Picture a building under construction: the scaffolding goes up, giving crews a steady platform to work on building the structure, brick by brick. Once the scaffolding is removed, the building is revealed.
It’s this example that Sharon Mazion, Lower School Music Instructor, continually refers to when discussing project-based learning. She’s been implementing this teaching and learning style into her Lower School music classes this past year, saying that the ideas encapsulated by project-based learning are all things she already fundamentally believed about education. The perspective and techniques that project-based learning brings to the table, she says, are “things we already do naturally as musicians, especially at the Lower School level.”
Project-based learning, at its core, is about taking things that you know and moving them into the unknown. It gives students a problem to solve or learn more about through the process of learning—in this case, through music. This learning style creates the scaffolding around that building metaphor: there’s lots of structure around the freeform that teachers set up, but students are building that building themselves, brick by meticulous, fun, imaginative brick. When the scaffolding is peeled away, the beauty of the structure is revealed, and for Mazion, "It’s that a-ha moment—that lightbulb—that ‘this is so cool!’ moment. That’s what teachers love.” It allows children to discover and create learning on their own, which, for her, is “what learning is about.”
It’s been a learning process for her, too: she remarks that every time she has given her Lower School music students a problem, “they’ll come up with a gajillion better solutions than you could ever think of.” When preschool students were being introduced to theories about sound, she and two preschool instructors (Ty Thayer and Kelly McCool) transformed the playground into a music making space. They wanted students to find music-making opportunities on their own, but realized “wouldn’t it be cool if students could do it themselves?” rather than purchasing specially-designed playground musical instruments, which have gained popularity in recent years. Given a variety of household supplies and a few musical accessories like mallets, preschoolers descended on the playground, creating a cacophony of music and sound. Some even formed bands and got their teachers in on the action, providing them with instruments of students’ choosing and telling them what beat to play.
So parents: if your preschool child comes home and suddenly transforms your kitchen into a fully-fledged band practice space, demanding you provide Tupperware drums and spoon mallets, let it happen—you’re just creating that scaffolding for the beautiful building that will soon emerge.