Covering Academic Skills Through Projects

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I was finished posting my weekly Saturday blog when I started to scroll down and look at all of the posts on my blog.  I was thinking that perhaps I should refine my menu, and file the posts under whether they focused on reading, writing, math, science, social studies…

Then I realized that is exactly what you want to avoid in authentic teaching and learning.  Projects start with a driving question or a prompt, and then they go from there.  One of the most important parts of authentic teaching is to listen to your students, pay attention to what they are saying, and give some gentle guidance and suggestions as to what path they might follow to accomplish their goals.  (And also accomplish your own goals as well.)  A good project often includes all academic skills – certainly reading for research, writing notes and/or presentations, math calculations/graphs…

There was not one project that I worked on with students, that I wasn’t surprised at the end, at how many academic goals we were able to accomplish within the project.  And I was also surprised, as I evaluated what we had accomplished, at how much coffee I had consumed to keep up with our students as they authentically explored and grew as learners.  It was impressive!

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 Project Ideas – Cleaning Up Our Oceans

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OK…time for a break from the snow blogs!  It’s a tad hard this time of year to think about anything else, but perhaps if I write about warmer climates, I’ll defrost a little!

There are some really exciting groups doing some very innovative things to clean up our oceans.  The problem is huge and overwhelming, and it is hard to fathom that one group can make a difference, but every step in the right direction does make a difference.

It would be a wonderful authentic project to do some research about our oceans, the groups that are doing things to clean up our oceans, and perhaps think about a new innovative way to make a difference.  Even having a bake sale and donating the money to a group that is helping to clean up our oceans would be a great authentic project.

Authentic learning does not need to involve a huge project to be authentic.  And a project to help solve a problem does not need to be huge to make a difference!

 

Teaching Authentically – Allowing Students to Follow Their Passions

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I have blogged about this before, but felt it was important to revisit again.  When working on authentic projects, it is only authentic if the students are allowed to follow their own path with the project.  This can be a bit of a balancing act if the adult is trying to accomplish specific objectives and goals (as they should be).

This balance can be achieved through adult discourse and guidance.  For example, you introduce the topic of clouds, and you have a science goal of learning about cloud formation.  Your students may chose to continue to do an in depth and authentic project about cloud formation, or they may choose to follow a different path after they have learned the basics about how clouds form.  What happens when an airplane flies through a cloud?  What are the different types of clouds?  Do we have more clouds in warm or cold weather?  Do some areas of the Earth have more clouds?  Where are the best beaches with the fewest cloudy days? (Please let me know the answer to this one – I am a certified sun worshiper!)

NFL Football – is it more difficult to see the football in the air on cloudy days?  How do these clouds form?  And why do football players put black paint under their eyes? Do they need this paint on cloudy days?

Space – are there clouds on other planets?  How do they form – do we even know for sure how they form?

It can take some creative thinking, but the challenge can actually be fun, and rewarding, when you figure out the “tie in.”  And if you are stumped, ask the kids!  Their ideas might not always be an obvious path to follow, but if it makes sense to them, and accomplishes your goals, that is even more authentic. Mission accomplished, and engagement has occurred.  And when students are engaged – they learn!

 

Happy New Year and Thank You

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As we end 2019, I want to thank everyone who follows and/or reads my blog.  You can’t imagine what this means to me, that there are people out there reading what I write, and hopefully benefitting from my experiences as an educator.

Before my retirement, I watched other teachers retire.  I watched many crying and visibly upset about leaving education.  My reaction was honestly, “You have got to be kidding me.”  I loved what I was doing, but was also overwhelmed and exhausted.  I couldn’t wait for retirement.

Well, retirement came and I was devastated!   Physically I was done.  I needed to move on and take care of myself.  But emotionally I was left adrift.  I missed the children I worked with, I missed my peers, I missed my friends.

At this point, Peggy – my principal – and I had started to work on One School’s Journey.  This became so important to me.  To tell our story about what we were doing, about what worked reaching and engaging our students.  I also started to work on my children’s books with Eyen – my former student.  These books filled a huge hole for me, giving me a new purpose.  While sometimes frustrating – formatting a book is extremely challenging – I found books to be very emotionally rewarding to work on.

At some point, friends of mine suggested I start a blog to share my authentic project ideas.  I still saw projects everywhere I looked, and the idea of sharing them was really exciting to me.  The slight problem that I had never even read a blog, and didn’t know what a blog was, and certainly had no idea how to write one, was the first obstacle to overcome.

I persevered, and The Educational Journey was born. I was thrilled when people I didn’t know started to read my blog.  When my blog hit 100 views I was ecstatic!

This year my blog passed 10,000 views.  I am overwhelmed and honestly so grateful that people are still benefitting from what I know.

I wish a wonderful New Year to all of my followers and all of those folks who visit my blog every day. That I can still make a difference in the lives of children is so huge for me.  I thank you for allowing me to continue to do this.

Happy 2020 to everyone!

Most Sincerely and With Love,

Ellie

 

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…

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.