There are so many authentic projects that can be inspired by bird feeders. Do different kinds of birds need different kinds of feeders? Do different kinds of birds eat different kinds of bird food? Once you start feeding birds it is important to not stop. Why? How about designing and building a bird feeder? (Research/reading, writing, math, science…)
In my neighborhood we have a huge problem with bears feeding from the bird feeders. To the point that we have been asked to not put out bird feeders.
So maybe a great authentic project would be to design a bear-proof bird feeder. Let me know what you come up with – I would love to be able to put up a bird feeder in my backyard!
On a road trip recently, my husband and I passed a mountain range covered with wind turbines. They were actually quite beautiful and engaging to watch. I stopped to photograph them and started to think about all of the different authentic projects they could inspire. Building a model demonstrating how wind turbines work. Exploring other sources of unlimited energy. Learning about some of the problems with the turbines. Proposing solutions for these problems. Controversies? Other sources of unlimited energy… Sources of limited energy…
I then remembered a beautiful quilt that a friend of mine had made of wind turbines. Yes, it is an unusual quilt, she does unusual work! So, the wind turbines inspired her to create a work of art. Which then led to other quilts showing different sources of energy, and her most unusual quilt to date, toxic waste drums – it is an absolutely gorgeous and unique quilt.
We have always allowed adults to take a topic and run with it. Not only in art, but in science, math, business… Actually, this is encouraged in places that value creative thinking. Shouldn’t educators be encouraging the same thing?
We are educating children for jobs that don’t even exist yet. They will work in environments, doing jobs, that we probably can’t even imagine. Ingenuity and creative thinking will be mandatory for them to prosper. So, shouldn’t we be not only letting children, but encouraging them to look at something and explore it in a way that is meaningful to them. Look at a question or a problem, and then tackle it with as much creativity, and divergent thinking as they possibly can? Take the road less traveled. Diverge, create, branch off, discover, explore…Authentic Learning.
Quilt by Chris Staver
While students should be encouraged to find what they need for projects, focusing on creativity, using recyclables etc, sometimes something is needed that has to be purchased. There are so many authentic lessons that can be included in this process. Giving students a budget to work with is not only a great way to use and reinforce math, it also makes students aware of what they are spending, what they really need, and creative ways to get what they need.
When building dioramas, several fourth graders were adamant that they needed modeling clay. We approached this by telling them that the teachers were willing to put up $10 to buy clay. $10 for the entire class. The students searched on line and realized that even finding the best price, that was not a lot of clay for 30 students. After some discussion and problem solving, the kids decided to make their own clay. They still needed to buy materials to make clay, but the $10 provided by teachers was more than enough to get the materials they needed.
The authentic experience even moved into the science of color mixing as they bought food coloring to dye the clay the colors they needed. And it also moved into the authentic discussion of, and research about, what was the best laundry detergent to try to get red food coloring out of my white skirt. Sigh…
As I mentioned in another blog, typically we take students on an end-of-unit field trip to see what we just finished learning about. However, places like museums are really a fantastic jumping off point for the start of a project. (Field trips in general are fantastic starting points for projects.) The students certainly need some framework before they visit a museum. But beyond an introductory lesson, the museum itself can be the inspiration for an authentic project.
You never know what that inspiration might be. Years ago, I took a group of students to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Air and Space is my all-time favorite museum! I could not wait to share all of the amazing exhibits with my students. So, what were they most taken with? The super powerful air hand-dryer in the restroom and the futuristic trash compacting-machine in the snack bar. That is what got their attention. That is what blew them away. The automatic machines in the restroom and snack bar.
Initially, I tried to redirect them back to the museum, but then realized I had an authentic experience in the making. So, I let them continue to sit by the trash can and watch people throw their trash in. And I let them make many trips to the restroom to wash and dry their hands. And they went back to school and started to work on proposals and designs for more cool futuristic machines. Reading, writing, math…
So, museums are fantastic authentic resources for projects, you just never know what the inspiration/project might be!
Trains have always fascinated people. There is something about watching a train come down the tracks. Where is it coming from? Where is it going? What is it carrying?
So many authentic project ideas: The history of trains. Who invented the train? In what country did trains first run? How did trains lead to the settlement of the United States? How much cargo is carried by trains in your country/in other countries? What influences the use of trains in a country – harbors/water access for ships, terrain, expense…
What problems are trains facing today? Design a better/faster train? Build a model train. The history of model trains…
What is the inside of Queen Elizabeth’s private train car like? Design a private train car fit for a queen. That would be my project!
Caverns and caves. What secrets do they hold? What are the most famous caverns and caves? Why? Where are they located? What is the difference between a cavern and a cave? How do they form? How long do they take to form? Are they still forming/changing? What is the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite? How do they form? How long do they take to form? What is a spelunker?
Lots of research…lots of directions this could go as an authentic project. You may end up with student created stalactites and stalagmites, a student created cavern… or a student written novel about a lost treasure found in a cave…
Why did the Japanese give Cherry Blossom trees to the city of Washington, D.C.?
What is the story behind the gift? Do the trees represent something? Are Cherry Blossom trees well suited for the D.C. climate, was that why they were chosen?
What tree would be a good gift from one country to another? Have other countries received trees as gifts? What kind of tree would make a good gift for a special birthday? Why is a tree a good gift? How can you gift a tree to someone?
So many questions that might lead to an authentic project. And if you end up the proud owner of a special tree in a big pot in your home, or in your yard, you can thank me later!