“What’s different in our classroom today?” asks Jason Harris, a pre-kindergarten teacher in the District of Columbia Public Schools. The students shout out "People! Cameras!" “That’s right,” Harris acknowledges. “They want to watch how we learn today.”
With that statement, the film crew fades into the background and the class proceeds as usual.
The film crew is working to capture the teacher in action, in a natural setting, using “open-ended questions purposefully to guide inquiry and self-discovery,” explains Ann Caspari, early childhood specialist at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and one of the coordinators of the shoot. The completed video is featured in the PNC Grow Up Great® Lesson Center.
Launched in 2014, the Lesson Center features more than 100 free science and arts lesson plans that can be used by teachers to help inspire their preschool classroom curricula. The lessons are categorized by common preschool themes, complete with supplies lists, step-by-step instructions and tools to reinforce learning, such as related vocabulary lists, book recommendations and questions to guide student inquiry.
The Lesson Center was developed with input from esteemed early childhood education leaders and highly regarded arts and science organizations. Dr. Barbara A. Wasik, PNC endowed chair in early childhood education and professor at Temple University, leads creation of the site materials with Stacey Sangtinette, curriculum developer.
“Preschool teachers want to incorporate science and the arts in their classrooms but don’t always have the training or resources to do that,” says Wasik. “The Lesson Center is an easy and accessible way for teachers to spark creativity within their own curricula.”
The Lesson Center is used almost exclusively by teachers, so their feedback is valuable in shaping its content.
“Teachers in our focus groups have said that they want to hear what kids are saying in response to inquiry conversations” says Wasik.
Laura Steinmetz, a preschool teacher who participated in the video shoot at Powell Elementary School, agrees that there is much to be learned from students’ responses to open-ended questions.
“Sometimes they might not respond at all. You might just see them explore the material in a different way, which tells me that they are thinking about it,” she explains. “And sometimes you just don’t get the answer that you’re expecting.”
In addition to the Lesson Center, Grow Up Great works with organizations to offer other opportunities for teachers to access free educational resources, sharpen skills and adopt new strategies they can incorporate into their classrooms.
Since the debut of Grow Up Great in 2004, more than 255,000 educators have taken advantage of professional development opportunities. The Teacher’s Toolkit is a way to help make research-based training and strategies more widely available.