This one may be for middle/high school, although I really disliked it when folks underestimated my elementary kids…so this may work for elementary also.
My husband and I just took a lovely afternoon train ride booked as “The Fall Foliage Special.” One thing we noticed was the amount of freight traffic coming through at our destination depot. There were six trains in one hour! There is definitely a lot of cargo being moved by trains.
It is amazing to watch these trains go by. They seem to go on and on forever, usually being pulled by just two engines. And returning to our starting point, the conductor mentioned that we were completing the final 20 miles of our journey using no energy as it was slightly downhill and the train had plenty of momentum. (Trains/Energy/Momentum…Authentic Teaching/Learning…)
So, I started to wonder…what does it cost to ship a container on a freight train? What is the cost differential of shipping something by truck versus freight train. Is it cheaper to ship by train? Why or why not? What makes one more reasonable than the other? Why is one picked over the other? (We live in Central Pennsylvania and I can assure you there is also no shortage of shipping being done by trucks on our highways!)
Maybe students can pick a cargo they want to ship from Destination A to Destination B and do a cost analysis of train versus truck. And to further the authentic research, add shipping by airplane into the mix. And don’t some of the freight containers that end up on a train arrive by ship? How in the world is all of this coordinated? And when I order two very different items from Amazon on two different days, how in the world do they arrive in the same box? Lots of authentic jumping off points!
Why do different trees turn different colors in the fall? Reds, yellows, oranges… What causes leaves to turn colors? This season the leaves seem so much brighter and more colorful than they were last fall. What causes leaves to be more colorful some years, and less colorful other years?
There are so many great projects to do with fall leaves. Not only answering the questions above, but displays of leaves (labeled as to type of tree they came from), photo journals, art projects using the leaves…
Many people like to hike and enjoy the gorgeous fall colors this time of year. What other outdoor activities do people like to do in the fall? If you look closely, in the picture above you can see a boat with some fishermen in it. Is fall a good time to fish? And as always…if a discussion of fall leaves turns into a project about fishing…that is authentic teaching and learning!
So, this one kind of stumped me. I had never seen blue pumpkins before, until I stumbled upon these in a local market. (Maybe I have been living a sheltered life.) Are blue pumpkins new or have they been around for a while? How do you grow a blue pumpkin? What other color pumpkins can you find?
Where do pumpkins grow best? What part of the pumpkin do we eat? What can the seeds be used for?
Create a display about different kinds of pumpkins. Bake a pumpkin pie. Predict how many seeds are inside a pumpkin. Bake the pumpkin seeds. Create pumpkin art with the seeds. Bake something using the inside of an actual pumpkin (not canned pumpkin).
How did the Jack-O-Lantern tradition start? What is the history of Halloween? How did the tradition of eating pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving in America start? What are Fall Holiday traditions in other countries?
And…upon researching blue pumpkins I stumbled across information about these pumpkins. Blue pumpkins are being used to symbolize at least two really thoughtful things for Halloween Trick-or-Treaters. I am not sure if this is just in America, or in other countries as well that celebrate Halloween.
Lots of authentic questions, lots of starting points for authentic projects.
I looked up in the sky a few days ago and saw a patchwork of contrails. What causes planes to leave contrails? Why are they more visible on some days? Can you learn something about a plane from the contrail it leaves? (Resource: Fantastic videos about contrails on YouTube!)
How many different types of planes are there? What new planes are currently being designed? Design a better plane. (Authentic Learning – start with a discussion of contrails and see where you end up…)
This picture got me thinking about trees. In this picture there is an evergreen and a deciduous tree. What is the difference between the two types of trees? Where are they commonly found.
An authentic project could be a photo-journal of types of trees. Evergreens vs. deciduous. Are all evergreens conifers? Are all conifers evergreens? Varieties of both types. Why are different trees suited for different climates? Why do deciduous trees lose their leaves?
What category does the palm tree fall into? Why is the palm suited to the tropics and subtropics (hint – hurricanes). Where are the best places to vacation in the topics? (Remember in authentic learning the point is that the child learns and grows – so if a project about trees turns into a project about vacation destinations that is authentic!)
There are also groups that will give you a sapling to plant in your yard in order to encourage tree growth. Do a search on line to find a give-away event near you. Plant a tree, learn about it, track its growth… Why are trees so important?
Years ago, if you sent in a box top from Lucky Charms cereal to General Mills, they would send you a sapling to plant in your yard (limit one per family). So true confession, we sent in many box tops and used our friends’ addresses who didn’t want trees. We planted our entire backyard with these saplings and watched them grow for the next twenty years. We no longer own that home and I couldn’t find a picture of our old backyard. But it was a fantastic authentic experience for our kids to learn about those trees and why trees are important, to plant those trees, and to watch them grow. (Please don’t report me to General Mills!)
OK, never thought I would blog about a caterpillar, not my cup of tea. But this guy was too amazing to pass up. Great photo, if I say so myself.
So, tell me about this guy! Will he turn into a butterfly? What kind of caterpillar is he? Or is he a she? Hmm… So much authentic research to do! So many different authentic ways to present your findings: photo journal, science log, slide show, labeled diagram, model, presentation about the life cycle of the caterpillar…
And, why is this caterpillar green? Is it natural camouflage? What other animals have natural camouflage? Do they change seasonally? How is camouflage used in nature? How are military uniforms designed to incorporate camouflage? Authentic learning… research on caterpillars sends your students down the path to research on camouflage… Fantastic!
I was recently asked for project ideas for “Castles.” I took me about ten seconds to realize that this was a fantastic authentic project topic.
There are so many ways to approach this. Designing and building a model castle based on historical research. Castle life, past versus present. Castle design, past versus present. (Do we have modern day castles?)
Clothing people wore in castles in the past. Status and clothing. How was clothing made in the past? Food, recreation…
Creating a government system for a castle based on the history and time period selected…
Do all castles have kings and queens? The history of a royal family – remember with authentic learning you have a starting point, but if “Castles” turns into a project about the history of a royal family – that is authentic learning!
Europe has castles galore. Asia? The rest of the continents? Why aren’t there thousand-year-old castles (ruins) in North America? Cataloging castles around the world…
I could keep going with this one forever. Tons of opportunity for authentic reading, writing, math, social studies, science (physics – how did those trebuchets work?)
And please keep in mind that I have always fancied being a queen, so I volunteer to serve as the queen in your castle!