Authentic Project Idea – Building a Bird Feeder


There are so many authentic projects that can be inspired by bird feeders.  Do different kinds of birds need different kinds of feeders? Do different kinds of birds eat different kinds of bird food?  Once you start feeding birds it is important to not stop.  Why?  How about designing and building a bird feeder?  (Research/reading, writing, math, science…)

In my neighborhood we have a huge problem with bears feeding from the bird feeders.  To the point that we have been asked to not put out bird feeders.

So maybe a great authentic project would be to design a bear-proof bird feeder.  Let me know what you come up with –  I would love to be able to put up a bird feeder in my backyard!


Authentic Teaching: Same Inspiration – Different Projects


On a road trip recently, my husband and I passed a mountain range covered with wind turbines.  They were actually quite beautiful and engaging to watch.  I stopped to photograph them and started to think about all of the different authentic projects they could inspire.  Building a model demonstrating how wind turbines work. Exploring other sources of unlimited energy.  Learning about some of the problems with the turbines.  Proposing solutions for these problems. Controversies?  Other sources of unlimited energy…  Sources of limited energy…

I then remembered a beautiful quilt that a friend of mine had made of wind turbines.  Yes, it is an unusual quilt, she does unusual work!  So, the wind turbines inspired her to create a work of art.  Which then led to other quilts showing different sources of energy, and her most unusual quilt to date, toxic waste drums – it is an absolutely gorgeous and unique quilt.

We have always allowed adults to take a topic and run with it.  Not only in art, but in science, math, business…  Actually, this is encouraged in places that value creative thinking.  Shouldn’t educators be encouraging the same thing?

We are educating children for jobs that don’t even exist yet.  They will work in environments, doing jobs, that we probably can’t even imagine.  Ingenuity and creative thinking will be mandatory for them to prosper.  So, shouldn’t we be not only letting children, but encouraging them to look at something and explore it in a way that is meaningful to them.  Look at a question or a problem, and then tackle it with as much creativity, and divergent thinking as they possibly can?  Take the road less traveled.  Diverge, create, branch off, discover, explore…Authentic Learning.

WindMillsEnergy copyQuilt by Chris Staver

Budgeting for Materials for Projects


While students should be encouraged to find what they need for projects, focusing on creativity, using recyclables etc, sometimes something is needed that has to be purchased.  There are so many authentic lessons that can be included in this process.  Giving students a budget to work with is not only a great way to use and reinforce math, it also makes students aware of what they are spending, what they really need, and creative ways to get what they need.

When building dioramas, several fourth graders were adamant that they needed modeling clay.  We approached this by telling them that the teachers were willing to put up $10 to buy clay.  $10 for the entire class.  The students searched on line and realized that even finding the best price, that was not a lot of clay for 30 students.  After some discussion and problem solving, the kids decided to make their own clay. They still needed to buy materials to make clay, but the $10 provided by teachers was more than enough to get the materials they needed.

The authentic experience even moved into the science of color mixing as they bought food coloring to dye the clay the colors they needed. And it also moved into the authentic discussion of, and research about, what was the best laundry detergent to try to get red food coloring out of my white skirt.  Sigh…

Tex the Explorer: Journey to Mars Wins Sixth Award


Tex the Explorer: Journey to Mars just won its sixth award!

2019 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards Winner
2019 Independent Press Award® Distinguished Favorite
2018 Chanticleer International Book Awards Shortlist
2018 Story Monsters Approved
2018 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards Winner
2018 Mom’s Choice Awards® Silver Recipient

Tex the Explorer: Journey to Mars by Ellie Smith, Illustrated by Eyen Johnson, is available on Amazon.

Museums as a Resource – You Just Never Know What Might Inspire a Project


As I mentioned in another blog, typically we take students on an end-of-unit field trip to see what we just finished learning about.  However, places like museums are really a fantastic jumping off point for the start of a project. (Field trips in general are fantastic starting points for projects.)  The students certainly need some framework before they visit a museum.  But beyond an introductory lesson, the museum itself can be the inspiration for an authentic project.

You never know what that inspiration might be.  Years ago, I took a group of students to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.  Air and Space is my all-time favorite museum!  I could not wait to share all of the amazing exhibits with my students.  So, what were they most taken with?  The super powerful air hand-dryer in the restroom and the futuristic trash compacting-machine in the snack bar.  That is what got their attention. That is what blew them away.  The automatic machines in the restroom and snack bar.

Initially, I tried to redirect them back to the museum, but then realized I had an authentic experience in the making. So, I let them continue to sit by the trash can and watch people throw their trash in.  And I let them make many trips to the restroom to wash and dry their hands.  And they went back to school and started to work on proposals and designs for more cool futuristic machines.  Reading, writing, math…

So, museums are fantastic authentic resources for projects, you just never know what the inspiration/project might be!