This artwork was done by a 5th grade student who was working on the Martian Colony Project I was involved with. I wish I could remember his name, I would give him credit for the artwork.
Someone from the outside looking in might question the time spent on this illustration. Isn’t this a waste of valuable learning time. This was done in the classroom, not in art class. Shouldn’t the student have been reading, writing, or doing math.
When working on authentic projects it is important to remember that what you see as the final project is only a snapshot of the learning that took place. While I don’t remember the student’s name, I do remember that conversation we had while he worked. He was looking at a picture of a rover on Mars and asking all sorts of questions. His classroom teacher and I directed him to sources to find his answers. He also posed improvements to the rover. This illustration accompanied a brochure that the class put together to accompany the tours they were giving of their Martian Colony.
So if you walk into a classroom where students are constructing, drawing, painting…stop and listen to what they are saying and what they are really doing. The learning is authentic, ongoing, and owned by the students.
Parents frequently have the opportunity to just explore with their children. Just spending time looking, listening, talking… And this is when children really learn. When the exchange is spontaneous, real, authentic…
Authentic learning is just that. It is spontaneous and real. The only difference is that the educator also has objectives and goals that need to be woven in.
Here is the difference. The father gets up in the morning and decides to take his young son on a hike. While on the hike they discover a lake. The father and son enjoy the view, and the father also talks to his son about what they are seeing. Lots of authentic learning is taking place.
Now, picture the father as an educator (and aren’t all parents educators). He gets up in the morning, looks at his plan book, and sees he wants to introduce the concept of “lake” to his young learner. So, he plans a hike that ends at a lake. Here is the big difference. The father went on a hike and happened to end up at a lake. The educator plans a hike that ends up at a lake.
Once they get there, the educator lets his young learner take everything in, and also introduces the concept of “lake.” And if there is not a lake nearby to explore, he plans a field trip. Or he finds a video on line that explores a lake. (Authentic can be virtual as well…)
Oh…and in the first scenario, the mom left at home enjoyed some quality nap time!
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 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)
My daughter was taught reading in fifth grade using a very analytical program developed for above grade-level readers. It was very researched-based. Lots of solid educational theory behind it. She was a voracious reader. By the end of fifth grade she hated reading. She hated books. She refused to read. (With a fantastic reading teacher in sixth grade, my daughter discovered her love of reading again, thank goodness.)
Why? This program picked books apart. The kids had to analyze them to death. Every chapter was torn apart and looked at.
Think of it this way. View a gorgeous Monet painting. Stand several yards back and take it all in. Breath-taking. I fell in love with art through the work of Monet. Now, press your nose up to the canvas. Pick it apart. Analyze the color. Analyze the strokes. Not so great anymore, is it?
I see the same thing happening with project based learning, what I call authentic learning. Semantics – project based learning, authentic learning, learning through play…everything has the same goal – to make learning real, make it worthwhile, make it count. Not only are folks hung up on the semantics, they are hung up on planning every detail out ahead of time, getting plans from others, following commercial programs – not authentic at all.
Don’t do to authentic projects what that reading program did. Don’t pre-plan and pick apart the experience until you destroy the spontaneity and joy of learning for you and your students. Go with the flow, as the captain of your ship keep it on course, but allow for your passengers to experience the choices from the buffet along the way!
When you mix ingredients together for cookies or a cake, why does the batter lighten in color while you mix it? Does this always happen when you mix ingredients together? Why or why not? Is it important that this happens when you mix ingredients for cookies/cakes? Will it bake better because this happens? What happens if you don’t mix the batter enough?
What happens when you substitute ingredients? Are there some ingredients that can be substituted and it won’t matter? Which ingredients are very important and must be used for the recipe to work? What if you add more flour? Less? More sugar? Less? More baking soda? Less? What is the difference between baking soda and baking powder? Can you add too many chocolate chips? (Is there such a thing as too many chocolate chips?)
And don’t forget to talk about all of the measurements being used.
Lots of authentic questions. Lots of authentic eating opportunities!
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.
As I have stated many times, I am passionate about Authentic Learning. It is the reason I started my blog after I retired. I was ready to stop teaching, but not ready to leave education and something I believe in with all my heart and soul.
I also love photography, and realized that my photos were giving me lots of project ideas. If you stop, look around, and smell the roses, you will be amazed and what you see.
But for a project to be authentic you need to listen, really listen, to your students. What are they thinking about, what do they want to know, what are they interested in. Then you create your driving question, and start to frame your authentic project with experiences that require that your content covers your curriculum objectives.
Authentic teaching requires planning, but that planning needs to revolve and change based on what your students are interested in. Plan a lesson, watch your student engagement, listen to their interests and questions, and change course if necessary.
Teaching authentically involves giving yourself that time to reflect and smell those roses. It is so important to good teaching and much more pleasant way to go through life!
Baking is a fantastic authentic way to teach kids math. (True confession – I still need to visualize some sort of cooking experience when I am trying to figure out fractions.)
While baking with kids, you need to talk with them about what they are doing. Insert math language and content into the conversation. Guide them, but let them problem solve.
You can step in to stop a catastrophe – it would definitely be catastrophic to add too much salt to a cookie recipe, while adding too many chocolate chips would be a bonus!
Have fun, and please send me any good recipes for chocolate chip cookies. We lost our favorite family recipe (absolutely catastrophic).
One of the best games I ever played was a game that several fifth-graders had invented. It involved shooting a basket, then running a diamond backwards, jumping rope… I don’t remember all of the things you had to do to score, but it was a blast! (And I came in last – no surprise.)
Making up rules for a new game is a great authentic project. The project can involve reading (reading about other games and rules to get ideas), writing (recording the rules, and editing after you follow the rules to see if they covered everything), and math (developing a scoring system).
With social distancing and other limits to what kids normally play, it is a great time to invent a new game that can be played and enjoyed with the limitations currently in place.