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.

Authentic Teaching – Make it Real, Make it Count

Make it real and make it count.  That is the mantra of authentic teaching and learning.  But does “real” really mean “real”? 

The photo above is from a Virtual Science Fair on Mars.  While creating the Martian Colony, we decided to hold a Virtual Science Fair – on Mars!  We learned about the scientific process and the kids all came up with a question and hypothesis, and a proposal for conducting an experiment on Mars.  They then built a model showing what their experiment might look like on Mars. 

Our focus was teaching the concept of hypothesis.  So many times, we see Science Fair entries that are really reports, not experiments.  So, with this group of fifth-graders we took the process apart and focused on each piece throughout the year.  The kids were graded on whether or not they wrote a hypothesis.  In the end, most of them went way beyond that.

The Science Fair may have been “Virtual” in that we really were not on Mars, but it was real science, and it did count!

*Our favorite entry was the student who wanted to know what would happen if you took a can of soda out on the Martian surface.  Her hypothesis was that it would explode because of the extreme cold temperature on Mars.  She decided to test this out in her freezer at home.  And the can did explode.  We hid from that mother when she visited the Virtual Science Fair!