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
I have written about this story before, but it is so important to me that I feel I should repeat it at the holiday season.
When I was about 11 or 12 years old, my great-grandfather gave me face powder as a holiday gift. He was in his 90s and had no idea that pre-teen girls didn’t wear face powder. After he left, I expressed my disappointment to my mother, in tears – my usual mode of pre-teen communication. Instead of lecturing me that I should be grateful or telling me I was spoiled etc, my mother agreed that this was not a great gift for a girl my age. She didn’t offer to replace it, instead she suggested we find an older woman who might not be getting gifts for the holidays, and donate this to her. After some discussion, my mother, brothers, and I decided to find an entire family that we could donate gifts to for the holidays.
This was before the internet, and giving-trees etc, and it was actually not easy to find out how to accomplish this. But my mother persevered, and we found a family in need, bought and wrapped gifts, and delivered them to the family – including the face powder that started this all.
We continued this throughout my entire childhood, and as adults have all continued this tradition with our own families. I can’t imagine a holiday season where giving to some one in need isn’t a part of it. It is definitely my favorite part of the holidays.
So authentic project idea – brainstorm with your class, children, family a way to give back this holiday season. Something as simple as a home-made card can really brighten up someone’s holiday.
We recently took our grandchildren out to breakfast. We were waiting for our food when a robot appeared to deliver food to the next table. Needless to say, our grandchildren were thrilled, and I was immediately writing a blog post in my head!
There are so many authentic project ideas I can think of that involve robots. Reading about robots, writing a proposal for a robot, designing a robot, building a robot…
A topic we have discussed a great deal within my family, is how the pandemic and the current labor shortage has pushed the use of robots a decade or more ahead. It was inevitable, but the use of robots has definitely accelerated. Is this all a good thing? What are the positive aspects of this? What are the negative?
So much to authentically think about, research, debate…
And sadly, our food was delivered by a human, much to the disappointment of our grandchildren.
I can not think of one good reason why anyone would want to do an authentic project about snakes. I can’t even think of a good authentic project about snakes! I don’t care why we need snakes. I don’t care how they contribute to a balanced ecosystem. I don’t care if they fascinate many students and would be a great authentic project for them to work on…learning about what snakes contribute, learning about types of snakes, poisonous snakes, big snakes, little snakes… I don’t care that a great driving question would be, “Why are so many people afraid of snakes?”
Eyen and I are so honored to have been asked to write a book about The Jared Box Project. This is an amazing group that donated boxes of games, toys, etc to children in the hospital. They have donated over a million boxes to over 400 hospitals in the United States and also internationally.
As I have mentioned before, I started this blog as a way to get my books “out there” on the web. I had never even read a blog before, but the folks in my 55+ community told me I had to have a presence on the web for my books. Then the blog took on a life of its own and became a way for me to continue to promote authentic teaching and learning.
One of the concerns that teachers have is how to handle a huge authentic project on top of everything that they are already required to do. I can’t emphasize enough that you start small and take it from there. Many authentic projects are short, sweet, and accomplish their goal of engaging students without a lot of fuss. Some simply don’t work – time to move on. And some take over your life. The Martian Colony Project I worked on in 5th grade did just that. When that happens it actually becomes easier to incorporate your curriculum goals and objects as the project is so big you have everything happening right in front of you!
My books started as a deal I made with my illustrator, Eyen, to write a book together once he was an adult. We made this deal when he was in 5th grade. This was an authentic project that has engaged me and taught me so many things as an adult learner. I had no idea it would become this big. I had no idea we would publish five books together, with the Jared Box Book being number six – and more planned. I had no idea I would publish two books about teaching authentically with my principal, Peggy. I had no idea I would write a blog – I had no idea what a blog was!
When I retired, I wanted to stay mentally active. I wanted to stay involved in promoting authentic learning. I wanted to continue to help others and volunteer. Oh, and I wanted to explore unique craft stores and boutiques.
Being involved in the authentic project of writing books with Peggy and Eyen has accomplished all of that – even the shopping part – explained below! I never planned for things to happen this way, but I payed attention to opportunity and walked through doors as they opened for me. I didn’t get up one morning and decide to write seven – and counting – books. I made a deal with a fifth grader over a decade ago, and here we are! A real authentic project with students should start just like that. Have a driving question or goal, start out small, pay attention to opportunity, see where it takes you.
So Eyen and I are now working on our book for the Jared Box Project. I am honestly overwhelmed by this opportunity, in a good way! I would have been overwhelmed in a bad way if this had been a goal of mine a decade ago, or if the opportunity had presented itself before now. But this had been a long a winding word to get to this point, full of so many amazing authentic teaching and learning experiences.
Eyen and I will be donating the book to The Jared Box Project, and we both feel blessed to have this opportunity. And I have become hooked and making Jared Boxes – hence the shopping part – so much fun.
Our goal is have the book out by the end of next summer. Stay tuned. And meanwhile, check out The Jared Box Project !
This is my son-in-law’s dog Mollie. She loves to spend time up in Pennsylvania with us, as she much prefers the retirement life to her life at home with two toddlers! When my husband walks her, he always gets asked the same question, “What kind of dog is she?” We are pretty sure she is part bull dog, but not sure what the other part is.
There are so many authentic projects that learners could do about dogs. How many types of breeds are there? How can you tell what breed a dog is? What have dogs been used for historically? When did they become family pets?
And if a learner wants to do a project about cats instead, that is what authentic learning is all about. (And before I met Mollie, I wondered why everyone just didn’t have a cat.) There is another authentic project, dogs versus cats! Why are people “dog people?” Why are people “cat people?” What is the ratio of dogs to cats as pets?
*We asked our daughter if she ever was going to do genetic testing to see what type of dog Mollie actually is, and the answer was, “No, she is a dog.” (Translation…$$ not happening.)
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!