Authentic Learning – Measuring Snowfall

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Not everything needs to be a big project to be authentic.  Tracking snowfall can be a great authentic way to learn measurement and graphing.

Use a ruler to go out and measure how much snow is on the ground after a snow fall.  Track measurements through one storm, or through the entire winter season. Create a graph with your results. Discuss different types of graphs and what graph would make the most sense to use and why.  If you are in the US, have your students measure using both inches and centimeters.  (If you don’t have snow where you live – count yourself fortunate – you can measure rainfall.)

Working with a group of fifth graders, I had them measure paper to cover bulletin boards.  These kids had completed hundreds of worksheets on measurement, yet none of them were comfortable using a ruler. Not one of them knew how to approach measuring a bulletin board – after completing hundreds of worksheets!  Basically, these worksheets had been a total waste of time.  Using a ruler to measure something meaningful and real – authentic –  internalizes the skill for a child.

Teaching Authentically – Allowing Students to Follow Their Passions

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I have blogged about this before, but felt it was important to revisit again.  When working on authentic projects, it is only authentic if the students are allowed to follow their own path with the project.  This can be a bit of a balancing act if the adult is trying to accomplish specific objectives and goals (as they should be).

This balance can be achieved through adult discourse and guidance.  For example, you introduce the topic of clouds, and you have a science goal of learning about cloud formation.  Your students may chose to continue to do an in depth and authentic project about cloud formation, or they may choose to follow a different path after they have learned the basics about how clouds form.  What happens when an airplane flies through a cloud?  What are the different types of clouds?  Do we have more clouds in warm or cold weather?  Do some areas of the Earth have more clouds?  Where are the best beaches with the fewest cloudy days? (Please let me know the answer to this one – I am a certified sun worshiper!)

NFL Football – is it more difficult to see the football in the air on cloudy days?  How do these clouds form?  And why do football players put black paint under their eyes? Do they need this paint on cloudy days?

Space – are there clouds on other planets?  How do they form – do we even know for sure how they form?

It can take some creative thinking, but the challenge can actually be fun, and rewarding, when you figure out the “tie in.”  And if you are stumped, ask the kids!  Their ideas might not always be an obvious path to follow, but if it makes sense to them, and accomplishes your goals, that is even more authentic. Mission accomplished, and engagement has occurred.  And when students are engaged – they learn!

 

Authentic Ways to Present Projects

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There are infinite ways to present projects authentically.  When Peggy and I were writing One School’s Journey we tried to remember all of the ways projects had been presented in our school.  I am sure we missed some, and two years later there are probably many more we could add to our book (hence, we are starting a second edition). I have copied the list we came up with, from the back of One School’s Journey, below.  Just some ideas to see if anything clicks for your students.

Student Created:

Animation, Art, Bulletin Board, Commercial, Competition, Dance, Diorama, Film, Gallery, Geography Fair, Hall of Fame, Letter, Model, Museum, Newscast, Newspaper, Open House, Photography, Play, Poetry, Poster, Power Point Presentation, Puppet Show, Recital, Reenactment, Scrapbook, Science Fair, Simulation, Slideshow, Story Board, Story Book, Time Line, Tri-Board, Virtual Science Fair…

If you have used other ways to have students present their work, and would be ok with me adding these to my list, and next book, please contact me through this blog.  I would love to hear your authentic ideas!

Scheduling Authentic Field Trips for Authentic Projects

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STUDENT CREATED TELESCOPE INSPIRED BY A FIELD TRIP

When I first started teaching, field trips took place at the end of a unit of study, usually dangled out there as a reward for a successful completion of the unit.  Actually, this is how field trips were used for most of my career.

But when you look at teaching authentically, it makes much more sense to hold those field trips earlier, even at the beginning of a project.  Field trips should be used to promote questions, cause higher level thinking, and cause the student to want to explore the topic further.

Of course, an introduction to the topic should occur before the project begins.  Going in with no background information doesn’t give the student the prior knowledge needed to know what they are looking at.  That is the big judgment call – how much information do the students need to successfully navigate a field trip, without giving them so much that it stifles their own questions and curiosity.  What guidelines are the students given before the trip so that they know what to expect and what is expected of them?

I ran my most successful field trip by accident.  (Ok, most of the wonderful things I did in my career happened totally by accident!)  My school was near the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.  Due to scheduling difficulties (NASA Goddard is always booked up for the academic year very early) we had to visit earlier in the project than I wanted to.  I also did not realize we were going to see the actual James Webb Space Telescope which was/is currently under construction.  So, we ended up going on this trip early in our space related project.  The kids had solid background knowledge about space and space exploration.  But none of us, including the teachers, knew that we were going to see the actual James Webb Space Telescope.

I can sum up the authentic learning and engagement that took place by relating what one wide-eyed teacher said to me.  He turned to me when we entered the viewing area for the telescope and said he hoped the kids were behaving because he couldn’t take his eyes off the telescope or divert his full attention from the presentation.  I looked around and saw that every child was as engaged as the teachers were.  This resulted in tons of questions, and project suggestions when we returned to school.  I don’t know if the engagement would have been as intense if we had “beat to death” information about the telescope and the fact that we were actually going to see the telescope before we went on the trip.  And we certainly would not have had all of the opportunities to explore what we saw, if we had scheduled the trip in June, as I had originally hoped to.  A totally authentic and fantastic field trip, every detail totally planned out in advanced by me. (Ummm…nope!)

By the way, the James Webb Space Telescope would be a super jumping off point for an authentic project.

Teaching Authentically – Preparing Our Children for the Future

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Shopping at our local grocery store a few days ago, I ran into this in the aisle.  My husband had told me about the robot in the store so I wasn’t totally shocked.  But it was still rather amazing to see this “guy” wandering around the store (authentic use of personification here).

When I started down the path of using projects/authentic learning to teach, I was very aware of the fact that we were educating children for jobs that don’t exist yet.  Case in point, the person who designed this robot.  But I was also aware, that we were educating children to enter a work force where many jobs that exist today won’t exist in the future.

My husband explained to me that this robot’s job is to make sure there are no spills in the aisles and report immediately if there are any messes that need to be cleaned up.  While this robot doesn’t appear to be able to clean up spills yet, I am sure that the next generation robot will be able to.  So this takes away a responsibility from a human.  Maybe someone is not employed full time to do this job, but as robots take over more and more responsibilities like this, you can bet that human positions will be cut.

What does this mean?  It means that the children we are educating today have to be able to think creatively, think outside the box, be innovative, and be risk takers.  These are the jobs that are going to exist in the future.  Drilling children on facts that they can easily find on their computers or cell phones does not prepare them for the future they will face.  They need to know how to ask good questions, and where to go to find good answers.  Filling in answers on worksheets, doing endless memorization and drilling, giving the one correct response, is not preparing them for this future.

This is why I am passionate about using projects/authentic learning to teach!  And I am now passionate about grocery shopping as I can’t wait to run into this robot again and see him in action.  Gosh, it is tempting to spill something and see what he does! (I won’t ok…but it is tempting!  And I am a bit of a klutz, so if I buy a drink from the coffee shop at the front of the store you can almost guarantee a spill.  Stay tuned…I will let you know what happens…)

Authentic Presentations

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Traditionally children demonstrated what they learned through written reports and tests.  However, not only do many children not demonstrate well this way, moving forward into this century, this is not the way that creative and innovative thinkers will demonstrate what they know.

There are many, many different ways for children to show what they have learned.  Authentic learning needs authentic demonstration.  Children should be encouraged to show what they have learned in ways that they are comfortable with and confident about.  They should also be encouraged to demonstrate mastery of what they know in unique and new ways.

Photo-Journals, Computer Presentations, Literary Works, Scripts, Performances, Posters, Demonstrations, Competitions, Models, Dioramas, Correspondence…

In the back of our back One School’s Journey we made a list of all of the ways that students had demonstrated learning/presented projects in our school.  Honestly, we could probably double that list a year later.  As our students became more comfortable with authentic learning they evolved with the unique ways they presented what they had learned.  These are the kinds of doers and thinkers that will make it, and make a difference in this coming century!

Authentic Teaching – Math

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My husband and I recently rediscovered Yahtzee.  I have always loved this game.  Lots of strategy and math.

When it came time to add up my score, I got up to grab my cell phone to use the calculator.  It dawned on me that I was missing an easy authentic math experience – for me.  Rather than allow my brain to become rusty – I added up my score myself!

Authentic learning does not always have to involve a big project.  The point of authentic learning is to make it real and make it count.  Sometimes this involves a big project.  Sometimes a short and sweet project.  And sometimes just an authentic experience.

There are many wonderful math games to play with children that improve math skills.  Just don’t forget that keeping track of and adding up scores are also fantastic authentic math experiences.  This is also a great authentic way to teach estimation – before actually adding up the scores, do a quick estimation to see who probably won.  And a great authentic way to teach checking your work – add of the score two times to make sure you get the same number both times.

By not grabbing that cell phone or calculator at the end of the game to add up the scores, you can double or triple the authentic math skills practiced and reinforced.  And in case you are wondering – I won that round of Yahtzee!  This doesn’t usually happen, so I think it is important to note this on my blog.