On April 25, 2015 at the National Gallery of Art several DC schools, including SEEC, and Harvard’s Project Zero celebrated the launch of a book authored by over 300 students. The book was the result of a research and professional development project entitled: Children are Citizens: Children and Teachers Collaborating across Washington, D.C. The premise of this project is the belief that children are as much part of the community as their adult counterparts. They should not only be able to voice their opinions, but also participate in their community. Through their participation children will learn to see other’s points of view, work together, and understand how we are all interconnected, thus creating an informed and thoughtful citizenry who will become active participants in our democracy. To learn more about Project Zero and this collaboration visit here.
The first phase of the project entailed some thoughtful discovery. Children and teachers had several conversations about what they thought of their city, what they would like to change, important people and places. The second phase culminated in a book where SEEC students focused on their relationship with the museums on the National Mall.
Three classes participated in this project—PreK3, PreK4 and Kindergarten. Our first installment in this series featured our PreK4 class (insert link) and this installment will explore our PreK3 class, the Wallabies. Their section of the book focused on their favorite parts of the Air and Space Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and the National Museum of American History.
This interview was conducted with, Erin Pruckno, Wallaby teacher.
What made you want to participate in this project?
I wanted to participate in this project because the concept of citizenship and education is something I’m very interested in and was a major part of my master’s degree in International Education. In my studies, I encountered a lot of scholarship about citizenship education—how we educate students to be citizens, how students are citizens, the definitions of citizenship—however, not many touched upon citizenship and young children. This always irked me because, as an early childhood educator, I believe wholeheartedly that education at this age matters so much and that young children should be treated as citizens who have a vital role in our communities and our futures. So, I jumped at the opportunity to put to action these ideas.
Could you describe the process through which your class participated in the project?
We began by going on investigatory visits to the museums we were covering for our contribution to the book the project published. The Wallabies contributed pages on the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Museum of American History, and the National Air and Space Museum. During these visits, I looked for clues to what the students were interested in, as well as documenting their experiences in these spaces. Later in our classroom, we followed up with conversations on our visits; asking them about what was important about our museums, what other children should know about them, our favorite things there. I really wanted to encourage a sense of ownership from our children and to convey their passion and expertise to the book’s audience. We would then go on follow-up visits to the museums, continuing our conversations, and then later illustrating some of the things they saw or described.
Can you outline how this project was implemented in your classroom?
We tried to integrate the project into our already existing courses of exploration. For example, when we were learning about space, a trip to NASM was easy to do since it aligned with our topic and we could have a museum visit as well as research trip for the project. Other times, we set aside days to visit the museums and document our learning just for the purpose of the project.
How did the professional development portion of this project help or change your ideas of how to teach or connect children to the city in which they live?
As a professional development opportunity, the project really challenged me to think more about how I document student learning and also how I engage them in conversations. The method I’ve often relied upon with my class is to pose a question, then let students take turns to respond. However, when doing this, we have less of a dialogue among
the class and more of a back-and-forth between me and individual students. This project encouraged me to take a step back during classroom conversations and listen more—allowing students to talk to each other instead of directly to me.
The project seems to emphasize collaborations and discussion, is there a conversation you had among your students that really stands out?
Some of our most interesting conversations started when I would ask the Wallabies to share the most important thing to know about the museums and the students began talking about things you can’t do in museums. As I sat back and listened, letting them guide the conversation (which was, as I said, a challenge and learning experience for me), dramas would unfold about why we couldn’t touch exhibits or the planetarium screen. They came up with elaborate stories about how touching the screen would make a hole, creating a problem, workers would have to fix it, and the president and other people coming to the museum would feel sad that it was broken.
How do you think your students views of DC changes during the course of the project?
My hope was that my students expanded their understanding of other children in D.C. They already have a strong understanding of their families’ communities (coming from neighborhoods all over D.C., Virginia, and Maryland) and of our SEEC community, but I wanted them to think more about other students in D.C. By asking them to think of what other children need to know about the museums, I think they became more aware of how there are children outside our community who do not know the museums as intimately as they do, and that these other students might have different perspectives on D.C. that we can both learn from and share our knowledge with.
What was one of your more challenging moments during the process?
As I mentioned, facilitating conversations in a way that encouraged students to have a dialogue among them was a challenge, but a good learning experience for us. Initially, some questions were difficult for students to answer such as those that asked them to think about D.C. broadly, but over the course of the project it became easier to provoke conversation as we broke down things into more manageable pieces, like discussions about individual museums.
What was one of the most rewarding moments during the process?
During one conversation, a student exclaimed to the class, “Guys! I know something!” I loved her enthusiasm, eagerness, and confidence in sharing her knowledge. This moment also summed up the project for me. I wanted to help my students show that even though they are young, they know something, many things in fact, about their community and Washington, D.C and that their contributions to our understanding of our city are to be valued and heard.