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)!
Kids love cars! One of the authentic projects I was involved with was having the kids design a better car. This can be done on almost any grade level.
Young children can be creative and use their imaginations (an ice cream maker in the car, hot tub, wide screen television). Kids can write about their dream car, draw a picture and label the parts, cut and paste pictures found on the web, build models…
Older students can research current cars and add the features that they would like to see in a future car. Hybrids, electric cars, hydrogen cars… Lots of authentic ways this project could go.
How many types of butterflies are there? Where do different butterflies live? Are there butterflies that prefer cool climates to warm climates? Are there butterflies in cool climates? Do all countries/continents have butterflies?
Do research about butterflies (Reading). Write a book about butterflies (Writing). Design a sanctuary for butterflies (Science/Math). Build it (More Math). Photograph butterflies (The Arts).
One photo, unlimited authentic questions, unlimited authentic project ideas…
If you look closely in the above picture you can see a lot of surfers waiting to catch waves. It didn’t look like a great place to catch waves to me, but right after I took the photo, many of them caught a wave. (Of course, I missed that picture!)
So what do surfers know about waves that makes them able to predict where and when a good wave will show up? What makes waves? Where are the best waves in the world for surfing?
And if this project turns into a project about where the best beaches are in the world for catching fish, or the best beaches in the world for getting a great tan – that is authentic learning!