I recently received an email from a teacher asking me what inspired my ideas for projects.
When I was teaching, I was inspired by what the students were interested in. Ok, that is not a totally honest answer. I was inspired by my love of space, and in particular my fascination with Mars. It was easy for me to be creative and stay engaged. Doing research on my own time was not an added chore, I was already reading everything that I could get my hands on. I didn’t need to hunt for materials, I was able to put what I had already collected to good use. And my enthusiasm for Mars was contagious. When a teacher is excited and engaged, the students become excited and engaged.
But, a good authentic project requires the teacher to listen to student discourse and alter plans accordingly. With the Martian Colony Project that was easy, because we could incorporate just about anything into the open-ended plans for our colony. Sports – no problem – we created a Martian football league. Fashion – clothing designs for Mars. Government – that was huge – laying the groundwork for a new colonial government (easy tie in to the formation of our U.S. government, tons of history lessons there). Spa – Hey, I wasn’t spending the rest of my life on Mars with a bunch of fifth graders without a lot of manicures, pedicures, and pampering!
Every one of these topics involved a basic understanding of Space Exploration and Mars, and included almost unlimited opportunities for reading, writing, math, social studies, science…
Even the planning for the spa, actually especially the planning for the spa, involved a great deal of research, writing, math, science… (The spa started as a snarky suggestion from a group of fifth-grade girls who were doing everything possible to not engage in the colony. These girls ended up being our most engaged students.)
Now that I am retired (forever a teacher, however), I have time to stop and smell the roses. A whole lot of roses! And I photograph everything for my scrapbooks. And invariably I end up seeing authentic projects in these photos. (And entering them in our local Grange Fair and winning a lot of ribbons, but that is another story!)
Being retired means that I can spend my time following my passions – like writing this blog! I can spend time doing the things that I love to do. I am being authentic. And when you are being authentic, doing something you love to do, you want to explore and learn more. Isn’t that what good teaching should be?