Authentic Project Ideas – Bird Houses

This is a photo of a birdhouse that recently caught my eye. It was very simple, with holes on each side. I don’t know a lot about birdhouses, but the holes seemed very small. I am assuming that this house was built for a particular type/size of bird. Are there bird houses built for larger birds? What is the purpose of a birdhouse?

Why do people put up birdhouses versus bird feeders?

Ideas – Do authentic research about birdhouses and bird feeders. What are the different types of birdhouses/bird feeders? Build a better birdhouse. Build a better bird feeder.

Authentic Project Ideas – Ski Slopes

There are ski slopes a few blocks from our home.  We always enjoy seeing the snow on the slopes and watching the skiers racing downhill.  I tried skiing once.  I raced right down that hill.  Not because I was a natural skier, but because I had no control – could not turn, could not stop.  My cousin met me at the bottom, told me to take off my skis, and go enjoy some hot chocolate and the lodge shops.  Great advice.

So back to the purpose of this blog entry…  As I mentioned, we love to look at the snow on the slopes.  However, due to climate change, the snow is present much less than it was even a decade ago.  On average, we see snow and skiers in January through mid-March.  This is not a lot of time for the owners to make a profit on what is a very expensive business to operate.  The owners have found very creative ways to solve this problem during the ski season and during the rest of the year.

I thought it would be a great authentic project to have students look at this problem.  What could the owners do to make a profit and stay in business with the limited ski season?

*Just FYI, the property is used for concerts, chicken-wing feasts, go-carts…but I wouldn’t share this with your students.  Let them come up with their own authentic solutions. My cousin certainly had a great authentic solution for his skiing problem – that being me!

Teaching Authentically By Subject

Well, it’s a New Year, and I am back on my kick of trying to better organize my blog.  Once again, I tried to break my posts down into reading, writing, math, science, social studies….  The problem (or good news) is that when you are teaching authentically, you really can’t and don’t want to separate out the academic subjects that way.

Even if you are teaching high school math, you are teaching reading, writing, science, social studies, etc., if you are teaching authentically.  Make it real and make it count. And if you make it real and make it count, you are not teaching in isolation.

My husband and I were on a road trip recently, and I noticed many trucks on the road.  We live in Central Pennsylvania and we are a cross-through from New York to every point south and west.  So, we get allot of trucks on our highways.  Tons! Too many – ok my fault, as I am the best on-line shopping customer in Central Pennsylvania, so according to my husband, those trucks were all headed to our house…

Watching all of the trucks, I was thinking about the supply chain problems and what a great authentic project that would be…as a social studies project – truck drivers and their jobs.  But, it is also math – the cost of shipping by truck, the cost of the supply chain backlog.  And it is science – perhaps inventing a more efficient truck, or self-driving truck.  And it is reading – reading about the supply chain issues.  And writing – writing about possible solutions.

I also am not going to try to sort my blog into projects by different age groups.  The supply chain project would be perfect for Kindergarten – why there is a shortage of some items in stores and on-line. And it is perfect up through college – why there is a shortage of some items in stores and on-line.

So, I will start off the New Year by not messing with my blog, and just wishing everyone a happy and authentic 2022!

Happy Holidays

This is a photograph of one of my favorite wreaths, as it is figuratively and literally a “think outside of the box” wreath. And teaching authentically is definitely thinking outside of the box, or in this case, thinking outside of the circle!

A Happy Holiday Season to all and a Happy New Year! Thank you for allowing me into your lives to share a little bit of what I know about teaching, education, and what works!

Love, Ellie

Authentic Project Ideas – Safety

I recently traveled down to Florida to visit my mother (and to defrost a little). Returning, I had to change planes in Virginia. It was late at night, I had a long walk from one terminal to another, I was tired, and I was not paying attention. I walk with a cane (balance issues). I was holding a suitcase handle in one hand, and holding my cane at an odd angle so that I could hold the handrail. I caught my cane in the bottom of the escalator while I was getting off.

The escalator immediately stopped, instantly and very smoothly. I was able to pull my cane out (no damage) and walk off with no injury except to my pride. There was one other person on the escalator, and he was not jostled at all by the smooth stop. He walked to the bottom and asked if I was alright.

There was no way for me to restart the escalator. I sat and watched for awhile out of curiosity, and within five minutes a mechanic showed up to check it out and restart it. This got me thinking about safety measures and things we build.

There are so many authentic projects that could spring from this story. Some driving questions: How do we make (fill in the blank) safer? What could be a safety problem with this machine, invention, furniture…?

If that escalator had not stopped, I think there would have been a very different ending to this story. And since authentic projects should make it real, and make it count – I think that looking at needed safety measures is as about as real as it gets.

And yes, I will pay more attention next time I am on an escalator!

Authentic Teaching – Controlling An Authentic Project

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about a visit to the PEZ Factory and how a fun authentic project might be about the history of favorite candies. I mentioned that Milton Hershey was almost a passenger on the Titanic, and a student might end up doing a project about those who perished on the Titanic. So, how does a teacher keep control of a project if students end up following different paths of interest. The key is for the teacher to have very clear objectives and goals before the driving question/authentic project is introduced.

For example, if your goal is to teach time lines, then the history of a candy is a perfect project. And if a student decides to research the Titanic, there is a fascinating time line to create for that.

With very clear goals, it is not that difficult to incorporate a student’s interests and authentic discoveries into the project.

And if you read my blog a few weeks ago, my time line shows how long it took my husband to discover he liked PEZ candies and how long it took him to eat a bucket full of them…

Authentic Project Ideas – History of Favorite Candy

On a recent road trip through Connecticut, my husband and I ended up at the PEZ Factory. We saw the sign on the highway and decided to check it out. It is not a big factory, but they produce all the PEZ candies for the United States and Canada.

I knew nothing about PEZ, so I decided to do some research after we left the factory. It is a fascinating story about how the candy came to be.

With Halloween approaching, it may be the perfect time for authentic projects about the history of favorite candies. Another fascinating story is the history of Hershey Chocolate, including how close Milton Hershey came to being a passenger on the Titanic…before he invented Hershey Chocolate!

As always, an authentic project starts with a driving question, but can end up going in a totally different direction. What is the history of your favorite candy? A child researching the history of the Hershey Kiss may end up with a project about people who perished on the Titanic. That is authentic learning.

And as a side note, I bought a bucket of PEZ at the factory for our road trip. There were probably 300 pieces of candy in the bucket. I figured this would be a great snack for our two-week trip, a few pieces at a time. The plan worked great until my husband decided he really liked PEZ candies…

Authentic Project ideas – Types of Apples

I have recently developed a severe addiction to Honeycrisp Apples.  In a hunt for them at a local orchard, I was surprised to see how many types of apples there are.  And these are just from Pennsylvania.  How many types of apples are there?  How many occurred naturally?  How are different apples developed? 

This authentic project can start in preschool, learning about the shape and color of apples, and end in college with the study of how hybrid apples are developed.  And certainly, taste testing should be part of this project…especially of Honeycrisp Apples!  Enjoy!

Authentic Prompts

I look at the above photo and see mountains. I see clues as to where this photo might have been taken. I ponder how mountains form. I see high mountains, but hear my husband’s voice reminding me that these east coast mountains are nothing compared to the mountains out west. I see a US National Park and think about the history of the National Park system. I see beauty, but I also see possible stories about survival in the wilderness. I see clouds. I see trees in the summer. I wonder how the colors might differ in the fall, or winter.

One photo can inspire so many different thoughts and authentic projects.  What authentic means is make it real and make it count. Making it real means starting with something real, or something that matters. (Photo, story, article, book, movie, personal experience, field trip…)

As a teacher, it can seem daunting to simply let students go in a million different directions. But it can be real to each student within curriculum goals, while allowing the teacher to maintain classroom management. Management from the instructional stand point, behavior becomes almost a non-existent problem when students are engaged.

If this photo is used as a prompt, a driving question can be formulated that takes the students in the direction that the teacher wants/needs to go, while leaving room for students to follow a path of interest to them. You just may be surprised where you end up when you start with a specific goal, but have an open-mind about how you might get there.

*This photo was taken in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. My husband went on a long and difficult hike to capture this photo. I went on a long and not-so-difficult shopping trip in town!

Authentic Teaching

We recently stopped by a museum that depicted the past Native American inhabitants of the area. I particularly liked this display that showed the underlying structure of the shelters that they built. I was going to do some research into what these shelters were called, who the Natives were… Then I realized that is the whole point of teaching authentically. The kids do the research and they take their interests from there.

What happened historically in teaching was that the teacher did all the research. The teacher presented all the facts, and then gave a quiz. The students memorized all the facts, passed the quiz – well some did – and then promptly forgot what they learned.

If a driving question were developed from this photo, it could be something like, “What were the Native Americans building with this framework?” That is actually probably all students need to know to start their research.

From there, students could engage in authentic projects about Native shelters, food, clothes, or they might segue this into a project about modern homes, or mountain ranges (as seen in the background of the photo)… That is authentic teaching and learning.