Authentic Project Ideas – Ski Slopes

There are ski slopes a few blocks from our home.  We always enjoy seeing the snow on the slopes and watching the skiers racing downhill.  I tried skiing once.  I raced right down that hill.  Not because I was a natural skier, but because I had no control – could not turn, could not stop.  My cousin met me at the bottom, told me to take off my skis, and go enjoy some hot chocolate and the lodge shops.  Great advice.

So back to the purpose of this blog entry…  As I mentioned, we love to look at the snow on the slopes.  However, due to climate change, the snow is present much less than it was even a decade ago.  On average, we see snow and skiers in January through mid-March.  This is not a lot of time for the owners to make a profit on what is a very expensive business to operate.  The owners have found very creative ways to solve this problem during the ski season and during the rest of the year.

I thought it would be a great authentic project to have students look at this problem.  What could the owners do to make a profit and stay in business with the limited ski season?

*Just FYI, the property is used for concerts, chicken-wing feasts, go-carts…but I wouldn’t share this with your students.  Let them come up with their own authentic solutions. My cousin certainly had a great authentic solution for his skiing problem – that being me!

Authentic Project Ideas – Safety

I recently traveled down to Florida to visit my mother (and to defrost a little). Returning, I had to change planes in Virginia. It was late at night, I had a long walk from one terminal to another, I was tired, and I was not paying attention. I walk with a cane (balance issues). I was holding a suitcase handle in one hand, and holding my cane at an odd angle so that I could hold the handrail. I caught my cane in the bottom of the escalator while I was getting off.

The escalator immediately stopped, instantly and very smoothly. I was able to pull my cane out (no damage) and walk off with no injury except to my pride. There was one other person on the escalator, and he was not jostled at all by the smooth stop. He walked to the bottom and asked if I was alright.

There was no way for me to restart the escalator. I sat and watched for awhile out of curiosity, and within five minutes a mechanic showed up to check it out and restart it. This got me thinking about safety measures and things we build.

There are so many authentic projects that could spring from this story. Some driving questions: How do we make (fill in the blank) safer? What could be a safety problem with this machine, invention, furniture…?

If that escalator had not stopped, I think there would have been a very different ending to this story. And since authentic projects should make it real, and make it count – I think that looking at needed safety measures is as about as real as it gets.

And yes, I will pay more attention next time I am on an escalator!

Authentic Project Ideas – History of Favorite Candy

On a recent road trip through Connecticut, my husband and I ended up at the PEZ Factory. We saw the sign on the highway and decided to check it out. It is not a big factory, but they produce all the PEZ candies for the United States and Canada.

I knew nothing about PEZ, so I decided to do some research after we left the factory. It is a fascinating story about how the candy came to be.

With Halloween approaching, it may be the perfect time for authentic projects about the history of favorite candies. Another fascinating story is the history of Hershey Chocolate, including how close Milton Hershey came to being a passenger on the Titanic…before he invented Hershey Chocolate!

As always, an authentic project starts with a driving question, but can end up going in a totally different direction. What is the history of your favorite candy? A child researching the history of the Hershey Kiss may end up with a project about people who perished on the Titanic. That is authentic learning.

And as a side note, I bought a bucket of PEZ at the factory for our road trip. There were probably 300 pieces of candy in the bucket. I figured this would be a great snack for our two-week trip, a few pieces at a time. The plan worked great until my husband decided he really liked PEZ candies…

Authentic Project ideas – Types of Apples

I have recently developed a severe addiction to Honeycrisp Apples.  In a hunt for them at a local orchard, I was surprised to see how many types of apples there are.  And these are just from Pennsylvania.  How many types of apples are there?  How many occurred naturally?  How are different apples developed? 

This authentic project can start in preschool, learning about the shape and color of apples, and end in college with the study of how hybrid apples are developed.  And certainly, taste testing should be part of this project…especially of Honeycrisp Apples!  Enjoy!

Authentic Project Ideas – Boats

This is a “Paddle Wheel” Boat that runs one-hour tours on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.  While it appears that the wheel is moving the boat, in actuality the movement of the boat is turning the wheel.

So, how did Paddle Wheel Boats really work in the past?  What were other ways that people traveled by water in the past?  How do we travel by water in the present?  How do you think we will travel by water in the future?

Create an authentic time line of water travel in the past.  Create an authentic booklet.  Build an authentic model of a boat that really floats.  Design an authentic boat/ship of the future. (Can a future design be authentic?  Authentic means “make it real, make it count.”)

And if this project turns into a study of shipping companies of the past – that is authentic learning.

*On this trip we learned about a method of moving logs down the Susquehanna River in the 18th Century.  Another possible authentic area of study…

Authentic Project Ideas – Mills

The above photo is of an historic grist mill in Pennsylvania.  It still works and we bought some wonderful flour from their shop.

The mill no longer runs on water power but converted to electrical power in the 1950s.  What is the history of mills and how they ran on water power?  Are there still mills that operate solely by water power? What exactly does a mill do? What kinds of mills are there?

Create an authentic time line of mills and their use throughout history?  Create an authentic model of a mill run by water power.  Create an authentic mill that actually works!

And if this project leads to an authentic cookie bake-off using different types of flour (compare/contrast, survey, graph…) please send a sample or three my way!

Authentic Project Ideas – Supply Chain

The above photo was taken in our local car dealership earlier this week.  When we questioned why these cars were on the floor, it was explained that the cars were selling faster than they could get them, so they have no stock to display on the floor.

Currently, there is a shortage of many things.  This could lead to many driving questions and authentic projects about the supply chain. Why is there a delay getting many goods right now?

Is it a worker shortage?  Material shortage?  Shipping problems?

For younger students this could be a simple authentic project about supply and demand.  Sometimes we have to wait for what we want.  And if the supply is low the cost can be higher.

And I am still waiting for the Legos I ordered for my grandsons on Amazon a month ago!

Authentic Project Ideas – Gas Fire Pits/Fireplaces

Driving Question Number One: Why is it so difficult to photograph a flame?  Do I need a better camera?  New phone?  It took me at least 20 shots just to capture this photograph, and the flames were so much bigger and more impressive than in the photo.

Driving Question Number Two: Are gas fire pits/fireplaces good for the environment?  Are they better/worse than burning wood?  Do they cause any pollution? How economical are they?  How do they work?  There are so many questions you can ask using this picture as inspiration.

Design a gas fire pit/fireplace.  Build a model.  Build a real one!  So many authentic ways to go with this…

Authentic Project Ideas – A Photo is Worth a Thousand Poems

I love this photo.  There are so many layers to it. A river.  Trees.  Water so clear that the reflections of the trees are sharper than the actual trees in the photo.

To me this photo screams authentic poetry.  There is just something about it that begs for prose. 

As a mature (somewhat) adult I would write about the crystal clarity of the water.  Or the majesty of the trees.  As authentic means something that is meaningful to the writer, a child may write about tire swings over the water, or pushing a friend in, or fishing, or jumping off a cliff into too shallow a river – splat!

Or maybe instead of a poem, a story about exploring a lost river. Or becoming lost on a river…

I would love to hear about what your students come up with.

Authentic Project Ideas – Designing a Fountain

Fountains are very soothing to look at and add a serenity to the surrounding area.  Driving Question:  Why are fountains soothing?

This could lead to an authentic project to design a fountain and perhaps even build a working model, or a real fountain. 

Another Driving Question:  Do fountains waste water?  While the answer to this is hopefully no, this could lead to an authentic project learning about the energy a fountain does use and how to make a more energy efficient fountain. 

For younger students this project could simply be to learn about different famous fountains.  Actually, this could be a great project for older students as well. There are some very famous fountains around the world with a rich history.

Post Script – Growing up I lived near a fountain in front of a neighboring community.  My high school friends and I enjoyed putting a box of detergent in the fountain and watching it bubble up and over the fountain and then cover the nearby street with bubbles.  We were “cleaning” up our community.  Frequently!  It was the 1970s and we were before our time in developing authentic social responsibility skills by performing this community service.  Sadly, the fountain is long gone, so there will be no fifty-year reunion to clean the street again.