I am feeling a little guilty looking at these guys knowing that the American holiday of Thanksgiving is coming up. I was going to write a blog about authentic experiences cooking, but then I looked at these guys and decided to go a different route.
What is the history of Thanksgiving in the United States? What similar holidays do other countries have? What are the different traditions of these holidays that remind us to be thankful for what we have?
Research these holidays, write a report, develop a timeline, propose a new holiday… And a wonderful authentic project would be to have learners do something special for someone who is less fortunate than they are. Especially now, these are easy times to fall into feeling sorry for ourselves, instead of looking at what our blessings really are.
And speaking of fortunate…I found out those guys in the photo are pets!
What causes the leaves on trees to change different colors in the fall? Why don’t they all change to yellow? Or red? Purple?! Why don’t all trees change colors in the fall?
And if this project changes into research on why palm trees are suited for the tropics because of hurricanes…then that is authentic learning. And if from there, this project changes into research on why we had so many hurricanes this year…that is really authentic learning!
I once again decided that I needed to refine my blog and sort the authentic project ideas out by academic subject area. Having been posting on this blog for over two years, it is becoming hard for even me to find what I wrote on certain topics.
So, I started to sort the posts out by reading, writing, math, science, social studies… And after about ten posts I realized I was posting every post under every academic subject area. That is actually the point of authentic learning and using authentic projects to teach. Teaching in isolation is isolating – that was profound! Learning reverts to rote and meaningless – information to be accumulated to finish a worksheet, write a report, or memorized to pass a test.
When learning authentically, the subjects should be integrated. Yes, a math teacher is responsible for teaching math, but by making it real and making it count, you are also teaching reading, writing, science… And your lessons are meaningful to the student, and will be internalized.
In a way, the teachers in one-room schoolhouses of the past had a huge advantage as they naturally had to teach this way. Across all the academic subjects, across grade levels, with limited access to text books, and no worksheets. Yes, they did a lot of drilling that we don’t have to do today because children don’t need to memorize, they need to learn how to access information. Access that wasn’t available in a one-room schoolhouse. There was no internet, there were no calculators. But there also were no monstrous curriculums that needed to be covered with far too much information and far too little time. They had the same students for years on end, they got to know their students, and they had no choice but to make it real and make it count. It was a matter of survival, not a matter of a child passing some exam at the end of the year that had little to do with what mattered to them and their lives.
Yes, I am looking at one-room schoolhouses with rose-colored glasses. And yes, some teachers got paid in apples and horses – probably not the preference of most teachers today. (I won’t even comment on the out-house at the side of the one-room schoolhouse pictured above – thank you modern conveniences!) But there are some interesting authentic lessons to learn by looking back to the past.
What is the difference between a domestic and a wild animal? Your learners may be surprised once you dig into this a little. I had assumed that domestic animals were simply those that were pets – cats and dogs.
But it turns out it is not that simple. I found this out when I wanted to enter a wonderful photo I had of alpacas into the wild animal category for a photo contest. A friend told me that was the wrong category for this photo. Alpacas are domestic animals. Once I started to do research I was really surprised at what is considered a domestic animal. I really didn’t understand what the term domestic meant. It is also fascinating to find out when an animal was domesticated. Dogs – 30,000 years ago!
Lots of authentic projects here. Starting to research this topic could easily move into an authentic project about pretty much any animal out there. Gotta go, time to feed my pet alpacas.
If your goal as an educator is to engage your learners, then authentic teaching is what you want to do. It works. Why? Because your learners get to explore what interests them, within the constructs of your objectives and goals. I’ve used the analogy before, they are in the driver’s seat, but you are navigating. Or maybe you are in the driver’s seat, but they are navigating. I think it goes back and forth actually. But the bottom line is that they are exploring topics of interest to them, while you are meeting your own objectives and goals.
The photo above is from the Martian Colony Project that I was very involved with. These fifth-graders came in from recess to work on the colony board. The board was a great vehicle to teach many math skills – perimeter, area, scale, map grids… But the students were also reading (research about Mars and everything else they wanted to incorporate into the colony), writing (writing about their colony plans), working with science, social studies…
And they were able to easily explore their own interests within the colony. The colony had sports teams, a spa, snack bars, health clinics…you name it and the colony had it.
So, substitute a project designing a new office building, a sports complex, a university, an airport…the authentic list is endless.
Working on a recent blog about project ideas for horses, I was thinking that really this blog could be about any animal. Which got me thinking that any of my blogs could be about something similar…or not similar. That is what authentic teaching and learning is all about.
The point of authentic learning is to present an idea, and see where your learners take you. You are still in the driver’s seat, but you are allowing your learners to navigate how you get there. As long as you get there, that is the point.
So, if your goal is to learn about animal habitats, and you suggest an authentic project about horses, and your learner(s) are more interested in dogs, or cats, or snakes (yuck), then that is fine. And if your learners are only interested in football…and they want to read about football and write about football…the history of football, create a timeline about the sport, design a football stadium. Start pulling in all of your goals into football.
So, we started with horses and now we are on football. Back to animal habitats…how many stadiums are home to wild animals? What kinds of animals? How did they get there? Has a wild animal ever interrupted a game? What happened? That is authentic teaching and learning.
Kids love horses! The authentic projects that could be done about horses are endless. Actually, the authentic projects that can be done on any topic are endless…
The history of horses. Where did horses originally come from? How have horses been used in the past? How are horses used today? What are the different kinds of horses? What is the difference between a horse and a pony? Are zebras a type of horse? Do you find different kinds of horses in different places? What are the most valuable horses?
Create a book about horses. Create a chart about the different kinds of horses. Diorama, slide show, poster, photo journal…
For older learners this could go the route of learning about agencies that help horses being mistreated. Perhaps setting up a fundraiser to support their cause.
Good-bye gorgeous summer plants. Hello fall pumpkins. In most parts of the world the season is starting to change. Actually, that is a great authentic project right there…is the season changing from summer to fall all over the world? In which parts of the world is the season changing from summer to fall? Do the seasons change in all parts of the world? What season is it changing to? Why? What causes seasons to change? Are we closer/farther away from the sun? (Most children will answer yes to this question…great authentic follow-up here.)
In many parts of the world we will lose our beautiful summer plants soon. What will they be replaced with? What grows well when the weather cools? What should be planted now? What kinds of decorative plants? Crops? Where? So many authentic ways to go with this… Enjoy what’s left of the summer (or winter)!