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.

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 – 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!

Authentic Project Ideas – Rainbows

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The photo above as authentic inspiration – this is one that can go in a million different directions…

Authentic Science:  What causes us to see a rainbow?  What causes the different colors?  Why are some rainbows more colorful than others?

Authentic Math:  Is it possible to figure out the diameter and radius of a rainbow?

Authentic Research/Reading:  Read about rainbows.  Learn about rainbows.

Authentic Literature: Read stories that feature rainbows.  How did the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” tale start?

Authentic Writing:  Write a report about rainbows.   Write a fiction story featuring a rainbow.

Authentic Creation:  Create a diorama, a poster, storyboard, video, photo journal…

Remember in authentic learning there is a starting point or prompt, and your student(s) can go anywhere from there.  (Rainbows – Rain – Building a Rain Gauge…Rainbows – Lack of Rain – Irrigation Techniques…) And not all authentic learning leads to a big project.  Sometimes a quick hit and time to move on…

The sky is the limit (pun intended).