Authentic Project Ideas – Cliff Divers

Put this under the project idea category of “you have got to be kidding me!” This is what these folks do for a job.  They dive off of cliffs.  I have never been so glad that I earned my living as a teacher!

This photo was taken in Acapulco.  Our guide told us that none of the divers have ever been seriously injured.  They start out as children and learn to dive off of the lowest rocks and gradually move up. My daughter was a competitive gymnast and it was fascinating to watch how gymnasts learned new skills.  It took years to develop some skills and by the time they were doing them on different apparatus they were so well trained for so long, you really didn’t worry about them getting hurt. 

Still, watching the divers, I held my breath!

So how long does it take for a diver to master the highest cliffs?  Are there cliff divers in other places?  What is the history of the Acapulco cliff divers? (Research, time line, report, display, Power Point…)

Do they use math when they dive?  How?  Could computers be used to make their dives even safer?  How? How are computers used in other sports to improve achievement and safety?

While I really push the idea of authenticity, please don’t authentically dive off of a cliff to research this topic!

Authentic Project Ideas – Plants and Seasons

Good-bye gorgeous summer plants. Hello fall pumpkins. In most parts of the world the season is starting to change.  Actually, that is a great authentic project right there…is the season changing from summer to fall all over the world? In which parts of the world is the season changing from summer to fall? Do the seasons change in all parts of the world?  What season is it changing to?  Why? What causes seasons to change? Are we closer/farther away from the sun? (Most children will answer yes to this question…great authentic follow-up here.)

In many parts of the world we will lose our beautiful summer plants soon.  What will they be replaced with?  What grows well when the weather cools? What should be planted now?  What kinds of decorative plants?  Crops?  Where?  So many authentic ways to go with this… Enjoy what’s left of the summer (or winter)!

Teaching Authentically – Cooking

There is really no easier way to authentically teach math at the elementary level than through cooking.  Think about all of the math you use when baking and cooking.  Measurement, fractions, time…

The mantra of authentic learning is, “make it real, make it count.”  Well it doesn’t get any more real than cooking!

Have fun, enjoy, and watch the learning take place!  (And my total admiration to those that teach those higher-level math classes where cooking doesn’t cut it!)

Authentic Project Ideas – Designing a Better Car

Photo by Christie Anderson

Kids love cars!  One of the authentic projects I was involved with was having the kids design a better car.  This can be done on almost any grade level. 

Young children can be creative and use their imaginations (an ice cream maker in the car, hot tub, wide screen television).  Kids can write about their dream car, draw a picture and label the parts, cut and paste pictures found on the web, build models…

Older students can research current cars and add the features that they would like to see in a future car. Hybrids, electric cars, hydrogen cars… Lots of authentic ways this project could go.

Authentic Project Ideas – Butterflies

How many types of butterflies are there?  Where do different butterflies live?  Are there butterflies that prefer cool climates to warm climates?  Are there butterflies in cool climates?  Do all countries/continents have butterflies?

Do research about butterflies (Reading). Write a book about butterflies (Writing). Design a sanctuary for butterflies (Science/Math).  Build it (More Math). Photograph butterflies (The Arts).

One photo, unlimited authentic questions, unlimited authentic project ideas…

Authentic Learning – Never too Young to Explore Books

Authentic learning can’t start too young.  Exposing children to books and reading should start the day they are born.  As they grow, let them explore and enjoy books that interest them, on their level. 

Having a rich reading environment for children is hugely important.  Not only having lots of high interest reading material available, but having care-givers that model reading as well.

And remember, reading is reading. It doesn’t need to be Shakespeare for a child to grow as a reader. I am a voracious reader, mostly sci-fi. I don’t believe I would be the reader I am without sci-fi. No offense to the Great Bard, but not my cup of English tea. I’ve been reading sci-fi since I was old enough to hold a book. And now I write it!

And yep – that is my book, Tex the Explorer: Journey to Mars.  And yep – it is upside down! (Authentic Exploration)

Authentic Project Ideas – Covered Bridges

We just did a drive through a neighboring county looking for covered bridges. There is something very beautiful and intriguing about a covered bridge.

So, what is the history of the covered bridge?  Why were they built “covered?”  Were covered bridges built all over the world or just in some countries?  Are covered bridges still built today?

Design a covered bridge.  Build a model of a covered bridge.  Create a map showing where covered bridges are located in specific areas.  Lots of authentic ways to explore covered bridges.

Authentic Project Ideas – Waves

If you look closely in the above picture you can see a lot of surfers waiting to catch waves.  It didn’t look like a great place to catch waves to me, but right after I took the photo, many of them caught a wave. (Of course, I missed that picture!)

So what do surfers know about waves that makes them able to predict where and when a good wave will show up?  What makes waves?  Where are the best waves in the world for surfing?

And if this project turns into a project about where the best beaches are in the world for catching fish, or the best beaches in the world for getting a great tan – that is authentic learning!

Authentic Project Ideas Across Age/Grade Levels

I often see educators asking for project ideas for specific age/grade levels.  I hesitate sometimes to post a link to my blog when folks are asking for middle/high school ideas, as my entire career was spent at the elementary level.  But I think when I stop and look at my project ideas, most can be used for any age level.

I just saw this great idea for growing plants at home during the Coronavirus quarantine.  There were so many things the student growing these was trying to learn about.  She was interested in how plants reacted in direct sun versus shade.  How different plants needed more/less water.  What seeds grew best?  What seeds needed to be transplanted to a bigger container?  What happened when you kept the seedlings warmer versus cooler? So many authentic questions and so many authentic concepts to cover.

She researched/read about plants, kept notes and logs, measurements – so many authentic academic skills…

I love the egg carton idea.  So easy to get and use. I liked the idea so much, I used it on Zoom with my kindergarten-age granddaughter who was also interested in learning about plants.

Oh, the age of the student who gave me this idea, senior in college…just sayin!

Authentic Project Ideas – Pineapples

I was very surprised to see this is how pineapples grow.  For some reason I thought the fruit part grew underground, and all you saw was the green leafy part sticking out of the ground.

So, at least some kinds of pineapples grow this way.  Are there different kinds of pineapples? Do all varieties of pineapples grow this way? Have the leaves ever been used for anything?  How did pineapples get their name?  What is the history of the pineapple?

Read about pineapples. Create a chart about the different parts of the pineapple. Write about the history of the pineapple. Create a diorama showing how pineapples grow. Do a taste comparison of different brands of pineapples. Is the taste impacted by where the pineapple grows? So many authentic ways to go with this…

And if this project turns into developing a recipe for a great pineapple upside cake – that is authentic learning – and please send me the recipe!