Authentic Project Idea – Fall Foliage


I woke up this morning to some really beautiful red leaves in our neighborhood.  While out and about, people were commenting on how gorgeous the leaves finally were.  I had been aware that this fall we had not had the usual amount of gorgeous leaves, but really had not paid much attention to why.  My knowledge of fall foliage is basically that the weather gets colder, the leaves change colors, and then they fall of the trees.

Listening to those around me discuss the late arrival of the fall colors this year, most people were talking about the amount of rain we had this past summer and how that delayed the fall colors.  We had had a very wet summer – ok that is an understatement.  We had a “build an ark and get ready for the flood” summer.  Every day.  It rained.  Poured.  I have never ended a summer so pale!

So, was all the rain what delayed the fall colors?  What causes leaves to change colors?  Why are some red, some yellow, some orange…?  I can think of authentic projects from the PreK level (collecting leaves, labeling colors, identifying tree type) to the high school level (scientific explanations for all of my above questions).

This could lead to authentic projects about evergreen versus deciduous trees, the arctic tree line, tree disease…  There are endless possibilities as to where this authentic project could lead based on student interest and discourse (as is the case with all authentic projects)!

Signing off now….wait…what about understanding how scientists predict when the peak of fall colors will be every year.  Planning a trip to see fall colors.  Where should I go?  When?  What hotels should I stay in?  What is my budget for this trip?

OK…really ending this blog entry now…Hmm…How do those jewelers make those gorgeous pendants of leaves dipped in gold?…Why do the leaves turn colors on the trees at the bottom of our local mountains, before the top trees turn?  Isn’t it colder at the top of the mountain?  Don’t the trees in colder temperatures lose their leaves first?

If it is real and authentic, the project possibilities are endless!

Authentic Project Idea – Surviving on a Deserted Island

IMG_Maine Island 2

While on a recent journey through the northeastern waterways of the United States and Canada, I saw one small island after another.  Thinking back on the authentic project I was involved with about establishing a colony on Mars, I started to imagine what it would be like to survive on one of these islands.  What would I need to survive?  What would I eat, what kind of shelter would I need, what kinds of clothes would I need?  (OK-this is definitely a fictitious authentic project as personally I need a five-star hotel in Bar Harbor, Maine, with plenty of lobster, and lovely clothes available in the local boutiques-but I digress…)

This project would vary based on where the island was located as needs would be different based on climate, natural resources, etc.

Authentic Project Ideas – Lighthouses

IMG_Portland Maine Lighthouse

I recently returned from a journey where I saw many wonderful and enchanting lighthouses.  There are so many different questions that I thought about while enjoying all of these lighthouses.  How do they work?  What purpose do they serve?  How did they operate in the past?  How and why are lighthouses built today?

What would I include in a lighthouse if I designed one? (My lighthouse would resemble a five-star hotel –  just saying.)

There are so many interesting stories about lighthouses of the past that could be a jumping off point for authentic projects.  I heard about a lighthouse keeper in Portland, Maine who became bored with just tending the lighthouse.  He began to carve wooden horses that he sold for 75 cents to the local market.  Today these horses are worth thousands of dollars each.  An authentic project could be to develop other ways to pass the time while tending a lighthouse.

While purchasing a memento of the Egg Rock Lighthouse in Bar Harbor, Maine, the charming woman at the cash register introduced herself as the granddaughter of the last keepers of that lighthouse.  She briefly shared her story with me.  I wish I had had time to hear more about her grandparents!  Another jumping off point for an authentic project, reading stories about past lighthouse keepers, and perhaps creating a compilation, journal, or even writing new stories based on past stories – endless possibilities…       IMG_Grace Little Village Gifts Bar Harbor  Grace, whose grandparents tended the Egg Rock Lighthouse near Bar Harbor, Maine


Teachers: Authentic Project Idea – Designing a Better Airplane

IMG_plane 2

Having recently flown on a Dreamliner (and that plane is a dream to fly in) I was thinking about how airplanes, especially the wings, have changed in the last few decades.  Wing-tips were added, and have changed several times. Why?

I thought this might be an interesting Authentic investigation and project – doing research on why airplane and airplane wings have changed.  Students could design and present their ideas for improved airplanes.  Older students could focus on aerodynamics and airplane wings, new building materials used for planes, etc.  Younger students could focus on interior changes to the inside of planes.

*I fall into the “younger student” aka “I don’t understand aerodynamics” category!  My plane is going to have wider, more comfortable seats including armrests for each passenger – in coach class!  Only two seats per row on each side, so that you are not climbing over, or being climbed over when someone needs to get up.  Better food, more movies, the Ice Skating Network…

Teachers and Parents: Social Responsibility – Operation Gratitude


One of the most important lessons in social responsibility that we can teach children is to give thanks to those who serve and protect us.  Thanking soldiers and first responders for what they do is an Authentic experience for students, and one that makes a real difference to those who serve.

Operation Gratitude is a wonderful organization that sends care packages and letters to soldiers and first responders. They have very clear instructions and guidelines for teachers to use with students regarding making cards and writing letters.

While the holiday season is still a few months away, holiday cards generally need to be received a few months ahead of time.  They do accept cards and letters year-round, so if the timing for holiday cards does not work, thank you notes and cards can be sent to them anytime.

Cards are mailed to their headquarters in California.  While it shouldn’t be that expensive to pack up and mail letters or cards, don’t miss the Authentic experiences available in fundraising to pay for postage for your package.

This is also a great Authentic project for parents to do at home with kids.

*My knitting group donated over 100 scarves to Operation Gratitude care packages last year and I was impressed with what I learned about this organization while working with them. I am already busy knitting away for this year.


Teachers: Foreign Language and Authentic Teaching


Last night I read two posts on Facebook from foreign language teachers who were looking for ways to use projects in their classrooms.  Initially, I felt that I really hadn’t thought about foreign language and Authentic projects before. After thinking about this for awhile,  it dawned on me  that in actuality I had.  Working on my Martian Colony Project, the largest and most comprehensive Authentic project I was involved with, many of the children were ESOL.  The Martian Colony was a fantastic way for them to learn English.  Authentic projects are rich with language experiences.  So if we were using Authentic projects to teach English to speakers of other languages, then we were using Authentic projects to teach a foreign language.

I thought back on my own foreign language classes, and the one lesson I remembered from high school (it’s been a few years) was an Authentic project where we wrote letters to pen pals in Mexico.  I definitely learned and retained more from that project than from anything else we did that year.  It was real, it mattered, there was ownership, pride, and expectation of a return letter.  (The letter might even be from a boy – I was a teenager, boys were what I thought about most of the time, ok – all of the time!)  The letters went back and forth several times (my pen pal was a boy!) and for every letter I increased my Spanish vocabulary significantly – not only from writing my letters but from reading his.

Take any Authentic project that is of interest to the teacher and students, bring it into a foreign language class, and I can guarantee the engagement and learning will greatly increase.  Writing to pen pals in another language is a great Authentic project.  Going through a quick list in my head of projects I have been involved with, I can’t think of one that wouldn’t work for foreign language, and as the school I taught at had a large ESOL population, all of the projects I worked on were used to teach another language.

Good Luck!  Buena suerte!  Bonne chance!  Buona fortuna!  Viel Gluck!

*One School’s Journey, written with my former and forever principal, will be published and available on Amazon by the end of this month.  This book tells the story of the journey our school took as it set down the path using Authentic projects to teach.  Stay tuned for more information.

Teachers: Teaching Poetry


I had a great conversation the other day with a girlfriend about Authentic learning.  I was explaining how it makes all the difference in the world when the project is something the student is interested in – if the students are not interested, then it really isn’t Authentic.  Having fifth-grade boys read Robert Frost’s poems, and then write poetry in that style has never been a very meaningful or successful endeavor.  (I am a Robert Frost fan, but for some strange reason most fifth-grade boys are not.)  Exposing students to many different poets and styles of poetry, then having them pick a style they like, and you are moving into the Authentic experience.  They can then write poems in that style about an interest they have, and you can watch the engagement happen.

I mentioned that, of course, most of my boys were passionate about football.  Most of them wrote poems about football.  She asked if I knew a lot about football.  I confessed my knowledge was limited, mostly things I picked up from my Miami Dolphin fan brothers and son.  (Cue the violins here for the long-suffering Dolphin fans.)  I am a “Dolfan”, but certainly don’t have a ton of football knowledge. I wore my turquoise and orange, and professed my true love, which the boys fell over laughing about.  (I taught in Redskin territory so it’s not like they had a lot to laugh at me about!)  Honestly, my background knowledge about football didn’t matter.  I knew how to teach poetry, I knew how to guide children through an Authentic learning experience, and the boys certainly knew enough about football to take it from there.

*If you give this a try – after the poems are written, continue with a poetry reading, complete with refreshments (party planning/math budgeting), or create a poetry newsletter to be shared with people at a retirement home, or sell that newsletter and raise money for charity….the Authentic options are endless.