Authentic Project Ideas – Playgrounds

We just spent several days on playgrounds with our two-year-old fearless grandson.  He is a tad bit of an adrenaline junkie and I am now totally grey!

Playgrounds have changed so much since I was a child in the stone age.  They are actually much safer, so I really shouldn’t fret so much about my grandson climbing to the top of very, extremely, awfully tall equipment. 

Watching him play got me thinking of possible authentic projects about designing the perfect playground.  This could be a simple project for very young students, up to a complex math activity for older students (including advanced measurement skills, budget and cost analysis).

The history of playgrounds could be explored from see saws of centuries ago to the modern playgrounds of today.  The continued improvements for both fun and safety could also be explored.

Models, timelines, diagrams, maps…have fun!

Authentic Project Ideas – Tropical Fish

How many kinds of tropical fish are there?  Why are they called tropical fish? Are all tropical fish so bright and colorful?  Do all tropical fish live in reefs?  What is a reef made of?  What is an artificial reef?

So many authentic driving questions.  A great authentic project might be to design an artificial reef. This could incorporate many science and math goals. Another authentic project might be to create and take care of a tropical aquarium. (Or not – fish never did well in my classroom – I’m better with plants!)

Authentic Project Ideas – A Sailing Ship

This is a photo that was taken near the US Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut. If you look closely up in the masts, you will see Coast Guard Cadets getting the sails ready.  With modern ships, why would these cadets need to learn how to sail an old ship?

A driving question/authentic project could focus on why these cadets need this skill.  Or it could focus on old versus modern ships.  Or what it means to have a career in the Coast Guard. Or perhaps designing a dream yacht…

Maybe this photo could inspire a creative writing project about sailing, or pirates! 

What this photo will not inspire is – me ever being photographed that high up on anything!

Authentic Project Ideas – Iguanas

Caught this guy climbing up a tree near my Mom’s home in South Florida.  He was about 80 feet long.  Ok – he was actually about two feet long – but he was one big iguana!

I grew up in South Florida and we always saw plenty of little lizards running around – most without tails as our cats liked to bite the tails off.  But we never saw these huge iguanas until almost half a century later.  Driving Question:  What changed?  Why were we seeing these huge iguanas all over South Florida? 

Other authentic project ideas for younger children could be to learn about the iguana.

And I have always wondered, did those lizard tails ever grow back?  Poor things…

Authentic Project Ideas – Rock Formations

This photo was taken by a hiker I happen to know.  Not so sure I would have hiked through this! How did the rocks get into this formation?  How would you know it was safe to hike through?  What kind of rocks are these?  Where did the beautiful colors come from?

So many authentic questions.  This photo could lead to authentic projects about rock formations, types of rocks, best hiking trails in your area, equipment needed for hiking, hiking safety, beauty in nature…  And I’ll be participating in my favorite, much safer pastime while my husband hikes…on-line shopping!

Authentic Project Ideas – The Panama Canal

Several years ago, my husband and I had the privilege of cruising through the Panama Canal. I honestly did not understand how long the canal was until we journeyed through it.  I was blown away by how difficult it must have been to dig the canal – the length, the heat, the bugs, just everything involved in this huge undertaking.  And it was built over a century ago.

So many possible authentic projects, so many driving questions…  Why was the canal built?  Why were locks needed?  Is the canal still important today?  What is the economic impact of the canal. (Looking at the recent impact from the ship blocking the Suez Canal helps answer this question.)

So many authentic ways to present project findings…   Create a brochure about the canal.  Create a timeline for the canal.  Build a model of the canal.  Create a map of the canal.  Draw a poster explaining how the locks work.

And remember, driving questions and authentic project ideas are only a starting point. If your learner becomes interested in another canal, or the country of Panama, or what is the typical journey of an international shipping container…that is authentic learning!

Authentic Project Ideas – Animals in the Wild

A picture is worth a thousand words.  I am also hoping this picture is worth a blue ribbon at our summer county fair. And I plan to use it on a set of future handcrafted holiday cards!

As I mentioned in a previous blog, my husband and I ran into dozens of wild elk on a drive through Elk County, Pennsylvania (that’s a well named county).  I knew nothing about elk, but after seeing these gorgeous animals I did quite a bit of research.  They are actually members of the deer family.

I can think of many driving questions and projects involving elk.  The question that got me doing research was why were we seeing so many elk out in the early spring?  We had done this same drive during the summer and did not see one elk.  Now we were seeing them everywhere, including in many front yards of homes. Can you imagine walking out your front door and finding 25 elk standing there?

I wish everyone could see these majestic animals in person in the wild, but for many this would need to be a virtual experience.  This is not the same as an in person, wild encounter.  Even a zoo is not the same.  So, if a virtual experience is not authentic enough to engage your learners, with a little research you should be able to find other animals that are indigenous to your local habitat.  Good luck, and I would love to see photos of what engages your learners.

Authentic Project Ideas – Global Warming

If you look closely at this photo you will see that the middle house is jacked up on stilts.  This house sits across the street from the Atlantic Ocean.  Why is this house up on stilts?  What are the owners doing?  Why would they be doing this?  These homes have been here for a long time.  What has changed?

These questions could lead to possible projects about the rising ocean and global warming.  But if they lead to a project about home restoration, or the tourist industry (these are homes that are vacation rentals) and the impact of COVID-19…that is authentic learning!

Authentic Project Ideas – Domestic vs Wild

I had never seen a wild turkey before.  It was so cool to see this flock (are they called a flock) of turkeys on a drive north of where we live.

Looking through my blog photos, I found a picture I had taken of domestic turkeys and was very surprised at the difference.  One big difference, literally, was that the domestic turkeys were bigger, as in more meat.  In the photos I had, the wild and domestic birds looked to be different colors also.

So, a driving question for an authentic project might be about the differences between wild and domestic turkeys.  Or wild and domestic “any animal.”  A question/prompt could be about the history of domestication of an animal. This could easily turn into an authentic project about the history of the domestication of dogs and/or cats.

Learners might also be surprised as to how many animals are considered domestic and what the definition of domestic is.  I learned this lesson when I entered a gorgeous “blue-ribbon” photo of alpacas into the wild animal category of our county fair and found out after I entered the photo that alpacas are considered domestic animals.  I had thought only dogs and cats were considered domestic.

If a project is truly authentic, you start with a photo of wild turkeys and end up with a project about domestication and a future award-winning photo of alpacas. (I let you know how the alpaca photo does in the domestic category next summer!)

Authentic Project Ideas – Groundhog’s Day

On another voyage through our home state of Pennsylvania, we happened upon a groundhog named Phil.  As in Punxsutawney Phil! 

So how did Groundhog’s Day begin?  What is the history of this day?  Do other countries have a Groundhog’s Day or a similar type day?  Why is the legend that if he sees his shadow on February 2nd, there will be six more weeks of winter?  If he sees his shadow, that means the sun is out, so shouldn’t there be an early spring? 

The project could easily turn into an authentic project about what effect Groundhog’s Day has had on the economy of Punxsutawney.  Driving around the small town you could see that the impact has been significant.  The tour guide up in Gobbler’s Knob, where the official day is held, told us that everything changed after the movie Groundhog’s Day, which ironically was not filmed in Punxsutawney. What other cities have dramatically increased tourism due to a movie? Lots of authentic driving questions could come from the photos above and below.

Punxsutawney Phil lives in a glass enclosed burrow at the Punxsutawney Library.  There were actually two groundhogs in the burrow and they looked very snuggly on a cold March day.  When it was explained to us that 40,000 people show up at Gobbler’s Knob at 2am on February 2nd to wait until that morning to see Phil, we thought that sounded like fun – NOT! We will stick to seeing him at the library.

Punxsutawney Phil