Authentic Project Ideas – The Northern Lights

I am just fascinated by the Northern Lights.  I would love to see them some day.  We came close recently in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but we were a few days late and fifty miles away from a dark enough area.

There are so many authentic projects I can think of about the Northern Lights.  As an adult learner, I need to do a lot more research about what causes them and where is the best place to see them. 

For older students I can imagine authentic projects about the atmosphere, geography, solar phenomenon, magnetic fields, latitude, longitude… and unlimited art projects involving color.

For younger students I can imagine all of the above on a simpler level, depending on the age group and abilities being worked with.

BTW, the above photo was taken by a friend of mine in northern Wisconsin.  I am so jealous!

Authentic Project Ideas – Making Maple Syrup

We recently attended a spring Maple Harvest Festival near our home in Pennsylvania.  It was great fun, especially the part where you eat pancakes with the maple syrup on them!

So how is maple syrup made?  How are trees tapped for the syrup?  Then what happens?

How else can you make maple syrup?  Does the syrup from trees taste better than the artificial type? (No such thing as a dumb question – that was a dumb question.)

What other foods/products do we get from trees?  Create a booklet, a chart, a display… Actually make the product.

And if this project turns into an authentic project about harvesting trees for lumber and the impact on the environment, that is authentic learning.

Tex the Explorer and The Jared Box Project

Eyen and I are thrilled to announce the publication of our latest book, Tex the Explorer and The Jared Box Project.

Tex is a young T-Rex.  He loves to explore.  For his birthday, his parents gave him a scooter.
Tex is off to explore his neighborhood – or so he thought! This book tells the story of Tex and his introduction to The Jared Box Project.

The Jared Box Project was started in 2001 by the children of Our Lady of Victory School in State College, Pennsylvania, to honor their classmate and friend, Jared. Jared McMullen was a brave little boy who battled cancer. He carried a backpack full of toys and games to all of his appointments and questioned why the other children didn’t bring toys to their exam rooms. Jared shared his toys with the other children. He demonstrated faith, wisdom, and compassion for others.

For over 20 years, Jared Boxes have delivered countless smiles, laughter, and hope to children in hospitals across the country. Since then, more than one million Jared Boxes have been delivered to over 475 hospitals across the United States and in other countries.

The mission of The Jared Box Project is to entertain and put a smile on the faces of children in the hospital. A Jared Box is a “gift of play,” a plastic shoebox filled with small gifts, toys, cards, games, crayons, coloring books, and other fun activities.

The Jared Box Project is a “give local” project. Thousands of groups have made and delivered Jared Boxes to hospitals in their communities. Children and their parents are so thankful for these boxes that showcase the importance of play and are filled with well wishes, hope, and love. Join us. Make some Jared Boxes for the children in your local hospital. Bring on the smiles!

Tex the Explorer and The Jared Box Project is available on Amazon.

This book has been donated to the Jared Box Project By Ellie, Eyen, and Tex.

For more information visit

Authentic Project Ideas – Mountains

We live in the Appalachian Mountains which I think are so impressive and beautiful.  That was until we went to Colorado and saw the Rockies.
I thought of so many authentic project ideas when I saw the Rockies.
Why are the western United States mountains so much bigger than the eastern United States mountains?  How did mountains form?  Are they still forming/changing?  Where are the biggest mountains in the world?
I am not crazy about heights, but planning on taking a train to the top of Pike’s Peak the next time we are in Colorado.  I’ll let you know how that goes!

Authentic Project Ideas – Rock Formations

This is a rock formation in Colorado Springs.  When I first saw it I thought it was an old castle.  There is actually another formation called Castlerock. 
How did this form?  What kind of rock is it?  What will it look like in the future? 
I am actually going to do my own authentic project and research, and make a scrapbook page of all of the rock formations I saw in Colorado. It will be a very big scrapbook!

Tex the Explorer: Journey to the Oceans

So proud of Tex the Explorer: Journey to the Oceans.
This book just won its seventh award! The book was inspired by my mother’s love of the oceans, so it is very appropriate that the first award it received was from Mom’s Choice Awards®.

2022 Mom’s Choice Awards® Silver Recipient
2022 Chanticleer International Book Awards Finalist
2022 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards Winner
2022 Story Monsters Approved®
2023 indieBRAG® Medallion Winner
2023 Independent Press Award® Distinguished Favorite
2023 Book Excellence Award Finalist

Available on Amazon.

Authentic Project Ideas – Solving One Problem, Creating Another

On a recent drive with my husband, we saw wind turbines on a mountain ridge. He mentioned that he had talked to our local government about whether they would ever put up wind turbines on the mountains in our area, and they said they would not. This surprised me, but the reason they gave him made a lot of sense. Our mountain ridges are major migratory routes for several types of birds. Putting up wind turbines would disrupt the migration pattern.

And now we have questions about wind turbines and the possible connections to whale deaths.

By late elementary school, students are old enough to grapple with problems like this. Why do we care if we disrupt a migration route for a bird? Should we care? When we think we are doing something good for our environment, do we sometimes end up creating another, or even worse, problem? Lots of driving questions, lots of possible authentic projects.

Lots of authentic ways to incorporate reading, writing, math, science, social studies, art…

Authentic Project Ideas – Zoos

We just visited the most fantastic zoo I have ever seen, the Cheyenne Zoo in Colorado Springs.

I am not usually a zoo fan. My childhood memories are of animals in captivity that did not seem happy. Fortunately, today most zoos are about conservation and humane treatment of animals. The Cheyenne Zoo was amazing, not only because of the way the animals were treated, but because of the interaction between the visitors and animals, and the beautiful setting of the zoo.

What is the history of zoos (depending on the age of your students: the good, the bad, and the ugly)? Why do we have zoos today? What do good zoos hope to accomplish? Design a zoo. Write goals for your zoo. Figure out what kind of food, and how much food each animal needs. So many authentic ways to teach reading, writing, math, social studies, and science…

And just so you know – giraffes have the grossest tongues in the world! I know because I feed several, and it was very gross, and super cool! And there was a sink nearby to wash your hands afterwards…

Authentic Project Ideas – Volcanoes

This is a real photo! I took this photo! We just returned from Hawaii where we stayed at Volcano House, a hotel on the edge of the Kilauea Volcano. When my husband first suggested we stay on the edge of an active volcano, I thought he was crazy. And then when I learned that the volcano was currently erupting, I knew he was crazy.

I learned so much about volcanos and volcanism, and why the Hawaiian volcanoes are not dangerous. There is enough information out there to keep a student busy and involved in authentic projects about volcanoes for a life time.

Many students have done the quintessential project of building a model of a volcano erupting. But do they truly understand what they are modeling? What causes volcanoes to erupt? Why are some volcanoes active while others are dormant? Why do some erupt violently while others, like the Hawaiian volcanoes, do not? For a project to be truly authentic, students need to ask questions and plan research to answer their questions. Building a model of an erupting volcano is a lot of fun, but is this really an authentic learning activity. (Perhaps it is, if you are including learning about chemistry. Or, how to clean up a huge mess cooperatively.)

I was truly fascinated to learn why some of the Hawaiian islands are dormant while others are not. There is even a new island forming in the Hawaiian chain. You can’t book your hotel room on the new island quite yet…it won’t break the surface of the Pacific Ocean for another 10,000 years! I am on the waiting list…