Authentic Project Ideas – Blue Pumpkins

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So, this one kind of stumped me.  I had never seen blue pumpkins before, until I stumbled upon these in a local market.  (Maybe I have been living a sheltered life.)  Are blue pumpkins new or have they been around for a while?  How do you grow a blue pumpkin?  What other color pumpkins can you find?

Where do pumpkins grow best?  What part of the pumpkin do we eat?  What can the seeds be used for?

Create a display about different kinds of pumpkins.  Bake a pumpkin pie.  Predict how many seeds are inside a pumpkin.  Bake the pumpkin seeds.  Create pumpkin art with the seeds.  Bake something using the inside of an actual pumpkin (not canned pumpkin).

How did the Jack-O-Lantern tradition start?  What is the history of Halloween?  How did the tradition of eating pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving in America start?  What are Fall Holiday traditions in other countries?

And…upon researching blue pumpkins I stumbled across information about these pumpkins.  Blue pumpkins are being used to symbolize at least two really thoughtful things for Halloween Trick-or-Treaters.  I am not sure if this is just in America, or in other countries as well that celebrate Halloween.

Lots of authentic questions, lots of starting points for authentic projects.

Authentic Project Ideas – Contrails

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I looked up in the sky a few days ago and saw a patchwork of contrails.  What causes planes to leave contrails?  Why are they more visible on some days?  Can you learn something about a plane from the contrail it leaves?  (Resource: Fantastic videos about contrails on YouTube!)

How many different types of planes are there?  What new planes are currently being designed?  Design a better plane.  (Authentic Learning – start with a discussion of contrails and see where you end up…)

Authentic Project Ideas – Trees

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This picture got me thinking about trees.  In this picture there is an evergreen  and a deciduous tree.  What is the difference between the two types of trees?  Where are they commonly found.

An authentic project could be a photo-journal of types of trees.  Evergreens vs. deciduous.  Are all evergreens conifers?  Are all conifers evergreens?  Varieties of both types.  Why are different trees suited for different climates?  Why do deciduous trees lose their leaves?

What category does the palm tree fall into? Why is the palm suited to the tropics and subtropics (hint – hurricanes).  Where are the best places to vacation in the topics? (Remember in authentic learning the point is that the child learns and grows – so if a project about trees turns into a project about vacation destinations that is authentic!)

There are also groups that will give you a sapling to plant in your yard in order to encourage tree growth.  Do a search on line to find a give-away event near you. Plant a tree, learn about it, track its growth… Why are trees so important?

Years ago, if you sent in a box top from Lucky Charms cereal to General Mills, they would send you a sapling to plant in your yard (limit one per family). So true confession, we sent in many box tops and used our friends’ addresses who didn’t want trees.  We planted our entire backyard with these saplings and watched them grow for the next twenty years.  We no longer own that home and I couldn’t find a picture of our old backyard.  But it was a fantastic authentic experience for our kids to learn about those trees and why trees are important, to plant those trees, and to watch them grow.  (Please don’t report me to General Mills!)

Authentic Project Ideas – Caterpillars

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OK, never thought I would blog about a caterpillar, not my cup of tea.  But this guy was too amazing to pass up.  Great photo, if I say so myself.

So, tell me about this guy!  Will he turn into a butterfly?  What kind of caterpillar is he?  Or is he a she?  Hmm…  So much authentic research to do!  So many different authentic ways to present your findings: photo journal, science log, slide show, labeled diagram, model, presentation about the life cycle of the caterpillar…

And, why is this caterpillar green?  Is it natural camouflage?  What other animals have natural camouflage?  Do they change seasonally? How is camouflage used in nature? How are military uniforms designed to incorporate camouflage?  Authentic learning… research on caterpillars sends your students down the path to research on camouflage… Fantastic!

 

Authentic Project Ideas – Castles

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I was recently asked for project ideas for “Castles.”  I took me about ten seconds to realize that this was a fantastic authentic project topic.

There are so many ways to approach this.  Designing and building a model castle based on historical research.  Castle life, past versus present.  Castle design, past versus present.  (Do we have modern day castles?)

Clothing people wore in castles in the past.  Status and clothing.  How was clothing made in the past?  Food, recreation…

Creating a government system for a castle based on the history and time period selected…

Do all castles have kings and queens?  The history of a royal family – remember with authentic learning you have a starting point, but if “Castles” turns into a project about the history of a royal family – that is authentic learning!

Europe has castles galore.  Asia?  The rest of the continents?  Why aren’t there thousand-year-old castles (ruins) in North America?  Cataloging castles around the world…

I could keep going with this one forever.  Tons of opportunity for authentic reading, writing, math, social studies, science (physics – how did those trebuchets work?)

And please keep in mind that I have always fancied being a queen, so I volunteer to serve as the queen in your castle!

 

Authentic Presentations

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Traditionally children demonstrated what they learned through written reports and tests.  However, not only do many children not demonstrate well this way, moving forward into this century, this is not the way that creative and innovative thinkers will demonstrate what they know.

There are many, many different ways for children to show what they have learned.  Authentic learning needs authentic demonstration.  Children should be encouraged to show what they have learned in ways that they are comfortable with and confident about.  They should also be encouraged to demonstrate mastery of what they know in unique and new ways.

Photo-Journals, Computer Presentations, Literary Works, Scripts, Performances, Posters, Demonstrations, Competitions, Models, Dioramas, Correspondence…

In the back of our back One School’s Journey we made a list of all of the ways that students had demonstrated learning/presented projects in our school.  Honestly, we could probably double that list a year later.  As our students became more comfortable with authentic learning they evolved with the unique ways they presented what they had learned.  These are the kinds of doers and thinkers that will make it, and make a difference in this coming century!

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.