The Balancing Act of Teaching Authentically

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Balancing more than one student in an authentic project can be a little tricky.  With authentic learning you want each child to be able to explore and follow leads that interest them.  So, what do you do if you introduce a topic and then your students go off in different directions.

Even if you are working with a small group, it can be a challenge to follow each student on their journey.  You also don’t want to lose control of the project.

The important thing is to keep in mind what your objective is.  If you introduced a project about the ukulele, and one of your goals was for your students to create a time line about the history of the ukulele, you need to decide what you really want your students to learn.  If the concept of developing a time line is the objective, then that is what you focus on.  So, if one student stays with the ukulele, one goes with a flute, the third get interested in marching bands, and the fourth moves from marching bands to football, they all can create a time line about the history of their interest.  Even in a large class, everyone can be working on time lines.

If it is important that all students learn about the ukulele, this can also branch out into the history of the ukulele (history buffs), writing music for the ukulele (musical talents), building a ukulele (construction fans)…

Just keep in mind what you actually want/need to accomplish as a teacher, and then let your students fulfill your goals following their passions.

One School’s Journey Wins Independent Press Award – Distinguished Favorite

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I am really excited to announce that One School’s Journey won a Distinguished Favorite honor from the Independent Press Awards in the Education Category.

This international competition is judged by industry experts and had entries from around the world.  Peggy and I are truly honored!

One School’s Journey is available on Amazon.  (Read for free on Kindle Unlimited)

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Authentic Project Idea – The Ukulele…Maybe

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I recently ate at a restaurant which was decorated with ukuleles.  I really know very little about ukuleles. Where were they invented?  Where are they popular? What is the difference between a ukulele and a guitar? Do they tend to be played for a specific kind of music?

Projects could include a timeline history of the ukulele.  Perhaps comparing and contrasting string instruments.  Building a string instrument.  Learning to play a string instrument.  Writing music for a string instrument.  Performing on a string instrument.  Researching the history of the flute – remember for true authentic learning, the project is driven by student interest.  If your student is not interested in ukuleles, this can be a jumping off point for another musical instrument.  If this leads to a discussion about marching bands, which leads to a discussion about football, which leads to a project about football…that is authentic learning!

On Line Resources for Projects

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When I first started writing this blog, I had links to several kids’ sites that had a lot of great information.  However, the more I wrote, the more uncomfortable I became with just providing these links.  In authentic teaching and learning, you want the student to own their research.  Providing links to educational sites, even wonderful sites, takes that ownership away from the student.  Ownership is a HUGE part of authentic learning. And students finding their own information on line is part of that ownership.  Even the youngest students can be guided through the steps to find good information on line.

So, after much deliberation, I took the blogs with the links off of my site. It just seemed like it made it too easy, it took the ownership, and excitement, of finding a good source of information away from the kids.  Honestly, some of the best sites I knew about were sites my students had found themselves, and introduced me to.  Like some really, really phenomenal sites!

Kids do, of course, need guidance and often need help to find the information they need for a project.  They need to be taught how to evaluate the source of their information.  Also, be careful to look at what they have found.  Many sites, even with the best of intentions, dumb down their material.  Finding a site about space that has games where you are simply blowing up aliens to score points does not teach a child about space. (It doesn’t teach math either, contrary to what some of these sites claim.)

I have found that government agencies usually have great kids’ sites as part of their website.  For example, go to a government site for weather, and you are bound to find a great website for educators and kids.  Many universities also have great education sites on many topics.

If you and/or your students are really stuck finding some good sites for information for a project, please email me through this blog.  As I have stated often, I am passionate about authentic learning, and am happy to help out.

Materials for Projects

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One of the most important goals of teaching authentically is to have the student own the project or experience.  So, the very last thing that you would want to do is to buy expensive kits or materials.  As a matter of fact, you really don’t want to purchase anything.  The whole point is to have the student explore something and come up with their own approach and materials for the project.

While working on the Martian Colony Project we supplied nothing beyond standard classroom supplies.  The kids found most of the materials they needed for the project.  Most were recyclables and discarded items from around the house.  We had an unlimited supply of cardboard boxes (most with the Amazon Logo on the side – no shortage of those).  Lots of aluminum foil (for an outer-space look).  Cardboard rolls, empty cans, newspapers, magazines, buttons…you name it and the kids found it.  They were constantly researching (reading), planning (writing), and designing (math); figuring out creative ways to build what they wanted for the colony.

The creativity was amazing, the research was outstanding, the academic growth was huge.  The concepts were internalized and owned by the students.  The experience was authentic.

 

One School’s Journey by Eleanor K. Smith and Margaret Pastor

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One School’s Journey was written for educators. The goal of writing One School’s Journey was to not only document what we had accomplished at our school, but to inspire educators to use authentic teaching.

When I think about parenting, there are a lot of things we talked about in One School’s Journey that can also be applied to parenting.  Children develop best when in authentic situations.  When children are treated as individuals who can make decisions, learn, and grow – with guidance and support – they prosper.  So, while One School’s Journey was written for educators, we think it is a worthwhile read for parents as well. After all, a huge part of parenting is being an educator!   And it’s free on Kindle Unlimited!

One School’s Journey by Eleanor K. Smith and Margaret Pastor.                                Available on Amazon

Authentic Resources

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There are two basic types of resources: information students need, and materials students need.  As educators, we frequently view ourselves as the supplier of these resources.  A good teacher is prepared, correct?  But spending our time locating the resources students need, and gathering materials for them is really taking away from their authentic experience.  Even the youngest students can come up with ideas on how to find information and materials needed.  And if the whole point of authentic learning is to get children ready for a future that we can’t even imagine, then they need to be able to find the resources they need, and put those resources to use.

That doesn’t mean a good teacher isn’t prepared.  A good teacher is like the manager in a store. You make sure your store is fully stocked. You know what is in the store and where everything  is at. You know what you want to sell.  You train your staff how to function in your store. You set the tone for the staff (working together, helping each other). You provide direction. You have very specific goals. And then you let the staff do their jobs in the store.

When I started to write the above analogy, I was using a salesperson and a customer in the store.  However, I realized that students are really more like staff, if you are functioning authentically.  A good store manager wants to make it easy for the buyer to purchase something.  That is not the goal of authentic teaching. The goal is that each staff member learns, grows, has great ideas to improve the store, owns their job…and someday takes over the store – so the manager can retire and move to Fiji!