Teaching Authentically, Staying Authentic

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I had this photo in my file of posts to write, and I realized that the timing was perfect to work on this topic.  Children are hearing lots of things on television about a meat shortage.  This just adds to their concerns (and ours) about what is happening in our world.  While my original topic was going to be to explore organic and free-range food sources, I think a better topic might be what our options are for food today.

My original prompts for authentic exploration were as follows:  Many stores advertise that their meats are organic or free range.  There are also many other claims markets make.  What exactly does organic mean?  Free range? Are there benefits to one over the other?  Is there a better way to raise livestock?  Are companies really honest about this?  How is this enforced? This may lead to an authentic project on ranching, farming, or even the pros and cons of being a vegetarian  (and how is that different from veganism).

So, take this topic and incorporate what is happening in our world today. What are our options for food today.  The reason I am totally committed to authentic learning and projects is because it approaches education in a real and current way.  Adjusting a lesson/project to address current events – well you can’t get much more authentic than that!

Stay Well, Stay Healthy

Teaching Authentically On Line

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Since March we have been meeting on Zoom with our granddaughter every day, trying to cover kindergarten concepts.  Working with a five-year-old on Zoom is definitely not the easiest way to teach.  I have no idea how teachers are managing to work with several at the same time.

We immediately started to work with her on projects, but struggled with maintaining her interest and attention through several lessons, until it hit me like a lightening bolt to practice what I preach and teach authentically.  This did not mean to let her run away with the lesson, it meant to incorporate her passions into what I wanted to accomplish academically.

Her current passions are Unicorns, Alicorns, and Mermalicorns –  that is a Mermaid-Unicorn with wings, in case you didn’t know that.  (In one of our first Zoom session, I mentioned that Unicorns were not real.  I believe I will be forgiven for that comment in about a century or so.)

Once we started incorporating her love of unicorns into our lessons, they took off.  We were able to share facts we felt were important, practice spelling, and counting, and just plain have fun working with her.  She introduced new aspects to our authentic lessons that expanded what we were able to accomplish. She even informed us during a recent lesson, that mermaids are pretend, but we should still put one in our drawing we were making about what lived in the ocean.  (I am not touching the unicorn reality subject again, I can be taught!)

At the end of a recent lesson, she announced that she wanted to talk about cameras (this was a reference to the camera that took a photo of her and her baby brother with Santa last December).  We had a wonderful authentic conversation about cameras, practiced more spelling, did some math (photo size, age of cameras of the past), and drew pictures of cameras.  (My picture was judged to be the best by her, out of pity for me, I have zero drawing skills.)

In hindsight, I am stunned that I did not start out immediately by working with her authentically, using her interests to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish with her.  After all, I blog about this every week, and it is my passion.  But throwing Zoom into the mix threw me.  I will definitely admit it is not as easy as teaching in person.  Being authentic is definitely harder when you are not authentically there.  But going authentic has changed the impact and productivity of our lessons in a 100% positive way.

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy!

Authentic Does Not Mean Perfect

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This is a masterpiece that was done for me by my five-year-old granddaughter.  (I am not biased at all – it is a masterpiece worthy of a museum!)

What I love about this, besides the fact that it was done by her, is that it is not perfect.  Somewhere along the way we lost the learning process in our strive for perfection.  And as educators we got that message out loud and clear that we were striving for perfect “A+” work.

But when you are pushing perfection, you are looking at the end product, not the journey that got you there.  And if the educational journey has to be perfect, you eliminate risk taking and you eliminate authenticity.

Our greatest learning experiences come from the process, not the final product.  My granddaughter is learning how to write and spell.  Her work isn’t perfect.  But she is sounding out words and writing down what she hears.  She loves to do this.  She has been praised for her attempts, so she keeps at it, and keeps learning.  Sometimes she asks for help, sometimes she doesn’t.  Sometimes she is given a gentle nudge if she is stuck.

And if you can’t read “kindergarten,” this masterpiece, which hangs proudly on my refrigerator (not in a museum, but after posting it I expect to hear from the National Art Gallery) says, “This picture is for Gramma.”

 

Authentic Teaching – Budgeting

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In many families money is tight right now, and many items are hard to get even if you can afford them.  This is stressful for both adults and children.  Involving children in honest, age appropriate budget conversations is a way to not only relieve some of the stress, but also an authentic way to teach budgeting.

Even young children can do chores to earn money for what they want, based on what parents can afford.  Children can also learn about ordering on line, how credit cards work, and how long something will take to ship and be delivered.  Lots of authentic reading and math skills.  Lots of honest conversations about our current world.

Caring Cards

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With approximately one-third of the world’s population under some sort of restrictions, there is no better time to reach out to relatives, neighbors, and friends who are feeling isolated.

I have been making and sending cards out to people I know, and the reception has been humbling.  It is amazing the difference getting a card in the mail can make to someone feeling isolated and alone.  And it also helps me to feel less isolated, by reaching out to others.

Our children are feeling isolated as well.  This is a great time for children to make cards for others.  Not only are they authentically learning about giving and compassion for others, making the cards will help them feel less isolated.  (And they are also authentically practicing writing skills.)

Don’t forget to have them address the envelope – possible authentic geography lesson.  They should also put on the postage – this may lead to an authentic project about the cost of mailing letters, the history of stamps, stamp collecting…

For teenagers, they might want to make and send cards to nursing homes and thank you cards to hospital staff and first-responders.  They can do the research for what they would like to do, find addresses, etc.

And the above photo is a virtual “thinking of you” card for all of you.  Stay well!

Project Ideas for Teaching at Home

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I have always felt that authentic projects were 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!