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
Ok, so excuse me while I sound like my grandparents (who I adored), but in my day, ski jumpers skied down a snowy hill and then jumped off of it. I have no idea what this jumper is skiing on – or how this sport works now.
So, how has ski jumping – or any sport – changed over the years? Why were the changes made? Do you feel these were changes for the better?
So many authentic projects possible. (Lots of authentic projects on safety in sports waiting to be explored.) And if anyone would like to explain to me how ski jumping now works, I would appreciate it. Oh – and in case you are wondering, I am highly unlikely to take up the sport!
This is a door in a restaurant in an old colonial era tavern in Pennsylvania. I think the counter-weight is such a cool way to close the door after people open it. (The large wood block hanging to the left of the door, with the rope leading up and over, tied to the top of the door.) It also puts some weight on the door so that it doesn’t fly open.
I was sitting and watching the door for a while – waiting for our table to be ready – and counted five people commenting on the door in fifteen minutes. So, I obviously wasn’t the only one intrigued.
So many authentic projects could be inspired by this photo. How do counter-weights work? What are other examples of counter-weights? (Check out the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland). What is the mathematical formula for this door to work? What if you put a lot more weight on the door? What if you put less weight?
And if this evolves into projects designing better doors, that’s authentic learning. (I need a door with a package door that can be opened with an electronic code to slip my packages through – I believe Amazon is already working on something like this…)
This is a photo of a birdhouse that recently caught my eye. It was very simple, with holes on each side. I don’t know a lot about birdhouses, but the holes seemed very small. I am assuming that this house was built for a particular type/size of bird. Are there bird houses built for larger birds? What is the purpose of a birdhouse?
Why do people put up birdhouses versus bird feeders?
Ideas – Do authentic research about birdhouses and bird feeders. What are the different types of birdhouses/bird feeders? Build a better birdhouse. Build a better bird feeder.
There are ski slopes a few blocks from our home. We always enjoy seeing the snow on the slopes and watching the skiers racing downhill. I tried skiing once. I raced right down that hill. Not because I was a natural skier, but because I had no control – could not turn, could not stop. My cousin met me at the bottom, told me to take off my skis, and go enjoy some hot chocolate and the lodge shops. Great advice.
So back to the purpose of this blog entry… As I mentioned, we love to look at the snow on the slopes. However, due to climate change, the snow is present much less than it was even a decade ago. On average, we see snow and skiers in January through mid-March. This is not a lot of time for the owners to make a profit on what is a very expensive business to operate. The owners have found very creative ways to solve this problem during the ski season and during the rest of the year.
I thought it would be a great authentic project to have students look at this problem. What could the owners do to make a profit and stay in business with the limited ski season?
*Just FYI, the property is used for concerts, chicken-wing feasts, go-carts…but I wouldn’t share this with your students. Let them come up with their own authentic solutions. My cousin certainly had a great authentic solution for his skiing problem – that being me!
Well, it’s a New Year, and I am back on my kick of trying to better organize my blog. Once again, I tried to break my posts down into reading, writing, math, science, social studies…. The problem (or good news) is that when you are teaching authentically, you really can’t and don’t want to separate out the academic subjects that way.
Even if you are teaching high school math, you are teaching reading, writing, science, social studies, etc., if you are teaching authentically. Make it real and make it count. And if you make it real and make it count, you are not teaching in isolation.
My husband and I were on a road trip recently, and I noticed many trucks on the road. We live in Central Pennsylvania and we are a cross-through from New York to every point south and west. So, we get allot of trucks on our highways. Tons! Too many – ok my fault, as I am the best on-line shopping customer in Central Pennsylvania, so according to my husband, those trucks were all headed to our house…
Watching all of the trucks, I was thinking about the supply chain problems and what a great authentic project that would be…as a social studies project – truck drivers and their jobs. But, it is also math – the cost of shipping by truck, the cost of the supply chain backlog. And it is science – perhaps inventing a more efficient truck, or self-driving truck. And it is reading – reading about the supply chain issues. And writing – writing about possible solutions.
I also am not going to try to sort my blog into projects by different age groups. The supply chain project would be perfect for Kindergarten – why there is a shortage of some items in stores and on-line. And it is perfect up through college – why there is a shortage of some items in stores and on-line.
So, I will start off the New Year by not messing with my blog, and just wishing everyone a happy and authentic 2022!
This is a photograph of one of my favorite wreaths, as it is figuratively and literally a “think outside of the box” wreath. And teaching authentically is definitely thinking outside of the box, or in this case, thinking outside of the circle!
A Happy Holiday Season to all and a Happy New Year! Thank you for allowing me into your lives to share a little bit of what I know about teaching, education, and what works!
I recently traveled down to Florida to visit my mother (and to defrost a little). Returning, I had to change planes in Virginia. It was late at night, I had a long walk from one terminal to another, I was tired, and I was not paying attention. I walk with a cane (balance issues). I was holding a suitcase handle in one hand, and holding my cane at an odd angle so that I could hold the handrail. I caught my cane in the bottom of the escalator while I was getting off.
The escalator immediately stopped, instantly and very smoothly. I was able to pull my cane out (no damage) and walk off with no injury except to my pride. There was one other person on the escalator, and he was not jostled at all by the smooth stop. He walked to the bottom and asked if I was alright.
There was no way for me to restart the escalator. I sat and watched for awhile out of curiosity, and within five minutes a mechanic showed up to check it out and restart it. This got me thinking about safety measures and things we build.
There are so many authentic projects that could spring from this story. Some driving questions: How do we make (fill in the blank) safer? What could be a safety problem with this machine, invention, furniture…?
If that escalator had not stopped, I think there would have been a very different ending to this story. And since authentic projects should make it real, and make it count – I think that looking at needed safety measures is as about as real as it gets.
And yes, I will pay more attention next time I am on an escalator!
Peggy and I are very excited to announce the publication of One School’s Journey – Further Down the Path.
One School’s Journey – Further Down the Pathis the continuation of the story started in the award-winning book One School’s Journey, about an elementary school in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. Learning to teach authentically using projects, even virtually, is chronicled by two authors – a teacher and the school’s principal.
This book includes additional insight and information about teaching authentically and the use of authentic projects with diverse learners at all age levels. The authors’ experiences that teaching authentically is the best way to engage and teach students has been re-enforced by the success of the school’s staff and students as they travel further down this path.
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about a visit to the PEZ Factory and how a fun authentic project might be about the history of favorite candies. I mentioned that Milton Hershey was almost a passenger on the Titanic, and a student might end up doing a project about those who perished on the Titanic. So, how does a teacher keep control of a project if students end up following different paths of interest. The key is for the teacher to have very clear objectives and goals before the driving question/authentic project is introduced.
For example, if your goal is to teach time lines, then the history of a candy is a perfect project. And if a student decides to research the Titanic, there is a fascinating time line to create for that.
With very clear goals, it is not that difficult to incorporate a student’s interests and authentic discoveries into the project.
And if you read my blog a few weeks ago, my time line shows how long it took my husband to discover he liked PEZ candies and how long it took him to eat a bucket full of them…