Authentic Project Ideas – Planting Trees

Teaching our children that they can make an authentic difference is something that I think is really important. There are so many current problems we have on our planet. And it can seem like, “why bother,” we really can’t make a difference. But we can! If everyone just tried to make a bit of a difference, think of the changes that we could make.

Our planet desperately needs trees planted. There are many, many groups that are planting trees. A great authentic project would be to learn why we need trees, what we use trees for, what are all the different types of trees… Then involving our students in either planting trees, or fundraising for groups that are planting them. Tons of authentic reading, math, science, social studies… Learning and a good cause – can’t beat that!

Authentic Project Ideas – Understanding Others

I live in the heart of Amish country in Central Pennsylvania. Because of this, I have interacted with the Amish and learned a great deal about their culture.

They are a fascinating group of people. The more I know about them, the more I want to learn. There are definitely some things they do, and believe in, that I would like to try to incorporate into my life, and some things I would not. (Totally not interested in giving up my washing machine and dryer.) But, isn’t that true for everyone. And isn’t it true that the more we learn, understand, and appreciate other people, the better we will get along.

I think a great authentic project for students in my area would be to learn about the Amish. What group(s) of people who practice different or unique religions, customs, or ideas are in your area? And what are your students interested in learning about these people? It won’t and shouldn’t be the same for every student. I am especially interested in Amish clothing. My friend down the street is interested in Amish cooking. Both topics are authentic and can lead to further discovery on different topics.

And just let me say…I do NOT want the Amish recipe for those little chocolate donuts stuffed with peanut butter filling. I have worked too hard to lose weight this year to get my hands on that recipe!

Authentic Project Ideas – Acid Rain

I remember constantly hearing stories about acid rain when I was in school. It seems that you really don’t hear much about acid rain anymore. What is acid rain exactly?  Is it still a problem?  Has it been “absorbed” by other categories of pollution problems? What causes it?  What can we do to help prevent it? Has the problem been solved?

This is a topic that can easily be used from preschool (a discussion of clean versus dirty water) through high school and beyond (what is the chemical composition of acid rain).

However, if the teaching is really authentic, then this needs to be more than just a discussion/study of acid rain, the causes and effects, etc.  Authenticity means it is real and counts for each student.  Is there something that is currently happening in your community that is causing acid rain?  Is there something in your community causing pollution? How does this impact your students? What can they do to authentically make a difference?

If a discussion about acid rain becomes an authentic project about pollution and cleaning up a local baseball field so that softball can be played on it…that is authentic teaching and learning.

Authentic Project Ideas – Fountains and Pineapples

My inspiration for this blog entry came from this photograph of a fountain in Charleston, South Carolina. Fountains and pineapples seem a strange combination for authentic project ideas. But this photo could be used to inspire so many different authentic projects.

Do research about fountains. What is the history of fountains? Why do we have fountains? Why do fountains attract people? Do fountains waste water? Design a fountain. Build a working model of a fountain. Build a real fountain.

Why is there a pineapple on top of this fountain? What do pineapples signify? Where do pineapples grow? What are pineapples used for? Grow a real pineapple. Create a recipe using pineapples.

One photo, so many different authentic ways to go from one photo.

Authentic Project Ideas – Standing Stones

Standing stones have always inspired interest and speculation.  From the real world of Stonehenge to the fantasy world of time travel, stones have fascinated people.

How did they get there?  What did they represent? So much authentic history to learn about!

Research, write a story, create a legend, build a model…

Be authentic and have fun! And I am going back to my favorite activity regarding standing stones – reading Outlander!

Authentic Project Ideas – Changes in a Sport

Ok, so excuse me while I sound like my grandparents (who I adored), but in my day, ski jumpers skied down a snowy hill and then jumped off of it. I have no idea what this jumper is skiing on – or how this sport works now.

So, how has ski jumping – or any sport – changed over the years? Why were the changes made? Do you feel these were changes for the better?

So many authentic projects possible. (Lots of authentic projects on safety in sports waiting to be explored.) And if anyone would like to explain to me how ski jumping now works, I would appreciate it. Oh – and in case you are wondering, I am highly unlikely to take up the sport!

Authentic Project Ideas – Doors and Counterweights

This is a door in a restaurant in an old colonial era tavern in Pennsylvania.  I think the counter-weight is such a cool way to close the door after people open it. (The large wood block hanging to the left of the door, with the rope leading up and over, tied to the top of the door.) It also puts some weight on the door so that it doesn’t fly open.

I was sitting and watching the door for a while – waiting for our table to be ready – and counted five people commenting on the door in fifteen minutes.  So, I obviously wasn’t the only one intrigued.

So many authentic projects could be inspired by this photo.  How do counter-weights work?  What are other examples of counter-weights?  (Check out the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland).  What is the mathematical formula for this door to work?  What if you put a lot more weight on the door?  What if you put less weight? 

And if this evolves into projects designing better doors, that’s authentic learning.  (I need a door with a package door that can be opened with an electronic code to slip my packages through – I believe Amazon is already working on something like this…)

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…