I have a tendency to look at photos and think about projects that teach math, science, social studies… It is very easy for me to tie in writing to all of these projects. Even with very young children, a written description should accompany the final product.
But when I look at my photographs, I feel something. I don’t take photographs unless the subject matter somehow “reaches” me. I don’t take photos just to take photos. And in my head I am usually thinking of a story, a song, or a poem. Sometimes I forget to include these ideas on my blog.
The above photo could certainly be a prompt for an authentic project about snow, deciduous trees, ice formation, or rock formation. However, I took this picture to use it on my holiday cards next year. (Yes, I am already preparing for the 2021 Holiday Season.) Looking at this photo could inspire a driving question for writing poetry, or writing a fictional essay, composing a song…or as a featured photo on a holiday card!
How does a river like this become a “Grand Canyon?”
Authentic projects need authentic products: Create a booklet with illustrations and/or photographs. Create a chart. Create a graph to show the timeline. Build several models showing the progression. Write a fictional legend…
Deciding the best way to present your research is as important as the research itself. It is also a great time to experiment with different ways to reach your audience.
And according to some former students of mine, I was old enough that I saw the beginnings of the Grand Canyon form – hmmmm – definitely a need for authentic time lines!
What is the history of Valentine’s Day? Where did it start? What countries celebrate Valentine’s Day? How do people celebrate Valentine’s Day?
With COVID-19 and many people shut in at home it might be a great authentic social-skills project to make Valentines for people who might need a nice surprise in their mailbox or on their doorstep.
And since authentic projects start with a driving question and go from there, this photo might take your learners in an entirely different direction. The above photo is of a preserved rose in a small, closed glass container. I have had it for several years – I rarely open it – and it is still as beautiful as the day I received it. How are flowers preserved like this? Can this process be used on other flowers? How long can you expect a preserved flower to last? What are other ways to preserve flowers? Is there a safe way to preserve flowers at home? (Hint – I have used hairspray very effectively on wedding bouquets.)
We now pause to take a break from the winter. We were buried in snow this week and as I started to write a blog about more authentic project ideas for the topic of snow, I decided I really wanted to write about the sunny south of the US.
So, I looked through my photos and found a favorite from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Cruise ships are a huge part of the Florida economy. What are all the ways that a ship impacts a port’s economy? What are all the positive impacts a ship brings? For little ones this could be a project about jobs on ships. What are all the negative impacts? For older learners this could go into a project about congestion and pollution.
How has COVID-19 and the shutdown of the cruise industry impacted port economies?
Study ship designs and design a better ship. Design improvements for a local port. Create a list of all jobs on a ship and “apply” for a job… Tons of authentic ways to go with this topic. Bon Voyage!
Salt has been a very valued commodity for centuries. Why? What are all of the uses for salt?
One winter use is salting roads. We have bad weather coming in and the trucks are out salting our roads. Why? My husband and several other people in our neighborhood have put out signs to stop the trucks from salting our driveways. Interestingly, my husband and my neighbor’s husband have two very different reasons for not wanting salt on the driveway. What are reasons to not use salt on driveways/roads?
Why has salt historically been used on food? Why is salt bad for you?
So many places to go with this topic – so many authentic roads to follow – with our without salt!
I friend I taught with introduced me to Hex signs. She grew up in Berks County, Pennsylvania, which is where most of the barns in the United States with Hex signs are located. When I first heard about these signs I thought they had something to do with casting spells. Turns out this is not true!
I spent a great deal of time researching, and planning for our trip to Berks County. Then we drove around and photographed the gorgeous barns. I learned a great deal about the Pennsylvania Dutch. The photo above is my favorite barn in Berks County.
Doing an authentic project about Hex signs will involve reading for research, and writing to explain the history and/or what Hex signs represent today. An authentic project can go in the direction of history, current barns and where they are found, or branch off into Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Art.
You don’t have to live in Pennsylvania to do a project on Hex signs, you don’t even need to live in the United States. Just like you don’t need to live in the UK to do a project about castles. While US Hex signs are predominately found in Berks County, Pennsylvania, a friend I sent the above photo to told me about similar folk art in Wisconsin. Except the Wisconsin folk art is done on furniture, and was brought over from a different area of Europe. He ended up researching that.
And if a leading question about Hex signs becomes an authentic project about another kind of folk art, that is authentic learning!
Before this snow fall, our local forecasters said that it would be a nice fluffy snow. How did they know that? What are the different categories of snow and what causes these types of snow? What temperature and atmospheric conditions are needed for different categories of snow? (I found five categories and they have very descriptive names that kids will like!)
And if this project turns into an essay on the perfect snow for building a snowman and a photo-journal of snowmen…that is authentic learning!
I finally learned how to bake cookies. Seriously! I have never been able to bake cookies – my result was always a melted, burnt mess. But thanks to a lot of instruction and patience from my daughter-in-law, I have finally mastered baking cookies.
So, for the first time, I am going to make holiday cookies this year. I am going to use the recipes I have already mastered and change them slightly for the holidays. For example, using red and green M&Ms only for my M&M cookies. I am also thinking about how to tweak my chocolate chip cookies for the holidays. Any ideas?
I have written about baking and cooking many times on my blog. This is one of the best authentic ways to teach so many math and reading skills.
With the current pandemic, I was also thinking about authentic social awareness skills. There are many single people in my neighborhood who have been isolating alone now for months. I am thinking about leaving a plate of holiday cookies on several doorsteps. I thought about doing this anonymously, but with food I think it is better that the receiver knows where the treats came from.
Doing this with children could easily turn into an authentic project. Baking is just the starting point. Conversation while baking could turn into a project of making and leaving home made ornaments on doorsteps to brighten people’s holiday. Or maybe making a small homemade gift.
Perhaps this could turn into an authentic project learning about all the holidays people celebrate this time of year, and what gifts are usually given, if any, for these holidays. I would love to receive a gift from another religion/culture with a written explanation of what this gift represents.
So, I started writing about my new-found ability to bake cookies, and am now thinking about leaving some unique gifts from other religions/cultures on my neighbors’ doorsteps, with an explanation about what the gifts represent. I need to do some research and planning. I will need to do some writing. And I am going to need to be creative. This is an authentic project!
My son had a math teacher in middle school who was also a national champion ginger bread house designer and builder! She gave the kids a marvelous assignment for extra credit – to design and build a ginger bread house.
There was lots of guidance and many suggestions. She sent home lots of reading material for parents to help them assist with the project. I am pretty much inept in the kitchen and she sent home enough written support, and did enough instruction with the kids, that I was able to get through this with my son successfully.
There was tons of authentic math involved…creating the design (scale, angles), measuring the ingredients (fractions, units of measurement), baking temperature and baking time (measuring temperature, elapsed time)… There were limitless opportunities to bring in authentic math skills.
We continued this as a family tradition for many years. As a mother, I saw it as great family bonding time, especially with teenagers who were difficult to corral into family bonding. As a teacher, I also knew my teenagers were getting great authentic experiences with reading, math, creativity and problem solving.
One year, we even encountered an authentic mystery to solve. We used chocolate mints as shingles on the roof. We were surprised and a tad confused to see that every morning the shingles had “melted.” We lived in the north and didn’t overheat our house, so we couldn’t figure out what was happening. We had lots of hypotheses but none seemed to be the answer. One night I came downstairs to get something from the kitchen and caught one of our cats happily licking the roof. Mystery solved!
*The photo above is not the house we built. It is a professionally created display that is presented yearly at a local hotel. You probably figured that out on your own!