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!
Fallingwater, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is one of the most iconic homes of the 20th century. Wright’s use of surrounding landscape in design was way ahead of his time. His designs were inspirational, amazing, and stunningly beautiful.
The family that owned Fallingwater originally wanted the home to sit on land with a view of the waterfall that was on their property. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the home to sit on top of the waterfall.
There are so many authentic projects that Fallingwater could inspire. A biography and study of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs would be a fascinating project. Designing and even building a model influenced by his structures would be another fantastic project.
This one really has me intrigued. I would love to see reports about/photos of authentic projects that might spring from a study of Frank Lloyd Wright and/or Fallingwater!
*Fallingwater is located in Southwestern Pennsylvania. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit!
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.