The Purposeful Synergy of PBL & Play

At Dawson, Project-Based Learning (PBL) brings education to life for our students. Creative, playful inspiration bounces around the classroom while students actively absorb academic concepts that include design, critical thinking, data interpretation, collaborative planning, and compromise. And rest assured, the three Rs are always reinforced through PBL: knowledge of math is built upon, and reading and writing skills are challenged. 

This fall, Ms. Greenspan’s kindergarten class endeavored to build a haunted house. Not just any haunted house, however. This house had to be large enough for at least one student to play. Thought-provoking discovery questions arose, such as, where should the windows be placed so all students can see? What should the roof look like? How many doors should be cut into the house? And so many more curiosities yet to be answered.
Kindergarten PBL Project Painting

Kindergarten PBL Project

The kids quickly realized it would be best if everyone could enjoy the house. This is quite significant because, even at such young ages, they understand the impact and importance of including everyone in the learning process. They determined this special house needed to be tall enough for their tallest friend, but also wanted everyone to enjoy the view from the windows. They decidedly placed them lower in the walls to accommodate their shorter friends as well. This class’s motto is “All Are Welcome” and they sincerely take that statement of belonging to heart. 

Skills and Concepts

The project started with individual house designs. Each student drew a house formed in their imagination and then, through the use of building materials, they crafted a model. After sharing with peers, groups were formed and the real work began: communicating, collaborating, and compromising. Maybe we could all benefit from kindergarten PBL. 

Kindergarten PBL Collaboration

Other skills were sprinkled throughout the project and students engaged in the following concepts:
  • Filming “research” videos on Flipgrid
  • conducting student surveys
  • Graphing
  • recording and interpreting data
  • learning positional terms
  • reinforcing the names of shapes
Additionally, strengthening vocabulary through the use of writing pieces and then reading those pieces aloud to their classmates built students’ perseverance and grew their mindsets. After listening to one another, peer-to-peer feedback was given, offering an opportunity for personal reflection and the chance to level up through their revised work.

Kindergarten PBL Building a Haunted House

Problem Solving and Perseverance

The original design called for a pointed roof, but after much building and re-building, nothing worked. Ms. Greenspan suggested they simply build a flat roof. However, the students imagined as a group, talked through ideas together, and created a trapezoid-shaped roof instead, teaching Ms. Greenspan a lesson in flexibility and perseverance. Her class committedly demonstrated that “kindergarteners never give up!”

Kindergarten PBL Identifying Shapes

The project took the class through six comprehensive milestones, beginning with identifying shapes of structures and ending with a magnificent, life-sized (well, kinder-sized) Haunted Spiderific Hotel painted by the kids themselves in an appropriate shade of black. Scary, hairy spider legs dangling above the windows were an added bonus of haunted creepiness.

On Halloween, the students were thrilled to unveil their personalized haunted hotel! Everyone had a great time at the party playing with their imagination-creation.

By Jill Moschella
Lower School Program Coordinator

The Alexander Dawson School

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.