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Do you remember studying for tests growing up? Can you say how much of that knowledge you retained?

At Rohan Woods School, that concept of memorization and testing is being challenged by what is called the Project Approach. The goal is to teach children to think critically about academic concepts and apply them in real time, while also teaching them communication and collaboration skills.

This is their fourth year with the Project Approach, according to head of school, Sam Templin-Page. “The progress is fascinating,” she says. “It’s a joy to watch these kids as they’re engaged in research. Their questions are just remarkable.”

Templin-Page explains that the students at Rohan Woods have two projects a year – one in fall and one in spring. The children work in small groups to research their topics and end the project with a presentation to the school and their families.

Each project is done in phases. The first is planning, where students pick out the topics they want their projects to be on. At this phase, faculty can look at the curriculum standards around it and the resource availability. “We want students to be able to have experts to listen to or places they can learn more,” Templin-Page says.

Next is the research portion, where students practice decoding and comprehension skills. This stage also teaches skills in working and collaborating in groups sized anywhere from two to six students. After his third grade project, student Hale Rhodes says, “Project [Approach] taught me you can accomplish a lot in a team.”

The final phase is culmination – a presentation the groups put on, sharing what they’ve learned. The children get to choose the format of their culmination and Templin-Page recalls a year where the topic of board games culminated in the groups making their own games and playing them with the class. “They really become the experts of their topic and are excited to get to share,” she says.

This approach makes for more flexible educators, as well. As Templin-Page explains, “You have to be a guide, not a lecturer. You give them the path to take and ask questions that make them become critical thinkers.” Incoming teachers are given internal training as well as training at the leading school in Project Learning in North Carolina.

“It’s an exciting methodology for educators,” Templin-Page adds. “It’s not a traditional project. It’s not memorization. It’s living and working with that knowledge, watching it bloom and blossom.”

Rohan Woods School, 1515 Bennett Ave., St. Louis, 314-821-6270, rohanwoods.org