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 Project Ideas – The Power of Advertising

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Advertising is a very powerful tool.  Not only would it be a great authentic project for students to learn about how advertisements are created, but also how we are influenced by ads.

Ads are created to hit an emotional response in us. We need that, we want that, we will be better people if we have that.  (Will we really?)

With one project I was involved with, the third graders wrote, created props, and filmed ads to convince other students in our school to come see their projects.  The ads were filmed on a teacher’s cell phone and shared with other classes.  This was a tremendous authentic learning experience on so many levels, and an off-shoot from the original project that we hadn’t planned on.

And does advertising work…well while watching the Alamo Bowl with my husband (it seems the only channels my television got during December/January had college football games on them) I saw one ad after another for visiting San Antonio, Texas.  And guess where my photo above was recently taken!

Authentic Project Ideas – Cleaning Up Our Oceans

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OK…time for a break from the snow blogs!  It’s a tad hard this time of year to think about anything else, but perhaps if I write about warmer climates, I’ll defrost a little!

There are some really exciting groups doing some very innovative things to clean up our oceans.  The problem is huge and overwhelming, and it is hard to fathom that one group can make a difference, but every step in the right direction does make a difference.

It would be a wonderful authentic project to do some research about our oceans, the groups that are doing things to clean up our oceans, and perhaps think about a new innovative way to make a difference.  Even having a bake sale and donating the money to a group that is helping to clean up our oceans would be a great authentic project.

Authentic learning does not need to involve a huge project to be authentic.  And a project to help solve a problem does not need to be huge to make a difference!

 

Authentic Project Ideas – Snowflakes

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How do snowflakes form?  Are no two snowflakes really alike?  How in the world can you actually see the details of a snowflake?  Won’t it melt when you look at it? How in the world do you get a snowflake under a microscope?  (And I guess you need a better camera than on my cell phone to photograph a snowflake…I gave up!)

And if this turns into a craft project creating paper snowflakes, maybe discussing multiplication after each cut – if I cut one shape into four folds, what is the multiplication problem and how many shapes did I cut – mores the better!

Oh…and whose paw prints are in the snow on my patio?  (Another authentic project – classifying paw prints!)

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*This was my snowflake photo…you can see why I gave up!

Authentic Project Ideas – Snow

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What causes snow?  How does snow form?  At what temperature does snow form?

Rain, freezing rain, ice, snow…what happens to cause each of these?

Are there different types of snow? What are the best conditions to build a snowman?

These prompts could also lead to authentic projects about how artificial ice and snow are made?  Maybe even the creation of a working model artificial ice rink or ski slope…

Or…how is snow made for all the holiday specials on television when it snows exactly when the script says it should?

I live in a northern climate and absolutely love the snow.  Snow means hot chocolate, warm fireplaces, and catching up on my reading!

 

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!