. And this is just what our Early Childhood students did: They got their hands dirty – literally! – doing some fulfilling work during the completion of their Butterfly Project.
To form meaningful connections throughout this PBL endeavor, students first spent weeks observing the lifecycle of complete metamorphosis within the classroom, building knowledge about caterpillars, butterflies, ladybugs, plants, and flowers. They were introduced to key vocabulary words associated with their studies such as migration, kaleidoscope, cocoon, proboscis, and more. Plus, they learned interesting fun facts about butterflies, including which body parts they use to taste, drink, and smell; the different colors and types of butterflies; and the Queen Alexandria Birdwing, which is the largest butterfly in the world with a wingspan of 12 inches!
Students used the following driving questions as a guide:
What happens to the butterflies after they are released?
Could we create a space on campus where they can live, thrive, and continue their life cycle in our natural environment?
How can butterflies survive in the desert environment after they emerge from their chrysalis?
“I wanted to present our youngest learners with an authentic and meaningful problem to solve while integrating upcoming units of investigation,” explains Ms. Figg. “As the project began, we researched the type of butterfly we ordered, the host plants it would need for food when laying eggs, the flowers that would produce nectar, and a location on campus that could serve as a new outdoor learning space.”
Part of the pure magic of PBL is the collaboration between students and their teacher mentors. Together, they selected the perfect sunny area outside for their garden and learned how to mix and fill planter boxes with soil to grow the specific flowers needed to attract the butterflies. Each class voted on two colors of flowers to plant, and throughout the entire process, students were asked to reflect upon their work and how they performed as learners as a means of personal and educational growth.
In May, our EC students were proud to facilitate a special Butterfly Ceremony that celebrated the release of their butterflies into the new garden space they helped create, and a few days later, students also released some ladybugs they had studied. All of this provided students a chance to showcase for our community how they developed a deeper understanding of what they now know and can do, and how this knowledge can be applied to other subjects and designs.
And this is what true success looks like at Dawson: Students learned how their purposeful and intentional actions directly correlated to the completion of their project. So even for our youngest learners, modern learning through PBL projects enhances students’ ability to investigate the world around them and to explore, share, and enjoy their findings.
“We have a lovely campus with many opportunities to explore outside of the classroom as an extension to what we are learning indoors,” says Ms. Figg. “I hope to continue to collaborate with our amazing teachers to build a library of projects where teachers feel empowered to choose from multiple options based upon student interests and their own passions. I hope the next steps in Early Childhood are to expand some of the projects we have started already and to continue to explore ways to create real-world connections through hands-on learning experiences.”
The Alexander Dawson School at Rainbow Mountain, an independent school located on 33-acres in the community of Summerlin, is Nevada’s first Stanford University Challenge Success partner school for students in early childhood through grade eight. Utilizing the unique Challenge Success framework, Dawson uses research-based strategies and programs that emphasize student academics, wellbeing, and a healthy school-life balance to create more engaged, motivated, and resilient learners and leaders. At Dawson, students achieve their individual potential while savoring life and meeting the challenges of the world.