Teaching our children that they can make an authentic difference is something that I think is really important. There are so many current problems we have on our planet. And it can seem like, “why bother,” we really can’t make a difference. But we can! If everyone just tried to make a bit of a difference, think of the changes that we could make.
Our planet desperately needs trees planted. There are many, many groups that are planting trees. A great authentic project would be to learn why we need trees, what we use trees for, what are all the different types of trees… Then involving our students in either planting trees, or fundraising for groups that are planting them. Tons of authentic reading, math, science, social studies… Learning and a good cause – can’t beat that!
I live in the heart of Amish country in Central Pennsylvania. Because of this, I have interacted with the Amish and learned a great deal about their culture.
They are a fascinating group of people. The more I know about them, the more I want to learn. There are definitely some things they do, and believe in, that I would like to try to incorporate into my life, and some things I would not. (Totally not interested in giving up my washing machine and dryer.) But, isn’t that true for everyone. And isn’t it true that the more we learn, understand, and appreciate other people, the better we will get along.
I think a great authentic project for students in my area would be to learn about the Amish. What group(s) of people who practice different or unique religions, customs, or ideas are in your area? And what are your students interested in learning about these people? It won’t and shouldn’t be the same for every student. I am especially interested in Amish clothing. My friend down the street is interested in Amish cooking. Both topics are authentic and can lead to further discovery on different topics.
And just let me say…I do NOT want the Amish recipe for those little chocolate donuts stuffed with peanut butter filling. I have worked too hard to lose weight this year to get my hands on that recipe!
The whole point of authentic teaching is that it is – well – authentic! Make it real. Make it count.
Teaching social skills is definitely something that is authentically real, and certainly counts. But coming up with driving questions and project ideas that develop these skills can seem daunting, especially if you want what you are doing to really make a difference. But, I think sometimes the problem is that we think that to make a difference we need to save the world.
There is a story about a boy on a beach who is picking up starfish and throwing them back in the water. There are thousands of starfish washed up on the beach and there is no way that the boy can throw them all back in the water and save them all. A man is watching him, questions this, and asks him why he even tries. As he throws another starfish back in the water, he replies, “It made a difference to that one.” (Adapted from The Star Fish Thrower by Loren Eiseley, 1907-1977)
I love this story. I repeat it constantly. To me it is the core of everything I do when I do something for someone else. I don’t have to send a card to every elderly, lonely person to make a difference. Just one. I don’t need to donate a toy to every needy child at the holidays. Just one, or two, or however many I can handle. I don’t need to clean up litter on every street in my town. Just one block. I don’t need save the world by myself.
And when I devise a driving question, or come up with a framework for a project, I don’t need to come up with something that will save the world. Just one starfish. And imagine if every educator devised a project to save one starfish. We might just end up saving all of them. This is the truly authentic lesson we need to teach children. Save one starfish.
What is the history of Valentine’s Day? Where did it start? What countries celebrate Valentine’s Day? How do people celebrate Valentine’s Day?
With COVID-19 and many people shut in at home it might be a great authentic social-skills project to make Valentines for people who might need a nice surprise in their mailbox or on their doorstep.
And since authentic projects start with a driving question and go from there, this photo might take your learners in an entirely different direction. The above photo is of a preserved rose in a small, closed glass container. I have had it for several years – I rarely open it – and it is still as beautiful as the day I received it. How are flowers preserved like this? Can this process be used on other flowers? How long can you expect a preserved flower to last? What are other ways to preserve flowers? Is there a safe way to preserve flowers at home? (Hint – I have used hairspray very effectively on wedding bouquets.)
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!