Authentic Project Ideas – Clouds versus Fog

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What a gorgeous fall morning!  Couldn’t resist this picture. So, are these clouds?  Fog?  What is the difference between clouds and fog?  We had had a ton of rain the day before.  Did the wet conditions contribute to this?  Also, we live up in the mountains.  Did altitude contribute to this?

What causes clouds?  What causes fog?  Can this effect be reproduced in an experiment inside a controlled environment?  Is the composition of my photo any good?  How could I take a better photo? What makes a photo interesting. (Feedback appreciated.  I enter my photos in our county fair every summer and I love ribbons!)  Authentic jumping off point for several projects…

Authentic Project Ideas – Spinning Wheels

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How do spinning wheels work?  How important were spinning wheels to people in the past? How is wool spun into yarn today?

In what children’s story is wool spun into gold?  What other children’s stories involve spinning wheels?  Write a story involving a spinning wheel.

Make a spinning wheel. Lots of authentic directions to go from the starting point of the spinning wheel.  And I am busy trying to turn the yarn I just bought into gold, I will let you know how that goes!

Scheduling Authentic Field Trips for Authentic Projects

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STUDENT CREATED TELESCOPE INSPIRED BY A FIELD TRIP

When I first started teaching, field trips took place at the end of a unit of study, usually dangled out there as a reward for a successful completion of the unit.  Actually, this is how field trips were used for most of my career.

But when you look at teaching authentically, it makes much more sense to hold those field trips earlier, even at the beginning of a project.  Field trips should be used to promote questions, cause higher level thinking, and cause the student to want to explore the topic further.

Of course, an introduction to the topic should occur before the project begins.  Going in with no background information doesn’t give the student the prior knowledge needed to know what they are looking at.  That is the big judgment call – how much information do the students need to successfully navigate a field trip, without giving them so much that it stifles their own questions and curiosity.  What guidelines are the students given before the trip so that they know what to expect and what is expected of them?

I ran my most successful field trip by accident.  (Ok, most of the wonderful things I did in my career happened totally by accident!)  My school was near the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.  Due to scheduling difficulties (NASA Goddard is always booked up for the academic year very early) we had to visit earlier in the project than I wanted to.  I also did not realize we were going to see the actual James Webb Space Telescope which was/is currently under construction.  So, we ended up going on this trip early in our space related project.  The kids had solid background knowledge about space and space exploration.  But none of us, including the teachers, knew that we were going to see the actual James Webb Space Telescope.

I can sum up the authentic learning and engagement that took place by relating what one wide-eyed teacher said to me.  He turned to me when we entered the viewing area for the telescope and said he hoped the kids were behaving because he couldn’t take his eyes off the telescope or divert his full attention from the presentation.  I looked around and saw that every child was as engaged as the teachers were.  This resulted in tons of questions, and project suggestions when we returned to school.  I don’t know if the engagement would have been as intense if we had “beat to death” information about the telescope and the fact that we were actually going to see the telescope before we went on the trip.  And we certainly would not have had all of the opportunities to explore what we saw, if we had scheduled the trip in June, as I had originally hoped to.  A totally authentic and fantastic field trip, every detail totally planned out in advanced by me. (Ummm…nope!)

By the way, the James Webb Space Telescope would be a super jumping off point for an authentic project.

Authentic Project Ideas – Jobs of the Past, Present, and Future

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In centuries past, many (most?) jobs involved agriculture and/or production of tangible goods.  Today many (most?) jobs involve information.  What will the jobs of the future be?  Will we still have farms? (We will always need food, but will it come from farms?) Will people be needed to work on farms?  Will there still be small businesses?

What are some jobs from the past that no longer exist?  What are some jobs that exist now that are going away?

Many authentic ways that students could answer and present the above questions.  Reports, charts, graphs, posters, living history presentations…

And…students could create a resume for a future job that they would like to have.  What can they do now to authentically prepare for this job?

Authentic Project Ideas – Shipping by Freight Train

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This one may be for middle/high school, although I really disliked it when folks underestimated my elementary kids…so this may work for elementary also.

My husband and I just took a lovely afternoon train ride booked as “The Fall Foliage Special.”  One thing we noticed was the amount of freight traffic coming through at our destination depot.  There were six trains in one hour!  There is definitely a lot of cargo being moved by trains.

It is amazing to watch these trains go by.  They seem to go on and on forever, usually being pulled by just two engines.  And returning to our starting point, the conductor mentioned that we were completing the final 20 miles of our journey using no energy as it was slightly downhill and the train had plenty of momentum.  (Trains/Energy/Momentum…Authentic Teaching/Learning…)

So, I started to wonder…what does it cost to ship a container on a freight train?  What is the cost differential of shipping something by truck versus freight train.  Is it cheaper to ship by train?  Why or why not?  What makes one more reasonable than the other?  Why is one picked over the other? (We live in Central Pennsylvania and I can assure you there is also no shortage of shipping being done by trucks on our highways!)

Maybe students can pick a cargo they want to ship from Destination A to Destination B and do a cost analysis of train versus truck.  And to further the authentic research, add shipping by airplane into the mix.  And don’t some of the freight containers that end up on a train arrive by ship?  How in the world is all of this coordinated?  And when I order two very different items from Amazon on two different days, how in the world do they arrive in the same box? Lots of authentic jumping off points!

 

 

Authentic Project Ideas – Fall Leaves

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Why do different trees turn different colors in the fall?  Reds, yellows, oranges…  What causes leaves to turn colors?  This season the leaves seem so much brighter and more colorful than they were last fall.  What causes leaves to be more colorful some years, and less colorful other years?

There are so many great projects to do with fall leaves.  Not only answering the questions above, but displays of leaves (labeled as to type of tree they came from), photo journals,  art projects using the leaves…

Many people like to hike and enjoy the gorgeous fall colors this time of year.  What other outdoor activities do people like to do in the fall?  If you look closely, in the picture above you can see a boat with some fishermen in it. Is fall a good time to fish?  And as always…if a discussion of fall leaves turns into a project about fishing…that is authentic teaching and learning!

Teaching Authentically – Preparing Our Children for the Future

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Shopping at our local grocery store a few days ago, I ran into this in the aisle.  My husband had told me about the robot in the store so I wasn’t totally shocked.  But it was still rather amazing to see this “guy” wandering around the store (authentic use of personification here).

When I started down the path of using projects/authentic learning to teach, I was very aware of the fact that we were educating children for jobs that don’t exist yet.  Case in point, the person who designed this robot.  But I was also aware, that we were educating children to enter a work force where many jobs that exist today won’t exist in the future.

My husband explained to me that this robot’s job is to make sure there are no spills in the aisles and report immediately if there are any messes that need to be cleaned up.  While this robot doesn’t appear to be able to clean up spills yet, I am sure that the next generation robot will be able to.  So this takes away a responsibility from a human.  Maybe someone is not employed full time to do this job, but as robots take over more and more responsibilities like this, you can bet that human positions will be cut.

What does this mean?  It means that the children we are educating today have to be able to think creatively, think outside the box, be innovative, and be risk takers.  These are the jobs that are going to exist in the future.  Drilling children on facts that they can easily find on their computers or cell phones does not prepare them for the future they will face.  They need to know how to ask good questions, and where to go to find good answers.  Filling in answers on worksheets, doing endless memorization and drilling, giving the one correct response, is not preparing them for this future.

This is why I am passionate about using projects/authentic learning to teach!  And I am now passionate about grocery shopping as I can’t wait to run into this robot again and see him in action.  Gosh, it is tempting to spill something and see what he does! (I won’t ok…but it is tempting!  And I am a bit of a klutz, so if I buy a drink from the coffee shop at the front of the store you can almost guarantee a spill.  Stay tuned…I will let you know what happens…)