Project Work

Project Approach Model

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.

The Project Approach projects follow four distinct stages:

Project Approach Phases

List of 4 items.

  • 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.
  • Phase 1: Beginning a Project

    The teacher uses an activity or discussion as a springboard to discover what students know about the topic. Frequently, the teacher e-mails parents, encouraging them to talk to children about the topic and share any relevant expertise. Students share their stories at school and represent their knowledge through drawing, writing, photography, drama and oral sharing and their representations are posted throughout the room. As a result of this phase (typically 2-5 days), student questions begin to emerge. Teachers post these questions and wonderings along with the children’s representations. These can be amended or added to as the project progresses. During this phase, the teacher evaluates the students’ abilities to discuss their knowledge and formulate important questions.
  • Phase 2: Developing a Project

    Teachers arrange for students to do field work and interview guest experts to answer their questions. The teacher also provides resources at school to help children with their investigations. These resources many include real objects, print, videos, or internet resources. At times, students will do the same field work; at other times research will differ depending on the interests and abilities of students. As students make and carry out plans, record observations, collect data, interview experts and conduct experiments, they represent what they learn and teachers help students post it in the classroom. Each day, the class discusses what students learn, which often leads to new questions. The teacher evaluates each student’s planning, follow-through, details in observation, research, ability to apply academic skills, and ability to work cooperatively with others.
  • Phase 3: Concluding a Project

    Teachers and students plan and prepare for a culminating event during which each student or small group of students take the role of experts and share with others what they have learned. Teachers help students select material to share and involve them in reviewing and evaluating their work. They also help them select the method by which they will share their knowledge, which allows students to capitalize on their interests and talents. For example, when second graders culminated their Butterfly Project, Olivia and Mary Catherine created puppets to show how caterpillars turn into butterflies. They wrote a script, made the puppets and performed their show at the culminating event. Another student made a sculpture of monarch butterflies as they arrive in Mexico, and still another constructed a butterfly robot and programmed it to travel across a floor map from North Carolina to Mexico to represent the migration of Monarch Butterflies.


- Chard, Kogan & Castillo (2017). Picturing the Project Approach. Gryphon House.
- Katz, Chard & Kogan (2014). Engaging Children's Minds: The Project Approach, Third Edition. Praeger.
Kathy Bartelmay
Curriculum Director, Duke School
PATEN (Project Approach Teacher Education Network) Trainer
© 2017, K. Bartelmay, Duke School

Christoph, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, Duke University, Catherine, Amelia '13

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.