Authentic Project Ideas – Butterflies

How many types of butterflies are there?  Where do different butterflies live?  Are there butterflies that prefer cool climates to warm climates?  Are there butterflies in cool climates?  Do all countries/continents have butterflies?

Do research about butterflies (Reading). Write a book about butterflies (Writing). Design a sanctuary for butterflies (Science/Math).  Build it (More Math). Photograph butterflies (The Arts).

One photo, unlimited authentic questions, unlimited authentic project ideas…

Authentic Teaching

My daughter was taught reading in fifth grade using a very analytical program developed for above grade-level readers.  It was very researched-based.  Lots of solid educational theory behind it.  She was a voracious reader.  By the end of fifth grade she hated reading.  She hated books.  She refused to read.  (With a fantastic reading teacher in sixth grade, my daughter discovered her love of reading again, thank goodness.)

Why?  This program picked books apart.  The kids had to analyze them to death.  Every chapter was torn apart and looked at.

Think of it this way.  View a gorgeous Monet painting.  Stand several yards back and take it all in.  Breath-taking.  I fell in love with art through the work of Monet. Now, press your nose up to the canvas.  Pick it apart. Analyze the color.  Analyze the strokes.  Not so great anymore, is it?

I see the same thing happening with project based learning, what I call authentic learning.  Semantics – project based learning, authentic learning, learning through play…everything has the same goal – to make learning real, make it worthwhile, make it count.  Not only are folks hung up on the semantics, they are hung up on planning every detail out ahead of time, getting plans from others, following commercial programs – not authentic at all.

Don’t do to authentic projects what that reading program did.  Don’t pre-plan and pick apart the experience until you destroy the spontaneity and joy of learning for you and your students.  Go with the flow, as the captain of your ship keep it on course, but allow for your passengers to experience the choices from the buffet along the way!

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 Project Ideas – Inventing a New Game

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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 Authentically, Staying Authentic

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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

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!

 

Authentic Teaching – 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