Adults often do many things for children that they can do for themselves, especially when preparing for a project. We all know how important it is to be prepared for a lesson with students. But being prepared, and adults doing work that students can learn from, are two very different things. Planning and gathering materials for a project are important activities that students can and should be involved with. When plans miraculously happen, and materials just appear, many learning opportunities are lost.
When we presented the State Fair to other groups of students, many math opportunities occurred. There was measurement to plan how to set up the fair in the space we had available. There was discourse and compromise among students to agree on how to place each state in the fair – Alaska wanted to display the states alphabetically, Texas by size, California by population… A schedule was developed – after the students figured out how much time each group would need at the fair based on number of displays to visit and how much average time would be spent at each display. Groups were invited based on this schedule. Then the schedule was adjusted for groups that had a conflict with the available times. Then the schedule was re-adjusted after the first day when the students realized larger groups and older students needed more time at the fair than smaller and younger groups, etc.
There are many math opportunities for parents working with children at home as well. When inviting other children over make sure your child is involved in this discourse. You would be surprised how much math you use every day without even realizing it. (Except of course when I balance my checkbook. Then I totally realize how much math is involved as I try to make sense of the usual mess I have made!)
How do airplane engines work? What is the difference between how propellers work and how jet engines work? Some airplanes have hybrid propellers/jet engines, how do those work?
Authentic projects often start with a simple question, lead to research, and end with a student construction of a 747 (if you are lucky, it will just be a model).
When we developed The State Fair Project in fourth grade there were countless opportunities to use math. During the year we were constantly looking at statistics for each state. Size, population, socio-economic make-up, average temperature, significant dates… All of these numbers were looked at and discussed. The numbers were used not only to compare and contrast the 50 states but to develop some cause and effect hypotheses.
If the average temperature of a state was warmer than most, how would this effect the size of the population. How about the average age of the population? Why would older people tend to live in a warmer climate? Why would more Olympic skiers grow up in specific states? But, why were there Olympic figure skaters training in Florida?
Every statistic became a jumping off point for further discussion and research. Questions created more questions. The use of math was constant, fluid, and authentic. (And of course, reading and writing skills were strengthened as well.)
*This authentic project can be easily adapted for territories, counties…whatever system the country you are studying uses.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
This is the NOAA site for educators. It contains a “boat load” (pun intended) of information on anything and everything pertaining to the oceans and the atmosphere.
NASA successfully landed another spacecraft on Mars last week. My husband and I watched the landing and both of us had tears in our eyes. It is so totally amazing when you stop and think about what NASA has accomplished. We were just blown away. (We were also very impressed with the extremely cool “Star Trekkie” shirts that everyone in Mission Control was wearing during the landing. Don’t tell my husband, but one is on order for him for a holiday gift!)
The mission of this stationary craft is to study the deep interior of Mars. Launched along with InSight but flying separately were two CubeSats. MarCo A and B, nicknamed Wall-E and Eva (from the Pixar film Wall-E) are now in orbit around Mars.
The authentic projects that students could do regarding InSight and the CubeSats are endless. What is InSight’s mission? What mission firsts will take place? Is InSight a rover? What is the mission of the CubeSats? If you could design a mission to Mars what would your design be? What would you hope to accomplish? This list could go on forever…
My Martian Colony Project started by simply showing a fifth-grade class NASA videos of the Martian Rovers Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity. This authentic project took off from there and literally took over my professional life for the next four years! (For more on this check out my book One School’s Journey – you can read it for free on Kindle Unlimited.)
Looking down off of a moving cruise ship – the pilot has just jumped off and is being helped by a crew member on the pilot boat.
I was recently talking about how amazing big ships are – how those gigantic machines can be so carefully maneuvered. The person I was chatting with didn’t realize that pilots hopped on and off moving ships to bring them into and out of ports. I knew a lot about ship pilots because one happened to live in my mother’s apartment building in Fort Lauderdale.
Several ways an authentic project about ships could go, and probably many more depending on student interest. How do these large ships work? What are the mechanics and technology on a ship? What are all of the jobs that people have who work on ships? (That is a long and fascinating list, including the pilot mentioned above.) All of these questions have different answers depending on the type of ship the student is interested in – Cruise Ship, Merchant Ship, Naval Ship…
Plan a trip, design a better ship, plan a career…
Doing projects with kids is a great starting point for learning. But the goal should be for the authentic learning experience.
Following directions for an arts and crafts project, or following a recipe, is definitely great practice using reading and math. However, if it stops there, the opportunity for real authentic learning is lost. I don’t think we can state often enough that we are raising children to function in a world that we can’t possibly imagine. Many of the jobs they will hold in the future don’t exist yet. And more importantly, many of the jobs people hold today, will not exist in the future. The children we are educating today need to be able to think outside the box if they are going to have a chance to really succeed in the world they will live in as adults. Simply following directions to get from Point A to Point B, or repetitive drills filling in correct answers on a worksheet, is not going to prepare them for the future.
Following a recipe, or a set of instructions, should just be the starting point. The real authentic learning occurs when adults listen to what children are saying while they are working, and follow up on this discourse. Why just one cup of chocolate chips? What would happen if we used two cups? Do generic chocolate chips really taste the same as the more expensive Nestle brand? Can you taste the difference in the finished product? How can we test this?…
Sometimes adult prompting is needed to take the project to the authentic level. But often, just listening to children, really listening, provides the springboard to that authentic learning experience.