We Pause for an Authentic Station Identification

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This is my 100th post!  I started this blog over a year ago to promote my first children’s book.  That is the total, honest truth. But being authentic to myself, the purpose of the blog quickly changed.

I live in a retirement community near a major university.  Many of the people in my neighborhood are retired professors and savvy about the book publishing and promotion world.  When my first book came out, the women in my knitting group told me I needed a presence on the web to promote my book. They told me I needed to start a blog.  They actually chased me out of the knitting group that day, and sent me home to start my blog.

The only problem was, I had never been on a blog!  I didn’t know what a blog was.  So, I started to do some research and by the end of the day I had opened my blog.

The-Educational-Journey started as a vehicle to promote my books, but it quickly moved beyond that.  It took me about five minutes into creating my blog, that I realized it could be a platform for something I am truly passionate about, authentic learning – also referred to as project-based learning.  (I am very passionate about my books, but honestly not that passionate about marketing.)

Even though I was retired, I realized that everywhere I looked I still saw projects and authentic opportunities.  My blog gave me the platform to share these ideas.

I keep thinking that eventually I will run out of ideas.  Eventually, my weekly posts will become monthly.  This might happen, but now I kind of doubt it.  If anything, I am seeing more and more authentic project ideas every day.

Ironically another hobby has “upped my game.”  I joined a scrapbooking group in my community and have learned to photograph everything.  You just never know when you will want a photo of something you did or saw for a scrapbook page.  Not surprisingly, these photos also inspire ideas for authentic learning and projects.

As a retired (but forever) teacher, I now have time to “stop and smell the roses.” And each and every one of these roses gives me an idea for a new authentic experience.  And authentic ideas often lead down a path to unexpected new and different ideas.

If you think about it, I photograph things I am interested in or passionate about.  These photos represent authenticity to me.  I don’t photograph things that don’t interest or inspire me.  So, staying authentic keeps me engaged and excited and learning.  This is the way authentic learning works!  It grabs you, engages you, and doesn’t let you go. (And if I ever post a photograph of a snake, you can be sure my husband took the picture, I am having an “off” week, and decided to blog about project ideas with snakes – YUCK!)

You’ve made 100 posts on The Educational Journey.

Budgeting for Materials for Projects

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While students should be encouraged to find what they need for projects, focusing on creativity, using recyclables etc, sometimes something is needed that has to be purchased.  There are so many authentic lessons that can be included in this process.  Giving students a budget to work with is not only a great way to use and reinforce math, it also makes students aware of what they are spending, what they really need, and creative ways to get what they need.

When building dioramas, several fourth graders were adamant that they needed modeling clay.  We approached this by telling them that the teachers were willing to put up $10 to buy clay.  $10 for the entire class.  The students searched on line and realized that even finding the best price, that was not a lot of clay for 30 students.  After some discussion and problem solving, the kids decided to make their own clay. They still needed to buy materials to make clay, but the $10 provided by teachers was more than enough to get the materials they needed.

The authentic experience even moved into the science of color mixing as they bought food coloring to dye the clay the colors they needed. And it also moved into the authentic discussion of, and research about, what was the best laundry detergent to try to get red food coloring out of my white skirt.  Sigh…

One School’s Journey by Eleanor K. Smith and Margaret Pastor

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One School’s Journey was written for educators. The goal of writing One School’s Journey was to not only document what we had accomplished at our school, but to inspire educators to use authentic teaching.

When I think about parenting, there are a lot of things we talked about in One School’s Journey that can also be applied to parenting.  Children develop best when in authentic situations.  When children are treated as individuals who can make decisions, learn, and grow – with guidance and support – they prosper.  So, while One School’s Journey was written for educators, we think it is a worthwhile read for parents as well. After all, a huge part of parenting is being an educator!   And it’s free on Kindle Unlimited!

One School’s Journey by Eleanor K. Smith and Margaret Pastor.                                Available on Amazon

Authentic Resources

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There are two basic types of resources: information students need, and materials students need.  As educators, we frequently view ourselves as the supplier of these resources.  A good teacher is prepared, correct?  But spending our time locating the resources students need, and gathering materials for them is really taking away from their authentic experience.  Even the youngest students can come up with ideas on how to find information and materials needed.  And if the whole point of authentic learning is to get children ready for a future that we can’t even imagine, then they need to be able to find the resources they need, and put those resources to use.

That doesn’t mean a good teacher isn’t prepared.  A good teacher is like the manager in a store. You make sure your store is fully stocked. You know what is in the store and where everything  is at. You know what you want to sell.  You train your staff how to function in your store. You set the tone for the staff (working together, helping each other). You provide direction. You have very specific goals. And then you let the staff do their jobs in the store.

When I started to write the above analogy, I was using a salesperson and a customer in the store.  However, I realized that students are really more like staff, if you are functioning authentically.  A good store manager wants to make it easy for the buyer to purchase something.  That is not the goal of authentic teaching. The goal is that each staff member learns, grows, has great ideas to improve the store, owns their job…and someday takes over the store – so the manager can retire and move to Fiji!

Trips as Authentic Inspiration

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A friend of mine recently sent me a text from a day trip to Washington, D.C.  It was one of our first beautiful spring days and she had gone down to enjoy the spring flowers.

I had just finished two blog posts that needed pictures from Washington.  I asked her if she could take a picture of the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Castle.  As an afterthought, I asked for pictures of other Washington icons.

She was not able to get the two pictures I needed. (Oh well, guess I will need to grab the husband and make the four-hour trip from Pennsylvania down to Washington to get the photos…and go out to lunch, do some shopping…)  However, looking at the gorgeous pictures she did send me, I immediately had ideas for several future blog posts.  The pictures were total authentic inspirations.  And, of course, my hope is that my blog inspires authentic teaching and projects.

Then it dawned on me, looking at the pictures, that perhaps we do field trips with children backwards.  I did the majority of my teaching career in the Maryland suburbs of Washington.  We frequently took field trips to iconic D.C. places at the end of units of study.  The thought was that at that point, the kids would have plenty of background knowledge and would benefit the most from the field trips.  But authentic projects should start from an inspiration.  The kids were the most engaged when something real inspired them, and then they took the project from there.

So maybe instead of waiting until nearly the end of a unit of study to take kids on a trip to see what they were actually learning about, we should take kids on trips to see what inspires them, and then start the authentic learning from there.

Authentic Project Idea – Waste Management

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As I have often mentioned in my blog, so many different things can inspire an authentic project.  A girlfriend of mine creates amazing quilts.  I call what she does “painting with fabric.”   I was at a museum exhibition of her work recently.  Several of her quilts have environmental themes.  One of her quilts depicts toxic waste drums. (Unusual for a quilt, and absolutely incredible work!)  This got me thinking about waste management.

We produce so much waste on our planet that we need to dispose of.  There are several ways a project could look at this issue.  Ideas about how to produce less waste.  Recycling ideas, disposal ideas…

The important thing to remember when teaching authentically is the starting point is just that, a starting point.  If somehow this project turns into recycling old cookbooks, which results in the use of, or the improvement of, an old recipe…that is exactly what authentic teaching and learning is.  The goal is for the student to read, write, use math, investigate, produce…

When students are engaged, they learn!

Authentic Project Idea – Donuts

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Who invented the donut?  Why do donuts have holes?  How do you make donuts?

Authentic projects often start with a few simple questions and end with a student developed recipe for delicious tasting zero calorie donuts! ( My blog…my fantasy!)