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Authentic Project Ideas – Alligators

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First of all, let me just state, that my husband took this photo in Everglades National Park in South Florida and I think he was way too close to that gator!   (OK…he was on an official park tour and the guide told them how close they could get…and he followed all the rules…and Great-Grandma was with him…but…Are You Kidding Me!)

That being said, I tend to get most of my blog ideas from photos that either I have taken, or that family members or friends give me.  It is amazing how many ideas you can get from a photo.  If you think about it, photos are visual memories of what we have seen and done.  I really don’t think I would come up with a quarter of the ideas I have without looking at photos.

So when I saw this photo (after my initial horror) I thought about all the interesting authentic projects you could do about alligators.  Basic facts about alligators. How they live.  Where they live.  What they eat…

Their history in South Florida has been one of near extinction to the re-population of the species.  How was this accomplished?  Why was this important?  Most people react to gators the way I do.  Why do we care if a species like the alligator becomes extinct?  (Great authentic lessons here about humanity, ecosystems, and the interdependency of species.)

How is an alligator different from a crocodile?  Where are alligators found?  Crocodiles?

Lots of ways to go with this…and just remember…snap that picture and run!

Covering Academic Skills Through Projects

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I was finished posting my weekly Saturday blog when I started to scroll down and look at all of the posts on my blog.  I was thinking that perhaps I should refine my menu, and file the posts under whether they focused on reading, writing, math, science, social studies…

Then I realized that is exactly what you want to avoid in authentic teaching and learning.  Projects start with a driving question or a prompt, and then they go from there.  One of the most important parts of authentic teaching is to listen to your students, pay attention to what they are saying, and give some gentle guidance and suggestions as to what path they might follow to accomplish their goals.  (And also accomplish your own goals as well.)  A good project often includes all academic skills – certainly reading for research, writing notes and/or presentations, math calculations/graphs…

There was not one project that I worked on with students, that I wasn’t surprised at the end, at how many academic goals we were able to accomplish within the project.  And I was also surprised, as I evaluated what we had accomplished, at how much coffee I had consumed to keep up with our students as they authentically explored and grew as learners.  It was impressive!

Authentic Project Ideas – The Power of Advertising

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Advertising is a very powerful tool.  Not only would it be a great authentic project for students to learn about how advertisements are created, but also how we are influenced by ads.

Ads are created to hit an emotional response in us. We need that, we want that, we will be better people if we have that.  (Will we really?)

With one project I was involved with, the third graders wrote, created props, and filmed ads to convince other students in our school to come see their projects.  The ads were filmed on a teacher’s cell phone and shared with other classes.  This was a tremendous authentic learning experience on so many levels, and an off-shoot from the original project that we hadn’t planned on.

And does advertising work…well while watching the Alamo Bowl with my husband (it seems the only channels my television got during December/January had college football games on them) I saw one ad after another for visiting San Antonio, Texas.  And guess where my photo above was recently taken!

Authentic Project Ideas – Cleaning Up Our Oceans

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OK…time for a break from the snow blogs!  It’s a tad hard this time of year to think about anything else, but perhaps if I write about warmer climates, I’ll defrost a little!

There are some really exciting groups doing some very innovative things to clean up our oceans.  The problem is huge and overwhelming, and it is hard to fathom that one group can make a difference, but every step in the right direction does make a difference.

It would be a wonderful authentic project to do some research about our oceans, the groups that are doing things to clean up our oceans, and perhaps think about a new innovative way to make a difference.  Even having a bake sale and donating the money to a group that is helping to clean up our oceans would be a great authentic project.

Authentic learning does not need to involve a huge project to be authentic.  And a project to help solve a problem does not need to be huge to make a difference!

 

Authentic Project Ideas – Snowflakes

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How do snowflakes form?  Are no two snowflakes really alike?  How in the world can you actually see the details of a snowflake?  Won’t it melt when you look at it? How in the world do you get a snowflake under a microscope?  (And I guess you need a better camera than on my cell phone to photograph a snowflake…I gave up!)

And if this turns into a craft project creating paper snowflakes, maybe discussing multiplication after each cut – if I cut one shape into four folds, what is the multiplication problem and how many shapes did I cut – mores the better!

Oh…and whose paw prints are in the snow on my patio?  (Another authentic project – classifying paw prints!)

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*This was my snowflake photo…you can see why I gave up!

Authentic Project Ideas – Snow

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What causes snow?  How does snow form?  At what temperature does snow form?

Rain, freezing rain, ice, snow…what happens to cause each of these?

Are there different types of snow? What are the best conditions to build a snowman?

These prompts could also lead to authentic projects about how artificial ice and snow are made?  Maybe even the creation of a working model artificial ice rink or ski slope…

Or…how is snow made for all the holiday specials on television when it snows exactly when the script says it should?

I live in a northern climate and absolutely love the snow.  Snow means hot chocolate, warm fireplaces, and catching up on my reading!

 

Authentic Learning – Measuring Snowfall

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Not everything needs to be a big project to be authentic.  Tracking snowfall can be a great authentic way to learn measurement and graphing.

Use a ruler to go out and measure how much snow is on the ground after a snow fall.  Track measurements through one storm, or through the entire winter season. Create a graph with your results. Discuss different types of graphs and what graph would make the most sense to use and why.  If you are in the US, have your students measure using both inches and centimeters.  (If you don’t have snow where you live – count yourself fortunate – you can measure rainfall.)

Working with a group of fifth graders, I had them measure paper to cover bulletin boards.  These kids had completed hundreds of worksheets on measurement, yet none of them were comfortable using a ruler. Not one of them knew how to approach measuring a bulletin board – after completing hundreds of worksheets!  Basically, these worksheets had been a total waste of time.  Using a ruler to measure something meaningful and real – authentic –  internalizes the skill for a child.