Teaching Authentically – Start Small and…This is SO Cool!!

Early sketch for
Tex the Explorer
The Jared Box Project

Eyen and I are so honored to have been asked to write a book about The Jared Box Project. This is an amazing group that donated boxes of games, toys, etc to children in the hospital. They have donated over a million boxes to over 400 hospitals in the United States and also internationally.

As I have mentioned before, I started this blog as a way to get my books “out there” on the web. I had never even read a blog before, but the folks in my 55+ community told me I had to have a presence on the web for my books. Then the blog took on a life of its own and became a way for me to continue to promote authentic teaching and learning.

One of the concerns that teachers have is how to handle a huge authentic project on top of everything that they are already required to do. I can’t emphasize enough that you start small and take it from there. Many authentic projects are short, sweet, and accomplish their goal of engaging students without a lot of fuss. Some simply don’t work – time to move on. And some take over your life. The Martian Colony Project I worked on in 5th grade did just that. When that happens it actually becomes easier to incorporate your curriculum goals and objects as the project is so big you have everything happening right in front of you!

My books started as a deal I made with my illustrator, Eyen, to write a book together once he was an adult. We made this deal when he was in 5th grade. This was an authentic project that has engaged me and taught me so many things as an adult learner. I had no idea it would become this big. I had no idea we would publish five books together, with the Jared Box Book being number six – and more planned. I had no idea I would publish two books about teaching authentically with my principal, Peggy.
I had no idea I would write a blog – I had no idea what a blog was!

When I retired, I wanted to stay mentally active. I wanted to stay involved in promoting authentic learning. I wanted to continue to help others and volunteer. Oh, and I wanted to explore unique craft stores and boutiques.

Being involved in the authentic project of writing books with Peggy and Eyen has accomplished all of that – even the shopping part – explained below! I never planned for things to happen this way, but I payed attention to opportunity and walked through doors as they opened for me. I didn’t get up one morning and decide to write seven – and counting – books. I made a deal with a fifth grader over a decade ago, and here we are! A real authentic project with students should start just like that. Have a driving question or goal, start out small, pay attention to opportunity, see where it takes you.

So Eyen and I are now working on our book for the Jared Box Project. I am honestly overwhelmed by this opportunity, in a good way! I would have been overwhelmed in a bad way if this had been a goal of mine a decade ago, or if the opportunity had presented itself before now. But this had been a long a winding word to get to this point, full of so many amazing authentic teaching and learning experiences.

Eyen and I will be donating the book to The Jared Box Project, and we both feel blessed to have this opportunity. And I have become hooked and making Jared Boxes – hence the shopping part – so much fun.

Our goal is have the book out by the end of next summer. Stay tuned. And meanwhile, check out The Jared Box Project !

One School’s Journey – Further Down the Path is a Finalist!

One School’s Journey – Further Down the Path is a Finalist in the Instructional & Insightful Non-Fiction Category of the Chanticleer International Book Awards Contest. This book was a total labor of love about teaching authentically!

Available in Paperback and on Kindle from Amazon.

Total Immersion

Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

My husband and I just returned from a fantastic trip to Disney World. We went specifically to visit Galaxy’s Edge, the new Star Wars Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Even with the entire population of Earth and at least one other planet in the park, it was a super experience. (It was great to see everyone out and about after the isolation of the last two years.) We waited in line for two hours for Rise of the Resistance, and it was totally worth it. I still have a smile on my face.

What Disney is now doing is the total immersion experience and it reminded me so much of authentic learning. We even found out that the University of Central Florida (near Disney World) is offering a degree in Total Immersion Design. How cool is that!

So teaching authentically, which is teaching using as much immersion as possible, has now entered the entertainment industry as total immersion. The theory being that total immersion is the way to engage the audience as much as possible. Engaged audiences retain the experience and want to return for more. Engaged students retain what they have learned and want to learn more…

Authentic Teaching

On a recent road trip my husband and I spent the night in a little town just off the highway in Virginia.  We ate dinner next to the hotel at one of the best Mexican restaurants we’ve ever been to…thank goodness we live six hours away or I would gain a ton of weight.

After dinner we decided to drive ten miles up the road to a memorial commemorating the birthplace of Stephen F. Austin, who is considered the father of the State of Texas.  It was just a simple stone marker with three flags; Virginia, Texas, and the United States.

When we returned to the hotel, both my husband and I read about Stephen F. Austin.  We also read about the history of iron mining in this area of the country, as the memorial explained that the Austins moved to Virginia to mine iron.  We both learned a great deal about Stephen F. Austin, Texas, and iron mining.  

So what is the point of this blog, besides the fact that I have zero control when it comes to Mexican food…

It’s the authentic experience that spurs real learning.  Stopping at a simple memorial marker opened up several lines of conversation for us.  Yes, we are adults (not according to our adult children, who think we have regressed back to being teenagers). But, the same kind of simple stops engage children as well (and adults who have regressed).  Make it real, make it count.

Authentic Project Ideas – Bird Houses

This is a photo of a birdhouse that recently caught my eye. It was very simple, with holes on each side. I don’t know a lot about birdhouses, but the holes seemed very small. I am assuming that this house was built for a particular type/size of bird. Are there bird houses built for larger birds? What is the purpose of a birdhouse?

Why do people put up birdhouses versus bird feeders?

Ideas – Do authentic research about birdhouses and bird feeders. What are the different types of birdhouses/bird feeders? Build a better birdhouse. Build a better bird feeder.

Teaching Authentically By Subject

Well, it’s a New Year, and I am back on my kick of trying to better organize my blog.  Once again, I tried to break my posts down into reading, writing, math, science, social studies….  The problem (or good news) is that when you are teaching authentically, you really can’t and don’t want to separate out the academic subjects that way.

Even if you are teaching high school math, you are teaching reading, writing, science, social studies, etc., if you are teaching authentically.  Make it real and make it count. And if you make it real and make it count, you are not teaching in isolation.

My husband and I were on a road trip recently, and I noticed many trucks on the road.  We live in Central Pennsylvania and we are a cross-through from New York to every point south and west.  So, we get allot of trucks on our highways.  Tons! Too many – ok my fault, as I am the best on-line shopping customer in Central Pennsylvania, so according to my husband, those trucks were all headed to our house…

Watching all of the trucks, I was thinking about the supply chain problems and what a great authentic project that would be…as a social studies project – truck drivers and their jobs.  But, it is also math – the cost of shipping by truck, the cost of the supply chain backlog.  And it is science – perhaps inventing a more efficient truck, or self-driving truck.  And it is reading – reading about the supply chain issues.  And writing – writing about possible solutions.

I also am not going to try to sort my blog into projects by different age groups.  The supply chain project would be perfect for Kindergarten – why there is a shortage of some items in stores and on-line. And it is perfect up through college – why there is a shortage of some items in stores and on-line.

So, I will start off the New Year by not messing with my blog, and just wishing everyone a happy and authentic 2022!

Happy Holidays

This is a photograph of one of my favorite wreaths, as it is figuratively and literally a “think outside of the box” wreath. And teaching authentically is definitely thinking outside of the box, or in this case, thinking outside of the circle!

A Happy Holiday Season to all and a Happy New Year! Thank you for allowing me into your lives to share a little bit of what I know about teaching, education, and what works!

Love, Ellie

Authentic Teaching – Controlling an Authentic Project

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about a visit to the PEZ Factory and how a fun authentic project might be about the history of favorite candies. I mentioned that Milton Hershey was almost a passenger on the Titanic, and a student might end up doing a project about those who perished on the Titanic. So, how does a teacher keep control of a project if students end up following different paths of interest. The key is for the teacher to have very clear objectives and goals before the driving question/authentic project is introduced.

For example, if your goal is to teach time lines, then the history of a candy is a perfect project. And if a student decides to research the Titanic, there is a fascinating time line to create for that.

With very clear goals, it is not that difficult to incorporate a student’s interests and authentic discoveries into the project.

And if you read my blog a few weeks ago, my time line shows how long it took my husband to discover he liked PEZ candies and how long it took him to eat a bucket full of them…

Authentic Prompts

I look at the above photo and see mountains. I see clues as to where this photo might have been taken. I ponder how mountains form. I see high mountains, but hear my husband’s voice reminding me that these east coast mountains are nothing compared to the mountains out west. I see a US National Park and think about the history of the National Park system. I see beauty, but I also see possible stories about survival in the wilderness. I see clouds. I see trees in the summer. I wonder how the colors might differ in the fall, or winter.

One photo can inspire so many different thoughts and authentic projects.  What authentic means is make it real and make it count. Making it real means starting with something real, or something that matters. (Photo, story, article, book, movie, personal experience, field trip…)

As a teacher, it can seem daunting to simply let students go in a million different directions. But it can be real to each student within curriculum goals, while allowing the teacher to maintain classroom management. Management from the instructional stand point, behavior becomes almost a non-existent problem when students are engaged.

If this photo is used as a prompt, a driving question can be formulated that takes the students in the direction that the teacher wants/needs to go, while leaving room for students to follow a path of interest to them. You just may be surprised where you end up when you start with a specific goal, but have an open-mind about how you might get there.

*This photo was taken in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. My husband went on a long and difficult hike to capture this photo. I went on a long and not-so-difficult shopping trip in town!

Authentic Teaching

We recently stopped by a museum that depicted the past Native American inhabitants of the area. I particularly liked this display that showed the underlying structure of the shelters that they built. I was going to do some research into what these shelters were called, who the Natives were… Then I realized that is the whole point of teaching authentically. The kids do the research and they take their interests from there.

What happened historically in teaching was that the teacher did all the research. The teacher presented all the facts, and then gave a quiz. The students memorized all the facts, passed the quiz – well some did – and then promptly forgot what they learned.

If a driving question were developed from this photo, it could be something like, “What were the Native Americans building with this framework?” That is actually probably all students need to know to start their research.

From there, students could engage in authentic projects about Native shelters, food, clothes, or they might segue this into a project about modern homes, or mountain ranges (as seen in the background of the photo)… That is authentic teaching and learning.