Authentic Project Ideas – The History of the Elevator

I did a post about elevators a while back, but this one was too cool to pass up!

We just returned from a historic lodge which had this elevator.  You opened the door and then pulled the gate back to get in.  There were modern elevators in the lodge also, but we went out of our way to always use this one. The only other time I have seen an elevator like this was in Europe years ago. 

So, what is the history of the elevator?  Who invented it? Where was it invented?  (Reading)

Design an elevator (Math).  Construct an elevator (Math).  What will elevators in the future look like (Writing/Math)?  Lots of authentic ways to go with this…up, down…sideways?

Authentic Project Ideas – Designing a Carousel

I saw this whimsical carousel in Boston.  I love the sea-life included in the carousel, so appropriate as Boston is all about seafood!

It would be a fun authentic project to design a carousel (lots of math, lots of writing) and perhaps incorporate a theme from where you live, or what you enjoy, into the carousel.  It could feature famous landmarks, favorite sports, characters from books…

Your students could even build a model of their carousel.  A working model could incorporate the authentic topics of energy and motion.

Maybe even design and build a model amusement park.  With authentic projects the sky – and beyond – is the limit.

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 – Creative Recycling

I love entering photos and crafts into our local county Grange Fair (which sadly won’t be taking place this summer due to Coronavirus).  One of my favorite categories to view is the craft category of turning something old into something useful again.  I have never entered, but it is so cool to see what people do.  Old jean shorts turned into purses, t-shirts turned into quilts, glass bottles turned into lamp bases, fronts of old greeting cards turned into new cards…

I saw this at a local restaurant and it reminded me of that category.  Simply taking old horseshoes and turning them into a menu holder on the wall. I don’t think this would be a ribbon winning entry – not overly creative – but it is certainly a really cool authentic way to recycle.

So, authentic project idea – turn something old into something useful again.  Write directions for what you are creating.  Include any needed math.  Maybe somehow turn this into a community service project – creating something to cheer someone up…lots of ways this project could go.  I would love to hear what your learners come up with!

Authentically Teaching All Subjects

I had an idea to refine my blog by adding more topics to my menu, breaking down my ideas into reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. As I started to look at my entries, I realized that if I did this I would be moving away from exactly what I am trying to promote – teaching authentically.

If you are teaching authentically, then you are not teaching in isolation. If you are authentically teaching math, it should involve research/reading. If you are authentically teaching reading, it should involve social studies, science, and math. Writing should be authentically incorporated into every subject, it should not be an exercise unto itself.

So I am going to leave all of my ideas for authentic projects under one topic. It really shouldn’t make it more difficult to find an idea, as the whole point of my blog is to give you lots of ideas to think about and see if one resonates for you and your students. Need to teach area – design a dream house, measure for carpet, plan a new park, figure out how many chocolate chip cookies can fit on a cookie sheet… (And send me the recipe please – still looking for a great chocolate chip cookie recipe!)

Authentic Project Ideas – Solar Energy

How does Solar Energy work?  I thought I understood how it worked, but when it was explained to me by someone involved in the industry, I was totally surprised to learn that I did not understand it at all.

A great authentic project would be to not only learn about how solar energy works, but to think about ways to improve it.  Even the youngest learners can understand the basics of solar energy. Learners can also draw diagrams or make authentic models of how solar energy works. Or maybe even propose other alternative ways to create energy.

And remember that if this project turns into a discussion and plan of how to conserve energy, and that leads to planning a way to track energy consumption – that is authentic learning!

Authentic Teaching – Listening to Students

As I have stated many times, I am passionate about Authentic Learning.  It is the reason I started my blog after I retired.  I was ready to stop teaching, but not ready to leave education and something I believe in with all my heart and soul.

I also love photography, and realized that my photos were giving me lots of project ideas.  If you stop, look around, and smell the roses, you will be amazed and what you see. 

But for a project to be authentic you need to listen, really listen, to your students.  What are they thinking about, what do they want to know, what are they interested in.  Then you create your driving question, and start to frame your authentic project with experiences that require that your content covers your curriculum objectives.

Authentic teaching requires planning, but that planning needs to revolve and change based on what your students are interested in. Plan a lesson, watch your student engagement, listen to their interests and questions, and change course if necessary.

Teaching authentically involves giving yourself that time to reflect and smell those roses. It is so important to good teaching and much more pleasant way to go through life!

Teaching Authentically – Baking

Baking is a fantastic authentic way to teach kids math.  (True confession – I still need to visualize some sort of cooking experience when I am trying to figure out fractions.)

While baking with kids, you need to talk with them about what they are doing.  Insert math language and content into the conversation. Guide them, but let them problem solve.

You can step in to stop a catastrophe – it would definitely be catastrophic to add too much salt to a cookie recipe, while adding too many chocolate chips would be a bonus!

Have fun, and please send me any good recipes for chocolate chip cookies.  We lost our favorite family recipe (absolutely catastrophic).

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!