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!

Teaching Authentically at Home

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I know many (most) of the children we educate are currently learning at home.  Projects work beautifully in the home.  But don’t forget that authentic learning doesn’t need to be a big involved project.  Every day activities are great times for authentic teaching and learning.  Cooking is full of reading and math.  (I still can’t do math problems unless I picture cooking and/or food in my head!)  Planning and implementing a schedule for the day.  Writing a grocery list.  Estimating the cost of everything in the grocery cart. (My grandmother used to say, “Just count the items in the cart and multiply by 50¢.” Great authentic lesson in inflation!)

I joke that I was the laziest teacher and parent on the planet.  If the kids could do something, why should I do it.  The truth of the matter is I was doing some really good teaching and parenting, if I say so myself.  Honestly, it is more work to have your kids do something. As an adult I could do it neater and faster.  If your child is writing a grocery list and you are having to help prompt or spell, it takes twice as long.  But if you write the list you are missing an authentic learning moment – on so many levels!

I hope everyone is safe and well.

Best to All,  Ellie

Authentic Project Ideas – The Power of Advertising

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Advertising is a very powerful tool.  Not only would it be a great authentic project for students to learn about how advertisements are created, but also how we are influenced by ads.

Ads are created to hit an emotional response in us. We need that, we want that, we will be better people if we have that.  (Will we really?)

With one project I was involved with, the third graders wrote, created props, and filmed ads to convince other students in our school to come see their projects.  The ads were filmed on a teacher’s cell phone and shared with other classes.  This was a tremendous authentic learning experience on so many levels, and an off-shoot from the original project that we hadn’t planned on.

And does advertising work…well while watching the Alamo Bowl with my husband (it seems the only channels my television got during December/January had college football games on them) I saw one ad after another for visiting San Antonio, Texas.  And guess where my photo above was recently taken!

Authentic Learning – Measuring Snowfall

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Not everything needs to be a big project to be authentic.  Tracking snowfall can be a great authentic way to learn measurement and graphing.

Use a ruler to go out and measure how much snow is on the ground after a snow fall.  Track measurements through one storm, or through the entire winter season. Create a graph with your results. Discuss different types of graphs and what graph would make the most sense to use and why.  If you are in the US, have your students measure using both inches and centimeters.  (If you don’t have snow where you live – count yourself fortunate – you can measure rainfall.)

Working with a group of fifth graders, I had them measure paper to cover bulletin boards.  These kids had completed hundreds of worksheets on measurement, yet none of them were comfortable using a ruler. Not one of them knew how to approach measuring a bulletin board – after completing hundreds of worksheets!  Basically, these worksheets had been a total waste of time.  Using a ruler to measure something meaningful and real – authentic –  internalizes the skill for a child.

Authentic Project Ideas – Clouds versus Fog

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What a gorgeous fall morning!  Couldn’t resist this picture. So, are these clouds?  Fog?  What is the difference between clouds and fog?  We had had a ton of rain the day before.  Did the wet conditions contribute to this?  Also, we live up in the mountains.  Did altitude contribute to this?

What causes clouds?  What causes fog?  Can this effect be reproduced in an experiment inside a controlled environment?  Is the composition of my photo any good?  How could I take a better photo? What makes a photo interesting. (Feedback appreciated.  I enter my photos in our county fair every summer and I love ribbons!)  Authentic jumping off point for several projects…

Scheduling Authentic Field Trips for Authentic Projects

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STUDENT CREATED TELESCOPE INSPIRED BY A FIELD TRIP

When I first started teaching, field trips took place at the end of a unit of study, usually dangled out there as a reward for a successful completion of the unit.  Actually, this is how field trips were used for most of my career.

But when you look at teaching authentically, it makes much more sense to hold those field trips earlier, even at the beginning of a project.  Field trips should be used to promote questions, cause higher level thinking, and cause the student to want to explore the topic further.

Of course, an introduction to the topic should occur before the project begins.  Going in with no background information doesn’t give the student the prior knowledge needed to know what they are looking at.  That is the big judgment call – how much information do the students need to successfully navigate a field trip, without giving them so much that it stifles their own questions and curiosity.  What guidelines are the students given before the trip so that they know what to expect and what is expected of them?

I ran my most successful field trip by accident.  (Ok, most of the wonderful things I did in my career happened totally by accident!)  My school was near the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.  Due to scheduling difficulties (NASA Goddard is always booked up for the academic year very early) we had to visit earlier in the project than I wanted to.  I also did not realize we were going to see the actual James Webb Space Telescope which was/is currently under construction.  So, we ended up going on this trip early in our space related project.  The kids had solid background knowledge about space and space exploration.  But none of us, including the teachers, knew that we were going to see the actual James Webb Space Telescope.

I can sum up the authentic learning and engagement that took place by relating what one wide-eyed teacher said to me.  He turned to me when we entered the viewing area for the telescope and said he hoped the kids were behaving because he couldn’t take his eyes off the telescope or divert his full attention from the presentation.  I looked around and saw that every child was as engaged as the teachers were.  This resulted in tons of questions, and project suggestions when we returned to school.  I don’t know if the engagement would have been as intense if we had “beat to death” information about the telescope and the fact that we were actually going to see the telescope before we went on the trip.  And we certainly would not have had all of the opportunities to explore what we saw, if we had scheduled the trip in June, as I had originally hoped to.  A totally authentic and fantastic field trip, every detail totally planned out in advanced by me. (Ummm…nope!)

By the way, the James Webb Space Telescope would be a super jumping off point for an authentic project.

Authentic Teaching – Math

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My husband and I recently rediscovered Yahtzee.  I have always loved this game.  Lots of strategy and math.

When it came time to add up my score, I got up to grab my cell phone to use the calculator.  It dawned on me that I was missing an easy authentic math experience – for me.  Rather than allow my brain to become rusty – I added up my score myself!

Authentic learning does not always have to involve a big project.  The point of authentic learning is to make it real and make it count.  Sometimes this involves a big project.  Sometimes a short and sweet project.  And sometimes just an authentic experience.

There are many wonderful math games to play with children that improve math skills.  Just don’t forget that keeping track of and adding up scores are also fantastic authentic math experiences.  This is also a great authentic way to teach estimation – before actually adding up the scores, do a quick estimation to see who probably won.  And a great authentic way to teach checking your work – add of the score two times to make sure you get the same number both times.

By not grabbing that cell phone or calculator at the end of the game to add up the scores, you can double or triple the authentic math skills practiced and reinforced.  And in case you are wondering – I won that round of Yahtzee!  This doesn’t usually happen, so I think it is important to note this on my blog.