Eleanor K. Smith is a retired special education teacher currently living in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania.
She received her Bachelor’s from Michigan State University in Elementary and Special Education, and her Master’s from the University of Central Florida in Elementary Education with an emphasis in Gifted Education.
Her thirty-plus year career in special education included teaching in Texas, Florida, and Maryland. In 2013, she was recognized by the NASA Explorers School Program as a Merit Teacher.
She is the author of two books:
"Tex the Explorer: Journey to Mars", written as Ellie Smith, illustrated by Eyen Johnson. (This is a Children's Book, Early Reader, Science Fiction)
"One School's Journey" written with Margaret Pastor. (This book tells the story of the journey of the staff at their elementary school as they set down the path to discover how to engage their students using authentic projects-soon to be published.)
Catch her blog at: The-Educational-Journey.com
This is a photo I took on a recent trip to Kinzua Bridge State Park. A tornado tore apart this railroad bridge in 2003. The standing part of the bridge was reinforced and is now a walkway with a fantastic view of the park. You also see the power, and devastation, of a tornado.
A photograph can be used to be the inspiration for a prompt or question to start an authentic project. There are many prompts/driving questions I can think of from looking at this photo.
How strong would a tornado most likely need to be to do this kind of damage? How are tornadoes rated? Is this similar to how we categorize hurricanes? Why do we have State Parks/National Parks? Write a story about what happened here…
Depending on what your goals are, this could lead to learning and exploration about tornadoes, hurricanes, conservation, creative writing…honestly, the sky is the limit.
And just to brag a little, there were several dogs at the entrance to the walkway who refused to go out on the bridge, but our grand-dog ran right out on the bridge and loved it!
Teaching our children that they can make an authentic difference is something that I think is really important. There are so many current problems we have on our planet. And it can seem like, “why bother,” we really can’t make a difference. But we can! If everyone just tried to make a bit of a difference, think of the changes that we could make.
Our planet desperately needs trees planted. There are many, many groups that are planting trees. A great authentic project would be to learn why we need trees, what we use trees for, what are all the different types of trees… Then involving our students in either planting trees, or fundraising for groups that are planting them. Tons of authentic reading, math, science, social studies… Learning and a good cause – can’t beat that!
I live in the heart of Amish country in Central Pennsylvania. Because of this, I have interacted with the Amish and learned a great deal about their culture.
They are a fascinating group of people. The more I know about them, the more I want to learn. There are definitely some things they do, and believe in, that I would like to try to incorporate into my life, and some things I would not. (Totally not interested in giving up my washing machine and dryer.) But, isn’t that true for everyone. And isn’t it true that the more we learn, understand, and appreciate other people, the better we will get along.
I think a great authentic project for students in my area would be to learn about the Amish. What group(s) of people who practice different or unique religions, customs, or ideas are in your area? And what are your students interested in learning about these people? It won’t and shouldn’t be the same for every student. I am especially interested in Amish clothing. My friend down the street is interested in Amish cooking. Both topics are authentic and can lead to further discovery on different topics.
And just let me say…I do NOT want the Amish recipe for those little chocolate donuts stuffed with peanut butter filling. I have worked too hard to lose weight this year to get my hands on that recipe!
One School’s Journey – Further Down the Path is a Finalist in the Instructional & Insightful Non-Fiction Category of the Chanticleer International Book Awards Contest. This book was a total labor of love about teaching authentically!
Tex the Explorer – Journey Through Our Solar System is a Finalist in the Little Peeps Early Readers Category of the Chanticleer International Book Awards Contest. So proud of this book! Tex the Explorer – Journey Through Our Solar System is available on Amazon.
I remember constantly hearing stories about acid rain when I was in school. It seems that you really don’t hear much about acid rain anymore. What is acid rain exactly? Is it still a problem? Has it been “absorbed” by other categories of pollution problems? What causes it? What can we do to help prevent it? Has the problem been solved?
This is a topic that can easily be used from preschool (a discussion of clean versus dirty water) through high school and beyond (what is the chemical composition of acid rain).
However, if the teaching is really authentic, then this needs to be more than just a discussion/study of acid rain, the causes and effects, etc. Authenticity means it is real and counts for each student. Is there something that is currently happening in your community that is causing acid rain? Is there something in your community causing pollution? How does this impact your students? What can they do to authentically make a difference?
If a discussion about acid rain becomes an authentic project about pollution and cleaning up a local baseball field so that softball can be played on it…that is authentic teaching and learning.
My husband and I just returned from a fantastic trip to Disney World. We went specifically to visit Galaxy’s Edge, the new Star Wars Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Even with the entire population of Earth and at least one other planet in the park, it was a super experience. (It was great to see everyone out and about after the isolation of the last two years.) We waited in line for two hours for Rise of the Resistance, and it was totally worth it. I still have a smile on my face.
What Disney is now doing is the total immersion experience and it reminded me so much of authentic learning. We even found out that the University of Central Florida (near Disney World) is offering a degree in Total Immersion Design. How cool is that!
So teaching authentically, which is teaching using as much immersion as possible, has now entered the entertainment industry as total immersion. The theory being that total immersion is the way to engage the audience as much as possible. Engaged audiences retain the experience and want to return for more. Engaged students retain what they have learned and want to learn more…
On a recent road trip my husband and I spent the night in a little town just off the highway in Virginia. We ate dinner next to the hotel at one of the best Mexican restaurants we’ve ever been to…thank goodness we live six hours away or I would gain a ton of weight.
After dinner we decided to drive ten miles up the road to a memorial commemorating the birthplace of Stephen F. Austin, who is considered the father of the State of Texas. It was just a simple stone marker with three flags; Virginia, Texas, and the United States.
When we returned to the hotel, both my husband and I read about Stephen F. Austin. We also read about the history of iron mining in this area of the country, as the memorial explained that the Austins moved to Virginia to mine iron. We both learned a great deal about Stephen F. Austin, Texas, and iron mining.
So what is the point of this blog, besides the fact that I have zero control when it comes to Mexican food…
It’s the authentic experience that spurs real learning. Stopping at a simple memorial marker opened up several lines of conversation for us. Yes, we are adults (not according to our adult children, who think we have regressed back to being teenagers). But, the same kind of simple stops engage children as well (and adults who have regressed). Make it real, make it count.
My inspiration for this blog entry came from this photograph of a fountain in Charleston, South Carolina. Fountains and pineapples seem a strange combination for authentic project ideas. But this photo could be used to inspire so many different authentic projects.
Do research about fountains. What is the history of fountains? Why do we have fountains? Why do fountains attract people? Do fountains waste water? Design a fountain. Build a working model of a fountain. Build a real fountain.
Why is there a pineapple on top of this fountain? What do pineapples signify? Where do pineapples grow? What are pineapples used for? Grow a real pineapple. Create a recipe using pineapples.
One photo, so many different authentic ways to go from one photo.
The INDEPENDENT PRESS AWARD recognized Tex the Explorer – Journey Through Our Solar System by Ellie Smith, Illustrated by Eyen Johnson, as a Distinguished Favorite in the category of Children’s Picture Books.
The competition is judged by experts from different aspects of the book industry, including publishers, writers, editors, book cover designers and professional copywriters. Selected IPA Award Winners and Distinguished Favorites are based on overall excellence.
Tex the Explorer: Journey Through Our Solar Systemcontinues the journey of Tex the Explorer. Tex is a young T-Rex. He loves to explore. For his birthday his parents gave him a rocket ship. Tex is off to explore our Solar System!
In 2022, the INDEPENDENT PRESS AWARD had entries worldwide. Authors and publishers from countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Jordan, Puerto Rico, Switzerland participated.
Tex the Explorer – Journey Through Our Solar System is available on Amazon.