Authentic Project Idea – Solutions for Traffic Gridlock


I just returned from a trip out to Los Angeles.  While there I took this picture of the city from one of the highways.  When I looked at the picture later, I was shocked that I managed to capture an LA highway with only two cars on it.  We were totally surrounded by traffic, so I have no idea how I managed this picture!  (“Twilight Zone” moment.)

Los Angeles has some of the worst, if not worst traffic in the United States.  There are many cities around the world, including LA, that are on the verge of total gridlock. So, not only would a great authentic project be for students to start to think of creative ways to solve these traffic nightmares, it will most likely be one of our current young students who ends up helping to solve this problem as an adult.

Mass transit, tele-commuting, self-driven cars, monorails, flying cars…  Ideas?  Plans?  Diagrams?  Models?


Authentic Project Idea – The Polar Vortex

cold weather

We are currently experiencing some of the coldest weather that I can ever remember.  Our high today was 9 degrees Fahrenheit/-12 degrees Celsius.  The meteorologists on The Weather Channel blamed a polar vortex.  What is a polar vortex?  What causes a polar vortex?  Can you draw a polar vortex?  Make a model?  Does a polar vortex start at the North Pole?  South Pole?

Do dark colors keep you warmer than light colors? Why?  Can you design a winter coat that will keep you warm in extremely cold weather?  (For authentic learning, go with student interest!  If your student is not interested in the weather, maybe you can get them interested in clothes and fashion for cold weather.  If they are reading, writing, and doing math, that is all that matters!)

And if you don’t see another blog post from me for awhile, my fingers froze to the keyboard and I am waiting to defrost!

Authentic Project Idea – Waterslides


Watching kids tear down waterslides, I started to think about all the features that need to get designed into the slide to make it fun and safe. This would be a  great authentic project for older students to do, research about waterslide engineering and designing a waterslide.  Younger students could focus on fun designs.  Waterslide models could also be built.  Lots of authentic math and reading opportunities!

*Don’t get me started about the waterslides hanging off the sides of cruise ships.  How do you spell CRAZY!

Authentic Project Idea – Waves


What causes the waves in the oceans?  Why are waves bigger on some coastlines than on others?  Where are the best places to surf?  Lots of questions, lots of research, many possible currents to follow (waves…currents…get it!)  Hmm…what causes ocean currents?

Authentic projects often start with a simple question, lead to research, and end in models or experiments.

Authentic Project Idea – Clouds


How do clouds form?  What are the different types of clouds? What do clouds tell us about approaching weather systems?

Can you get one type of cloud on top of another type of cloud?  Yes, you can!  I  was in an airplane when I started thinking about clouds and I saw one type of cloud layered on top of another type of cloud. Or maybe that was just one type of cloud?  Off to do some authentic research myself!

Maybe I’ll start to photograph and label all of the different types of clouds I can find and what they mean…

Authentic Project Idea – Airplane Engines


How do airplane engines work?  What is the difference between how propellers work and how jet engines work?  Some airplanes have hybrid propellers/jet engines, how do those work?

Authentic projects often start with a simple question, lead to research, and end with a student construction of a 747 (if you are lucky, it will just be a model).

Authentic Project Idea – NASA’s InSight

Scan 9   Student Built Lander      

NASA successfully landed another spacecraft on Mars last week.  My husband and I watched the landing and both of us had tears in our eyes.  It is so totally amazing when you stop and think about what NASA has accomplished.  We were just blown away.  (We were also very impressed with the extremely cool “Star Trekkie” shirts that everyone in Mission Control was wearing during the landing.  Don’t tell my husband, but one is on order for him for a holiday gift!)

The mission of this stationary craft is to study the deep interior of Mars.  Launched along with InSight but flying separately were two CubeSats.  MarCo A and B, nicknamed Wall-E and Eva (from the Pixar film Wall-E) are now in orbit around Mars.

The authentic projects that students could do regarding InSight and the CubeSats are endless.  What is InSight’s mission?  What mission firsts will take place?  Is InSight a rover?  What is the mission of the CubeSats? If you could design a mission to Mars what would your design be?  What would you hope to accomplish?  This list could go on forever…

My Martian Colony Project started by simply showing a fifth-grade class NASA videos of the Martian Rovers Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity.  This authentic project took off from there and literally took over my professional life for the next four years!  (For more on this check out my book One School’s Journey – you can read it for free on Kindle Unlimited.)