A simple question or picture can lead to a huge project. My Martian Colony Project (all school year for four years) started with a NASA video. But authentic teaching doesn’t always lead to a project and that is fine. Authentic teaching sometimes means a student answers a question and then moves on. You can’t force that spark of interest that becomes an authentic project.
The above photo is of Haleakala Crater on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. Research about what caused this crater and how the Hawaiian Islands formed (and are still forming) might lead to a short project, a huge project, or no project at all. As long as students are researching and learning, that is all that matters.
A really important teaching strategy we learned early in our journey with authentic teaching was not to answer student questions. If a student asked how the Hawaiian Islands formed, we did not simply give them an answer. Very little learning takes place when students are simply given answers. We usually responded with, “That is a great question! Where do you think we can find information about that?” We would then guide them to a good starting place for research. This is one of the most important skills we can give students today. Students no longer need to memorize facts and answers to questions. Everything we need to know is literally at our fingertips – on our cell phones! What students need to know is how to go about finding the information they want and then what they should do with that information.
Where would be a good place to look for information about how the Hawaiian Islands formed? That is a great question! Let me know what you find out! And let me know if this becomes a starting point for an authentic project…
I live in the Eastern United States. My husband is from the Western United States. He has always laughed at the “hills” we call “mountains” on the east coast. The mountains out west do put our eastern mountain ranges to shame.
So why are some mountains bigger than others? How do mountains form? How do scientists know this? What kind(s) of scientists study mountain formation?
And this makes me crazy – why do the leaves at the bottom of our local mountains lose their leaves in the fall before the leaves at the top of our mountains? Isn’t it colder on the top? Isn’t that why trees lose their leaves? I think I am going to find out exactly what kind of trees we have that are doing this, do some research, and create a book to explain this! (Yep – I started with a picture of a mountain and now I am writing a book about a specific tree and how and when it loses leaves in the fall – that is called an authentic project!)
A picture is worth a thousand words. I can think of so many different authentic projects that this picture might inspire! Why would someone want to make snow? What would you do with man-made snow? How do you make snow? What do you need to make snow? What is the chemical composition of man-made snow and does this differ from “real” snow? How does man-made snow impact the environment? What did they do in Olympic games of the past if it didn’t snow and we didn’t know how to make snow…was this ever a problem? What sports are played in/on the snow? (Remember for real authentic teaching go with student interest – go with the snow flow!)
All of these questions and more can lead to an authentic project. And if a student builds a snow maker in the middle of your classroom or living room…send pictures!
I just returned from a trip out to Los Angeles. While there I took this picture of the city from one of the highways. When I looked at the picture later, I was shocked that I managed to capture an LA highway with only two cars on it. We were totally surrounded by traffic, so I have no idea how I managed this picture! (“Twilight Zone” moment.)
Los Angeles has some of the worst, if not worst traffic in the United States. There are many cities around the world, including LA, that are on the verge of total gridlock. So, not only would a great authentic project be for students to start to think of creative ways to solve these traffic nightmares, it will most likely be one of our current young students who ends up helping to solve this problem as an adult.
Mass transit, tele-commuting, self-driven cars, monorails, flying cars… Ideas? Plans? Diagrams? Models?
We are currently experiencing some of the coldest weather that I can ever remember. Our high today was 9 degrees Fahrenheit/-12 degrees Celsius. The meteorologists on The Weather Channel blamed a polar vortex. What is a polar vortex? What causes a polar vortex? Can you draw a polar vortex? Make a model? Does a polar vortex start at the North Pole? South Pole?
Do dark colors keep you warmer than light colors? Why? Can you design a winter coat that will keep you warm in extremely cold weather? (For authentic learning, go with student interest! If your student is not interested in the weather, maybe you can get them interested in clothes and fashion for cold weather. If they are reading, writing, and doing math, that is all that matters!)
And if you don’t see another blog post from me for awhile, my fingers froze to the keyboard and I am waiting to defrost!
Eyen read our book Tex the Explorer: Journey to Mars to a preschool class today. They are studying space. How cool is that!
I am very excited to announce that One School’s Journey made Chanticleer International Award’s Shortlist for Instruction and Insight Books. I am so very proud of this book and honored to be on this list.
One School’s Journey tells the story of the discovery and use of authentic projects to reach and teach students. While offering procedure, guidance, and examples, this is not a book of lesson plans. Our bias is that for true authentic teaching you cannot follow someone else’s lesson plans. Authentic projects come from the heart and are adapted to meet the needs and interests of students. Our hope is that the reader will find inspiration from what we discovered as we set down the path to authentic teaching and learning.
One School’s Journey by Eleanor K. Smith and Margaret Pastor is available for free on Kindle Unlimited. It is also available in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon.