Authentic Project Ideas – Wood Board Games

Toys and games of the past were made out of wood.  There were so many simple, yet fun games, that were played in the past.  What were some of these games?  When and where were they created?  Who played them?

Create a new authentic board game.  Make the game board.  (Cardboard is fine if you don’t happen to be a wood carver!)  Create your own rules.  Teach the game to your friends.

And if it is a game that can be played over Zoom, if you make one and send it to your friends as well – even better!

Stay Safe!

How to Present Projects – Tri Boards

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I think one of the past biases that I personally held about tri-boards was because of how they historically had been used.  And that history was…send the tri-board home, have mom do it, and send it back and get that A+.

You cannot blame parents for this one.  First of all, teachers were basically dumping this on parents.  They had strict curriculums they needed to follow, no time for what was perceived as arts and crafts…send it home and let the parents deal with it.  Then teachers rewarded work obviously done by adults.

And let’s not blame the teachers.  They were under huge pressure to follow curriculums that moved too quickly and demanded coverage of too much material.   (I overheard a fifth-grader say to his classroom teacher during a math lesson, “You know if you slowed down a little I might actually learn something.”  Out of the mouths of babes.)

As a special education teacher, I was trained to slow it down, scaffold skills, and modify lessons to fit student needs. Hence why I am passionate about the project-based learning, authentic learning, learning through play movement, whatever you want to call it…it works!

During the pandemic I have seen a huge increase of people digging into how children really learn. The posts about project-based learning, authentic learning, learning through play, etc, have exploded. Fingers crossed that this understanding of how important teaching authentically is continues after we all go back to our “new normal.”

So back to tri-boards. Giving students a tri-board to use to display work is a really cool thing to do.  Tri-boards can be used to encourage organization (three parts to the board), conveying the important points (limited space), originality (not just printing things from the web and gluing them on the tri-board)….

And the final tri-board does not have to be perfect. What we want to see is academic growth, not perfection. We want to see authentic student work!

Managing Authentic Learning

In response to one of my posts, several people asked some great questions.  How do you manage students going off in different directions with their authentic projects?  How do you meet your objectives?

Several people responded with great answers.  I am adding my thoughts and paraphrasing what was said. (Thank you to everyone who answered these questions, both on Facebook and on my blog.)

What we found when we had students going off in several directions with authentic projects was that we were able to group them into smaller groups based on their interests.  Some groups were larger, some were small, and some students really wanted to work alone, which was fine.  But I don’t remember a time that we were managing more than a handful of groups, which honestly is not that hard to do when kids are engaged and motivated.

To meet objectives, make authentic project milestones require that your content covers your objectives. For example, if you students are designing and building model cars, and you have an objective to cover motion, friction, and energy, then have a project milestone be to race the cars and insert a discussion of motion, friction, and energy into the follow-up of the race.

Managing authentic projects is work, but it is also a lot of fun, different every day, and never boring.  The kids are engaged, and so are the teachers.  Can’t beat that!

Authentic Project Ideas – Designing a Ferris Wheel

This was a small, simple Ferris Wheel that I saw at a carnival last summer.  It actually looked kind of sad to me – it definitely needed a tad more creativity in the design. Perhaps a theme, a little decoration, something…

Which got me thinking about designing a Ferris Wheel.  Students could add creative carriages, etc.  And for older students there is the engineering behind Ferris Wheels.  The history of Ferris Wheels, famous Ferris Wheels…

And always remember that this is just the starting point.  If a student ends up doing research on the clouds seen from the top of the Ferris Wheel – that’s an authentic project!

*We were in London about a decade ago with our children and didn’t ride the London Eye because it was expensive. We are still kicking ourselves!

Authentic Listening

There are a lot of really great things being posted right now about Authentic Learning – PBL.  Looking through all of it, I do get a little overwhelmed.  I think it is really important to remember that true Authentic Learning should not be planned out to the nth degree.  You need a prompt or driving question.  You need specific goals and objectives that you want to accomplish.  But, the direction of the project should come from the students.  This is why when we wrote One School’s Journey, Peggy and I did not include lesson plans.  If you are following lesson plans then the project is not authentic.

Teaching authentically means that you need to listen to your kids, REALLY listen and pay attention.  There are so many opportunities to plug in your goals and objectives if you are paying attention to what they are doing or saying.  This is actually the most important part of teaching authentically, because if you plug in what you need to accomplish into what students are doing, they will be motivated to follow through.  And motivated, engaged students remember what they learn. 

Sometimes it is a tad challenging, but rarely was I stuck, and had to do a non-authentic lesson to cover what I wanted/needed to accomplish. 

I have many, many project ideas on my blog.  Looking through any resource, mine or others, the trick is to pick a prompt or driving question that you see has the potential to cover what you want to accomplish. 

Have Fun and Stay Safe!

Authentic Project Ideas – Inventing a New Game

Basketball

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.

Stay Safe!

Teaching Environmental Responsibility Authentically- Protecting Our Environment

FactoryQuiltQUILT BY CHRIS STAVER

The last two months have been a fascinating look at what happens to our planet when we cause less pollution.  Photos of Venice and the clean water are astounding.  Pictures of the clean sky over Los Angeles – amazing.  Animals coming back to their old habitats.  All of this in just a few months.

Obviously, at some point we will all re-emerge and begin to interact more with our environment.  But maybe some good will come out of this and we will do it a little more responsibly.  We have certainly seen how quickly our planet can begin to recover from some of the damage caused by humans.

I have written about several project ideas that have a theme of protecting and cleaning up our environment.  Teaching children how to learn and think authentically is something I am obviously passionate about.  We also need to take a good, hard look at what we are doing to our planet, and what we are leaving behind for our children and grandchildren.  What better way to cover both than an authentic project about our environment.  And the timing, with what is currently happening in our world, is perfect for this authentic exploration.

There are some really neat organizations out there that are making a big difference in cleaning up our environment.  For example, 4ocean sells bracelets made of beads from plastic pulled out of the ocean (a huge environmental problem).  For every bracelet they sell they pull a pound of plastic from the ocean.

There are many other grassroots organizations, businesses, and charities that are making a huge difference.  Most started as a simple project. (Read about the start of 4ocean, it is an interesting story.)  A really cool authentic project could be to develop a new way or idea to clean up, or prevent pollution, on our planet.  Who knows…this project may become something that makes a difference.

Stay Safe!

Teaching Authentically, Staying Authentic

Chicken

I had this photo in my file of posts to write, and I realized that the timing was perfect to work on this topic.  Children are hearing lots of things on television about a meat shortage.  This just adds to their concerns (and ours) about what is happening in our world.  While my original topic was going to be to explore organic and free-range food sources, I think a better topic might be what our options are for food today.

My original prompts for authentic exploration were as follows:  Many stores advertise that their meats are organic or free range.  There are also many other claims markets make.  What exactly does organic mean?  Free range? Are there benefits to one over the other?  Is there a better way to raise livestock?  Are companies really honest about this?  How is this enforced? This may lead to an authentic project on ranching, farming, or even the pros and cons of being a vegetarian  (and how is that different from veganism).

So, take this topic and incorporate what is happening in our world today. What are our options for food today.  The reason I am totally committed to authentic learning and projects is because it approaches education in a real and current way.  Adjusting a lesson/project to address current events – well you can’t get much more authentic than that!

Stay Well, Stay Healthy

Teaching Authentically On Line

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Since March we have been meeting on Zoom with our granddaughter every day, trying to cover kindergarten concepts.  Working with a five-year-old on Zoom is definitely not the easiest way to teach.  I have no idea how teachers are managing to work with several at the same time.

We immediately started to work with her on projects, but struggled with maintaining her interest and attention through several lessons, until it hit me like a lightening bolt to practice what I preach and teach authentically.  This did not mean to let her run away with the lesson, it meant to incorporate her passions into what I wanted to accomplish academically.

Her current passions are Unicorns, Alicorns, and Mermalicorns –  that is a Mermaid-Unicorn with wings, in case you didn’t know that.  (In one of our first Zoom session, I mentioned that Unicorns were not real.  I believe I will be forgiven for that comment in about a century or so.)

Once we started incorporating her love of unicorns into our lessons, they took off.  We were able to share facts we felt were important, practice spelling, and counting, and just plain have fun working with her.  She introduced new aspects to our authentic lessons that expanded what we were able to accomplish. She even informed us during a recent lesson, that mermaids are pretend, but we should still put one in our drawing we were making about what lived in the ocean.  (I am not touching the unicorn reality subject again, I can be taught!)

At the end of a recent lesson, she announced that she wanted to talk about cameras (this was a reference to the camera that took a photo of her and her baby brother with Santa last December).  We had a wonderful authentic conversation about cameras, practiced more spelling, did some math (photo size, age of cameras of the past), and drew pictures of cameras.  (My picture was judged to be the best by her, out of pity for me, I have zero drawing skills.)

In hindsight, I am stunned that I did not start out immediately by working with her authentically, using her interests to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish with her.  After all, I blog about this every week, and it is my passion.  But throwing Zoom into the mix threw me.  I will definitely admit it is not as easy as teaching in person.  Being authentic is definitely harder when you are not authentically there.  But going authentic has changed the impact and productivity of our lessons in a 100% positive way.

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy!

Authentic Does Not Mean Perfect

Gramma

This is a masterpiece that was done for me by my five-year-old granddaughter.  (I am not biased at all – it is a masterpiece worthy of a museum!)

What I love about this, besides the fact that it was done by her, is that it is not perfect.  Somewhere along the way we lost the learning process in our strive for perfection.  And as educators we got that message out loud and clear that we were striving for perfect “A+” work.

But when you are pushing perfection, you are looking at the end product, not the journey that got you there.  And if the educational journey has to be perfect, you eliminate risk taking and you eliminate authenticity.

Our greatest learning experiences come from the process, not the final product.  My granddaughter is learning how to write and spell.  Her work isn’t perfect.  But she is sounding out words and writing down what she hears.  She loves to do this.  She has been praised for her attempts, so she keeps at it, and keeps learning.  Sometimes she asks for help, sometimes she doesn’t.  Sometimes she is given a gentle nudge if she is stuck.

And if you can’t read “kindergarten,” this masterpiece, which hangs proudly on my refrigerator (not in a museum, but after posting it I expect to hear from the National Art Gallery) says, “This picture is for Gramma.”