Project Work Learning

Imagine when an observation had your mind turning - and now imagine that observation becoming the impetus for an in-depth investigation. 

Our progressive, project-based approach to teaching empowers students to be active participants in developing knowledge and understanding. Duke School bases its project work on The Project Approach model developed by Lilian Katz and Sylvia Chard. Katz and Chard define a project as an in-depth investigation of a real-world topic worthy of student time, attention and energy.

With each project, students formulate essential questions, conduct authentic research, and explore multiple paths to creative solutions.

Duke School students ask big questions, and develop even bigger answers. 

 Project: an in-depth investigation of a real-world topic worthy of student time, attention and energy. 


Duke School projects follow three distinct stages: 

Preliminary Planning Phase: The teacher selects a real world topic based on student interest, the school’s curriculum standards, and the availability of resources. Using their experience, knowledge and ideas, the teacher represents them on a topic web. 


Beginning A Project: The teacher uses an activity or discussion as a springboard to discover what students know about the topic. Students share their stories and creatively represent their knowledge. Student questions and wonderings are collected as they begin to emerge.


Developing A Project: Teachers arrange for students to do field work and interview guest experts to answer their questions. Students make plans, record observations, collect data, conduct experiments, and represent what they learn. Together, the student and  teacher evaluate their work and set goals for themselves as they progress through phases.


Concluding A Project: Teachers and students prepare a culminating event during which each student/small group of students take the role of experts and share what they have learned. Students select material to share and are involved in reviewing their work, capitalizing on interests and talents.

Two students and faculty member of Duke School, our orange county nc private school, sitting inside of a classroom
Students standing outside of Duke School, our private school in orange county nc
Students inside of a classroom at Duke School, our north carolina private school

collaboration AND COMMUNITY

Extending beyond the classroom to each student's community. 

Problem-Solving FOR SOLUTIONS

Shaping the next generation of problem-solvers.

Natural curiosity

Building on natural curiosity to enable interaction and connection.

Take a deeper look at our  project work in action

Preschool | Soil  fifth grade | visible valuesEIGHTH GRADE | CAPSTONE PROJECT



What makes duke school project work different?

Thematic Unit Project-Based Duke School Project Work

The project topic is set by the teacher based on curriculum content.

The project topic is set by the teacher based on curriculum content. 

The project topic is set by the teachers, sometimes in collaboration with students, based on student interest & curriculum content and benchmarks. 

Little time is spent activating student background knowledge.

Little time is spent activating student background knowledge. 

Significant time is devoted to activating student background knowledge. 

The teacher plans activities and investigations.  The teacher sets an essential question for students to investigate.

Students & teachers develop questions and topics to investigate based on student interest & knowledge. 

The teacher integrates content and skills from many curricular areas.  The teacher integrates content and skills from more than one subject. 

The teachers integrate content and skills from many curricular areas. 

Field trips may come at the end of the project as a culmination.  Field work is planned by the teacher and helps students investigate the topic.  Fieldwork is planned in response to student questions. This process helps students investigate the topic and generate more questions. 
Student work is displayed at the conclusion of the project.  Students create a product to share at the end.  Students select work to display throughout the project. Work is referred to daily to prompt additional investigations or deeper research. 
The teacher determines a way that students will share what they've learned.  The teacher determines an engaging way students will present what they've learned.  Students help shape how their information will be shared. 
Students submit work for evaluation. Students present what they've learned to an audience.  Students present what they've learned in authentic ways. Presentation methods differ according to student interests and talents. 
Students may evaluate. Teachers evaluate.  Students and teachers reflect and evaluate.  Students and teachers reflect and evaluate. 

"We chose Duke School for our daughter Amelia in kindergarten because we thought the emphasis on project-based learning and a strongly collaborative learning environment would suit her. We’ve been consistently pleased with the creativity of the teachers and way in which Amelia and her friends have learned, not just the facts, but the way facts fit together. The result has been a natural understanding of the complexity of the world and the way in which different approaches lead to richer understanding. The reports we receive in lieu of grades give us a detailed sense of where our daughter is successful and where she may need additional support from us or from her teachers. We’re very pleased with the way the students treat each other and with the social atmosphere among the students. The social and cultural environment has been consistently supportive, positive, inclusive, and respectful. In a year our daughter will go to high school. We know she will be well prepared academically and personally to thrive in any setting."

~Christoph Guttentag, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, Duke University, Eren '13

The Educators Institute at Duke School

The Educators Institute at Duke School brings educators from across the world together for project work, curriculum training, and exploration. 

We welcome teachers (preschool, elementary, middle school), curriculum specialists, team leaders, and school administrators.