Project Work

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.

In planning, teachers select a real world topic based on student interest, the school’s curriculum standards and the availability of resources. The Project Approach projects follow four distinct stages:

Project Work in Action

Preschool Seeds Project

"Last Spring, William started a Seeds Project in Preschool. William started this pepper from a seed at home. He harvested it in the DS community garden today! He loves going to the garden to stay connected to Duke School and project work.” ~Jennie, Duke School Parent

Sixth Grade Bones & Stones Project

Duke School 6th graders are categorizing human characteristics as part of their Bones & Stones Project, exploring the history of early humans and society.

Third Grade Durham Project

As part of their Durham Project, DS 3rd graders interviewed Durham Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson to better understand the city government. They discussed the process of running for office, how the pandemic will influence future city budgets, and hopes for stronger environmental policies for Durham.

students drawing a representation of body systems
First Grade Healthy Self Project

DS 1st graders are learning about different parts of the body and what we can do to help ourselves stay healthy. These two are working on a representational drawing to outline key organs and blood flow pathways!

Preschool Tree Project

DS preschoolers shared their voting journey with us! After receiving her “Official Ballot” to vote for her favorite part of a tree, this Dragon selected leaves! She then returned her completed ballot to her teachers. All ballots will be opened and counted today at their Zoom meetings!

student looking inside a firetruck
Preschool Transportation Project

Two Orange County Firefighters visited a DS preschool class as guest experts for their Transportation Project! These Dragons learned about different colored trucks, safety gear, and created observational drawings.

student recording a video of his lego construction
Third Grade Lego Engineering Project

“What would you build to move a large stone bear into a house?” To answer this question, DS 3rd graders are using their design thinking skills to build Lego prototypes. While asking questions about the structure of the house and dimensions of the bear, they empathize and inquire about the needs of their client. These engineers then document, present, and alter their projects. On day two, one Dragon even decided that a Lego hovercraft would be the best route to take!

"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, Amelia '13


- 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

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.