Authentic Learning Turning Into an Authentic Project

I finally learned how to bake cookies.  Seriously!  I have never been able to bake cookies – my result was always a melted, burnt mess.  But thanks to a lot of instruction and patience from my daughter-in-law, I have finally mastered baking cookies.

So, for the first time, I am going to make holiday cookies this year.  I am going to use the recipes I have already mastered and change them slightly for the holidays.  For example, using red and green M&Ms only for my M&M cookies.  I am also thinking about how to tweak my chocolate chip cookies for the holidays.  Any ideas?

I have written about baking and cooking many times on my blog.  This is one of the best authentic ways to teach so many math and reading skills.

With the current pandemic, I was also thinking about authentic social awareness skills.  There are many single people in my neighborhood who have been isolating alone now for months.  I am thinking about leaving a plate of holiday cookies on several doorsteps.  I thought about doing this anonymously, but with food I think it is better that the receiver knows where the treats came from.

Doing this with children could easily turn into an authentic project.  Baking is just the starting point. Conversation while baking could turn into a project of making and leaving home made ornaments on doorsteps to brighten people’s holiday.  Or maybe making a small homemade gift. 

Perhaps this could turn into an authentic project learning about all the holidays people celebrate this time of year, and what gifts are usually given, if any, for these holidays. I would love to receive a gift from another religion/culture with a written explanation of what this gift represents. 

So, I started writing about my new-found ability to bake cookies, and am now thinking about leaving some unique gifts from other religions/cultures on my neighbors’ doorsteps, with an explanation about what the gifts represent. I need to do some research and planning. I will need to do some writing. And I am going to need to be creative. This is an authentic project!

Authentic Project Ideas – What to do with those Holiday Cards

For the first time, I am making my own holiday cards this year.  I realized while I was doing this, that I have a huge stash of new holiday cards from previous years that I will probably never use.  I did a little digging on line and found out that nursing homes love to receive new holiday cards for their residents to use.

This would be a great authentic project.  Collecting new cards and donating them to a local nursing home.  Finding out which nursing homes or organizations would like cards donated, organizing this, getting the word out, having a drop off spot…

All of these authentic activities could cover many different academic goals. Reading – researching on line. Math – counting, tallying, predicting, graphing. Writing – composing letters/emails to ask for donations, writing to organizations asking if they would like new cards donated. Social Responsibility Skills – donating time and effort for others.

This may also lead to an authentic project of sending greeting cards to residents of a nursing home or hospital.

I also have a collection of cards that I have received over the years. They are just too gorgeous to throw out.   I found out that St. Jude collects used cards to recycle for future use.  Just doing the on-line research is an authentic activity that could lead to many authentic projects.

Safe and Happy Holidays!

Authentic Project Ideas – Thanksgiving

I am feeling a little guilty looking at these guys knowing that the American holiday of Thanksgiving is coming up.   I was going to write a blog about authentic experiences cooking, but then I looked at these guys and decided to go a different route.

What is the history of Thanksgiving in the United States?  What similar holidays do other countries have?  What are the different traditions of these holidays that remind us to be thankful for what we have?

Research these holidays, write a report, develop a timeline, propose a new holiday…  And a wonderful authentic project would be to have learners do something special for someone who is less fortunate than they are.  Especially now, these are easy times to fall into feeling sorry for ourselves, instead of looking at what our blessings really are.

And speaking of fortunate…I found out those guys in the photo are pets!

Authentic Project Ideas – Lemonade Stand That Makes a Difference

Summer is finally here, and kids are out of school and home for the summer. (Officially that is – most have been home for months.)  This is the time that summer lemonade and baked good stands start to appear. 

With so many people struggling to make ends meet due to the Coronavirus and the economic impact of the shutdowns, it would be a great authentic project to turn these summer stands into fundraisers for local food banks. 

An authentic project such as a lemonade stand with home-made cookies includes reading recipes, using math to make the lemonade and cookies, writing signs, more math to sell the lemonade and cookies…the authentic experiences are endless.

And it is never too early for kids to learn how good it feels to help those in need, and that every little bit helps.  It may not seem like much to donate a few dollars to a food bank, but it means the world to the family that gets food due to that donation. 

Authentic Teaching – Protecting Our Environment

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The last two months have been a fascinating look at what happens to our planet when we cause less pollution.  Photos of Venice and the clean water are astounding.  Pictures of the clean sky over Los Angeles – amazing.  Animals coming back to their old habitats.  All of this in just a few months.

Obviously, at some point we will all re-emerge and begin to interact more with our environment.  But maybe some good will come out of this and we will do it a little more responsibly.  We have certainly seen how quickly our planet can begin to recover from some of the damage caused by humans.

I have written about several project ideas that have a theme of protecting and cleaning up our environment.  Teaching children how to learn and think authentically is something I am obviously passionate about.  We also need to take a good, hard look at what we are doing to our planet, and what we are leaving behind for our children and grandchildren.  What better way to cover both than an authentic project about our environment.  And the timing, with what is currently happening in our world, is perfect for this authentic exploration.

There are some really neat organizations out there that are making a big difference in cleaning up our environment.  For example, 4ocean sells bracelets made of beads from plastic pulled out of the ocean (a huge environmental problem).  For every bracelet they sell they pull a pound of plastic from the ocean.

There are many other grassroots organizations, businesses, and charities that are making a huge difference.  Most started as a simple project. (Read about the start of 4ocean, it is an interesting story.)  A really cool authentic project could be to develop a new way or idea to clean up, or prevent pollution, on our planet.  Who knows…this project may become something that makes a difference.

Stay Safe!

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!

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!

 

Don’t Forget the Thank You

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My children attended Penn State University and both received several scholarships while they were there (yes, I am a very proud mom). I was always impressed about the way the university handled scholarships.  The scholarship money was not released to the student’s financial account until a thank-you note was received by the university to forward to the scholarship donor.  Here was a major university taking the time to teach basic manners.

The holiday season is a great time to teach children about the importance of saying thank you.  Thank-you notes can be simple, or creative, including writing, drawing, and/or photographs. This is also the perfect time of year for children to thank people that make a difference in their lives every day.

And THANK YOU for spending your valuable time reading my blog.  I get a great deal of pleasure from being able to share what I learned during 30-plus years of teaching, and hopefully to continue to make a difference.  But, without my followers and readers, my blog really wouldn’t matter.  So, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you!

Happy Holidays and All the Best in 2019!

Love, Ellie

*A few special 2018 thank-you notes from me:  Thank you Eyen, for being the most amazing and talented illustrator ever!  Thank you Peggy, for being the absolutely best co-author.  And thank you Carissa, for being my fantastic guest blogger.

The Holidays – Giving IS Better than Receiving

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So, I will admit to being a total addict to the Hallmark Channel once the holiday programming starts.  Yes, I totally get it that it is the same script, with minor changes, rotating a handful of actors, in every single show.  But there is just something addicting about these shows.

Hallmark really does a fantastic job of catching the perfect holiday season.  And excuse my arm-chair psychology here – but I think very few, if any, people experience a perfect holiday season.  There is the huge build up, and then the let-down as plans don’t work out as expected.

This is bad enough for adults, but imagine the let-down for the child who doesn’t yet understand that there really is no such thing as a “perfect” holiday.  This is even worse for the children in our population who are bombarded with the television shows and advertisements showcasing that perfect day, and in their world, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

This is why I think that the holidays are the perfect time to teach “giving” as the most important part of the season.  This can start with even very young children.  If the season includes a focus on making others happy, it is harder to be disappointed.

I have tried to give as many gifts as I can that tie into charity organizations.  From buying holiday cards that make a difference, to gifts that give back.  Donating to Toys for Tots, picking a family from an Angel Tree…there are so many ways to give back.  Not only will this make the holiday season better for you and your kids, it will brighten up the season for those in need.

Well, gotta go…the next show on the Hallmark Channel is starting!

Technology and Raising a Socially Responsible Child

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Technology and raising a socially responsible child are totally and irrevocably connected today.  This starts with the toddler who is exposed to technology that if not monitored and controlled by a parent, can replace human interaction.  It would be difficult to argue that this is a good thing.

Human interaction, those skills that are developed early in life, are invaluable in the child’s growth and readiness to enter the school system and succeed.  However, understanding and using technology is also invaluable in the child’s growth and readiness to succeed in school.  So, what is the balance?  How should technology be used with a young child?

There are few parents of past generations who at some point did not use the television set as a “babysitter.”  With the advent of Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, there were some excellent shows on television that moved past “babysitting” and into early education.  Almost 50 years ago, my youngest brother discovered the delightful Cookie Monster, who while teaching various preschool skills, would also trade anything for a cookie.  And I will never forget Dr. Sally Ride, in an orange NASA jumpsuit, introduced on Sesame Street as the “world’s expert at counting backwards!” “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, Blastoff!”  This was and continues to be great stuff.

It was fairly easy for my mother to control what we were watching on television.  Most families had one television, in a family room.  Eventually, I had a small television in my bedroom, but my mother had a trust that I would use this appropriately, and honestly with only four channels, there wasn’t a lot of trouble I could get into. Star Trek, Lost in Space – she knew what I was watching, was horrified, and positive I would scare away potential boyfriends or husbands with my infatuation with sci-fi. (I married a NASA scientist.)

So fast forward to today, where there are hundreds of television channels available, many on portable devices.  There are social media pages and apps for everything.  Books, games, etc.  How do you even begin to control this?  To limit or deny exposure impacts a child’s ability to navigate technology, a skill that is expected with incoming kindergartners.

This access to technology started to explode while I was raising children.  You monitored what you could, definitely limited the amount of time kids spent “on-line,” and also assigned some responsibility to your child, based on what was age appropriate.

There really is not a hard a fast rule that applies to how much time children should be allowed to be “on-line.”  This varies by family and is also situational. Like everything else as a parent, monitor and begin to teach responsibility.

One thing you don’t want to do as a parent is to back yourself into a corner with rules and regulations, and then have to back-peddle later.  For example, on long drives and plane rides technology is invaluable.  I don’t know of an adult who hasn’t made a long trip more bearable by reading or watching a movie.  You don’t want to have a one-hour limit on technology in place, and then change that every time a new situation pops up.  And you don’t want to go on a long car ride or plane ride with a whining two-year-old when you can make the trip so much more pleasant with technology.

There is nothing wrong with starting to teach children that there is a constant evaluation going on about when and where the use of technology is appropriate.  Model your thought process out loud, and begin to teach them to make these judgment calls themselves.  The bottom line however, is that when you say put it away, it is put away.  And remember, you are constantly modeling this behavior yourself.