Project Ideas for Teaching at Home

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I have always felt that authentic projects are the best way to teach.  With so many parents being called upon to educate their children at home, I wanted to reach out again to offer the ideas on my blog.

I started this blog as a way to share my passion, authentic teaching and learning.  I retired a few years ago, and I was ready to slow down.  But, I found that I still needed an outlet as a teacher.  My blog allows me to continue to share the ideas that I have about how to authentically educate children.

Thank you for allowing me to share my passion.  Best wishes to everyone and stay healthy.

 

Teaching Authentically at Home

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I know many (most) of the children we educate are currently learning at home.  Projects work beautifully in the home.  But don’t forget that authentic learning doesn’t need to be a big involved project.  Every day activities are great times for authentic teaching and learning.  Cooking is full of reading and math.  (I still can’t do math problems unless I picture cooking and/or food in my head!)  Planning and implementing a schedule for the day.  Writing a grocery list.  Estimating the cost of everything in the grocery cart. (My grandmother used to say, “Just count the items in the cart and multiply by 50¢.” Great authentic lesson in inflation!)

I joke that I was the laziest teacher and parent on the planet.  If the kids could do something, why should I do it.  The truth of the matter is I was doing some really good teaching and parenting, if I say so myself.  Honestly, it is more work to have your kids do something. As an adult I could do it neater and faster.  If your child is writing a grocery list and you are having to help prompt or spell, it takes twice as long.  But if you write the list you are missing an authentic learning moment – on so many levels!

I hope everyone is safe and well.

Best to All,  Ellie

Covering Academic Skills Through Projects

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I was finished posting my weekly Saturday blog when I started to scroll down and look at all of the posts on my blog.  I was thinking that perhaps I should refine my menu, and file the posts under whether they focused on reading, writing, math, science, social studies…

Then I realized that is exactly what you want to avoid in authentic teaching and learning.  Projects start with a driving question or a prompt, and then they go from there.  One of the most important parts of authentic teaching is to listen to your students, pay attention to what they are saying, and give some gentle guidance and suggestions as to what path they might follow to accomplish their goals.  (And also accomplish your own goals as well.)  A good project often includes all academic skills – certainly reading for research, writing notes and/or presentations, math calculations/graphs…

There was not one project that I worked on with students, that I wasn’t surprised at the end, at how many academic goals we were able to accomplish within the project.  And I was also surprised, as I evaluated what we had accomplished, at how much coffee I had consumed to keep up with our students as they authentically explored and grew as learners.  It was impressive!

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.