Whether learning in the classroom or online, all Duke School preschoolers explored the world of trees, clothes and wheels in 2020-2021.
The coordinated curriculum departed from the preschool classes’ usual approach to projects, where each class tackles different topics according to teachers’ and students’ interests.
“That was so we could collaborate together and kind of work smarter and not harder, since we were kind of reinventing an entire school year and how we do things,” said teacher Catherine Linford.
With all six on-campus preschool pods and two distance learning groups focusing on the same subject at once, teachers hoped to minimize disruptions for students who had to move between in-person and remote learning during the school year.
Teachers met weekly to share ideas and establish a planning template to keep each unit on a common track and timeline. Within that structure, the project plan “gave us the leeway to do our own activities with our pods that were specific to our kids’ abilities or interests,” said Catherine.
While studying clothing, for example, Catherine’s pod of eight students became fascinated with garment tags and learning more about where their clothes came from. Maureen Dwyer’s distance learning pod wanted to learn more about how the logos and designs they could see on their classmates’ shirts through Zoom were printed.
“We know when we choose a project topic, it needs to be something that kids can get their hands on, something they can investigate in the classroom,” Maureen said. With the addition of distance learning, “we had to be really thoughtful about things that the kids would be able to access in their homes.”
The coordinated curriculum caused some challenges, such as sharing library books and resources across all pods rather than a single classroom. But in other ways, the adapted teaching plan spurred innovations that will carry into future school years.
Unable to invite family members to in-person culmination celebrations, Catherine printed photos of her students’ project work in a keepsake book. Maureen held culmination events on Zoom, where her distance learning students talked through a website of project photos and information with their family members. Posting culmination materials and video recordings of guest experts online helped broaden the reach of preschool classes’ work in new ways.
“I think the key to making it work is building relationships,” said Maureen. When her students had a chance to meet in person for the first time in May, visiting campus to see a parent’s Lamborghini as part of the wheels project, “it took about a minute for these kids arriving to just be so excited to see one another.”
Catherine agreed that tight connections among the preschool team and the grace and cooperation of families helped make the unusual year successful.
“As hard of a year as it was in many ways, it was also this wonderful year when we each got to have a smaller group and build those relationships in a different way than we have before,” she said.