I recently ate at a restaurant which was decorated with ukuleles. I really know very little about ukuleles. Where were they invented? Where are they popular? What is the difference between a ukulele and a guitar? Do they tend to be played for a specific kind of music?
Projects could include a timeline history of the ukulele. Perhaps comparing and contrasting string instruments. Building a string instrument. Learning to play a string instrument. Writing music for a string instrument. Performing on a string instrument. Researching the history of the flute – remember for true authentic learning, the project is driven by student interest. If your student is not interested in ukuleles, this can be a jumping off point for another musical instrument. If this leads to a discussion about marching bands, which leads to a discussion about football, which leads to a project about football…that is authentic learning!
When I first started writing this blog, I had links to several kids’ sites that had a lot of great information. However, the more I wrote, the more uncomfortable I became with just providing these links. In authentic teaching and learning, you want the student to own their research. Providing links to educational sites, even wonderful sites, takes that ownership away from the student. Ownership is a HUGE part of authentic learning. And students finding their own information on line is part of that ownership. Even the youngest students can be guided through the steps to find good information on line.
So, after much deliberation, I took the blogs with the links off of my site. It just seemed like it made it too easy, it took the ownership, and excitement, of finding a good source of information away from the kids. Honestly, some of the best sites I knew about were sites my students had found themselves, and introduced me to. Like some really, really phenomenal sites!
Kids do, of course, need guidance and often need help to find the information they need for a project. They need to be taught how to evaluate the source of their information. Also, be careful to look at what they have found. Many sites, even with the best of intentions, dumb down their material. Finding a site about space that has games where you are simply blowing up aliens to score points does not teach a child about space. (It doesn’t teach math either, contrary to what some of these sites claim.)
I have found that government agencies usually have great kids’ sites as part of their website. For example, go to a government site for weather, and you are bound to find a great website for educators and kids. Many universities also have great education sites on many topics.
If you and/or your students are really stuck finding some good sites for information for a project, please email me through this blog. As I have stated often, I am passionate about authentic learning, and am happy to help out.
Student Designed and Constructed Artifact Display
One of the most important goals of teaching authentically is to have the student own the project or experience. So, the very last thing that you would want to do is to buy expensive kits or materials. As a matter of fact, you really don’t want to purchase anything. The whole point is to have the student explore something and come up with their own approach and materials for the project.
While working on the Martian Colony Project we supplied nothing beyond standard classroom supplies. The kids found most of the materials they needed for the project. Most were recyclables and discarded items from around the house. We had an unlimited supply of cardboard boxes (most with the Amazon Logo on the side – no shortage of those). Lots of aluminum foil (for an outer-space look). Cardboard rolls, empty cans, newspapers, magazines, buttons…you name it and the kids found it. They were constantly researching (reading), planning (writing), and designing (math); figuring out creative ways to build what they wanted for the colony.
The creativity was amazing, the research was outstanding, the academic growth was huge. The concepts were internalized and owned by the students. The experience was authentic.
One School’s Journey was written for educators. The goal of writing One School’s Journey was to not only document what we had accomplished at our school, but to inspire educators to use authentic teaching.
When I think about parenting, there are a lot of things we talked about in One School’s Journey that can also be applied to parenting. Children develop best when in authentic situations. When children are treated as individuals who can make decisions, learn, and grow – with guidance and support – they prosper. So, while One School’s Journey was written for educators, we think it is a worthwhile read for parents as well. After all, a huge part of parenting is being an educator! And it’s free on Kindle Unlimited!
One School’s Journey by Eleanor K. Smith and Margaret Pastor. Available on Amazon
There are two basic types of resources: information students need, and materials students need. As educators, we frequently view ourselves as the supplier of these resources. A good teacher is prepared, correct? But spending our time locating the resources students need, and gathering materials for them is really taking away from their authentic experience. Even the youngest students can come up with ideas on how to find information and materials needed. And if the whole point of authentic learning is to get children ready for a future that we can’t even imagine, then they need to be able to find the resources they need, and put those resources to use.
That doesn’t mean a good teacher isn’t prepared. A good teacher is like the manager in a store. You make sure your store is fully stocked. You know what is in the store and where everything is at. You know what you want to sell. You train your staff how to function in your store. You set the tone for the staff (working together, helping each other). You provide direction. You have very specific goals. And then you let the staff do their jobs in the store.
When I started to write the above analogy, I was using a salesperson and a customer in the store. However, I realized that students are really more like staff, if you are functioning authentically. A good store manager wants to make it easy for the buyer to purchase something. That is not the goal of authentic teaching. The goal is that each staff member learns, grows, has great ideas to improve the store, owns their job…and someday takes over the store – so the manager can retire and move to Fiji!
I live about four hours from Washington, D.C. The city is full of wonderful monuments for just about anything and everything. Some are fascinating, some are informative, some entertaining, and many extremely solemn.
Behind every monument is a story. I have had the privilege to travel and visit many countries, and the one thing that all countries have are monuments. And every monument tells a story.
Monuments could definitely inspire an authentic project. A monument might inspire a student to research more about the person or event that the monument honors. It might inspire a project about constructing monuments. Or it might inspire a student created monument to a person or event that a student wishes to honor. Lots of jumping off points.
*If you look closely at the picture of the Washington Monument at the bottom of this blog, you will notice the color of the stone changes about one-third of the way up…Why? Interesting authentic story to research…
A friend of mine recently sent me a text from a day trip to Washington, D.C. It was one of our first beautiful spring days and she had gone down to enjoy the spring flowers.
I had just finished two blog posts that needed pictures from Washington. I asked her if she could take a picture of the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Castle. As an afterthought, I asked for pictures of other Washington icons.
She was not able to get the two pictures I needed. (Oh well, guess I will need to grab the husband and make the four-hour trip from Pennsylvania down to Washington to get the photos…and go out to lunch, do some shopping…) However, looking at the gorgeous pictures she did send me, I immediately had ideas for several future blog posts. The pictures were total authentic inspirations. And, of course, my hope is that my blog inspires authentic teaching and projects.
Then it dawned on me, looking at the pictures, that perhaps we do field trips with children backwards. I did the majority of my teaching career in the Maryland suburbs of Washington. We frequently took field trips to iconic D.C. places at the end of units of study. The thought was that at that point, the kids would have plenty of background knowledge and would benefit the most from the field trips. But authentic projects should start from an inspiration. The kids were the most engaged when something real inspired them, and then they took the project from there.
So maybe instead of waiting until nearly the end of a unit of study to take kids on a trip to see what they were actually learning about, we should take kids on trips to see what inspires them, and then start the authentic learning from there.