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.

Authentic Project Ideas – Elevators

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This is a photo of an elevator at the Pittsburgh International Airport.  I love this elevator.  You can really see all of the parts and how it works!  So how do elevators work?  Do all elevators work this way?  How did elevators of the past work?  What is the history of elevators? When was the elevator invented? Where?

So many authentic investigations and possible projects…  Building a model elevator would involve research (reading), planning (writing), and construction (math).  I have a friend who loves to photograph interesting windows.  It might be a fun, authentic experience/project to start a photographic journal of interesting elevators, with written descriptions of each one, how it works, where it is located (geography)…   And you are welcome to copy and use my photo from this blog as the first entry!

Being Authentic

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I recently received an email from a teacher asking me what inspired my ideas for projects.

When I was teaching, I was inspired by what the students were interested in.  Ok, that is not a totally honest answer.  I was inspired by my love of space, and in particular my fascination with Mars.  It was easy for me to be creative and stay engaged.  Doing research on my own time was not an added chore, I was already reading everything that I could get my hands on.  I didn’t need to hunt for materials, I was able to put what I had already collected to good use.  And my enthusiasm for Mars was contagious.  When a teacher is excited and engaged, the students become excited and engaged.

But, a good authentic project requires the teacher to listen to student discourse and alter plans accordingly.  With the Martian Colony Project that was easy, because we could incorporate just about anything into the open-ended plans for our colony.  Sports – no problem – we created a Martian football league.  Fashion – clothing designs for Mars.  Government – that was huge – laying the groundwork for a new colonial government (easy tie in to the formation of our U.S. government, tons of history lessons there). Spa – Hey, I wasn’t spending the rest of my life on Mars with a bunch of fifth graders without a lot of manicures, pedicures, and pampering!

Every one of these topics involved a basic understanding of Space Exploration and Mars, and included almost unlimited opportunities for reading, writing, math, social studies, science…

Even the planning for the spa, actually especially the planning for the spa, involved a great deal of research, writing, math, science… (The spa started as a snarky suggestion from a group of fifth-grade girls who were doing everything possible to not engage in the colony.  These girls ended up being our most engaged students.)

Now that I am retired (forever a teacher, however), I have time to stop and smell the roses.  A whole lot of roses!  And I photograph everything for my scrapbooks.  And invariably I end up seeing authentic projects in these photos.  (And entering them in our local Grange Fair and winning a lot of ribbons, but that is another story!)

Being retired means that I can spend my time following my passions – like writing this blog!  I can spend time doing the things that I love to do. I am being authentic.  And when you are being authentic, doing something you love to do, you want to explore and learn more.  Isn’t that what good teaching should be?

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.

Authentic Teaching – 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…