Happy Holidays

Many people will be celebrating Christmas this week.  Many other families are, or will be, celebrating different winter holidays.

The holidays are certainly not what I hoped for this year.  My dreams of my entire family gathering for Thanksgiving, as we always have, did not happen.  The holidays this month have been piecemeal and very different from other years.  But different does not mean bad.  This has been an opportunity to grow and learn about what is truly important.

There are many ways children can be involved in the celebrations this week, even with the restrictions, monetary concerns…  Time for homemade gifts, letters, cards, homemade gift cards (for cleaning, cooking, babysitting).  Starting new family traditions.  And of course, these activities can all involve reading, writing, math, social studies, science…

Whatever holidays you celebrate this month, I hope they are safe and happy.  And the teacher in me also hopes you find ways to authentically continue to allow your learners to blossom and grow.

Authentic Learning Turning Into an Authentic Project

I finally learned how to bake cookies.  Seriously!  I have never been able to bake cookies – my result was always a melted, burnt mess.  But thanks to a lot of instruction and patience from my daughter-in-law, I have finally mastered baking cookies.

So, for the first time, I am going to make holiday cookies this year.  I am going to use the recipes I have already mastered and change them slightly for the holidays.  For example, using red and green M&Ms only for my M&M cookies.  I am also thinking about how to tweak my chocolate chip cookies for the holidays.  Any ideas?

I have written about baking and cooking many times on my blog.  This is one of the best authentic ways to teach so many math and reading skills.

With the current pandemic, I was also thinking about authentic social awareness skills.  There are many single people in my neighborhood who have been isolating alone now for months.  I am thinking about leaving a plate of holiday cookies on several doorsteps.  I thought about doing this anonymously, but with food I think it is better that the receiver knows where the treats came from.

Doing this with children could easily turn into an authentic project.  Baking is just the starting point. Conversation while baking could turn into a project of making and leaving home made ornaments on doorsteps to brighten people’s holiday.  Or maybe making a small homemade gift. 

Perhaps this could turn into an authentic project learning about all the holidays people celebrate this time of year, and what gifts are usually given, if any, for these holidays. I would love to receive a gift from another religion/culture with a written explanation of what this gift represents. 

So, I started writing about my new-found ability to bake cookies, and am now thinking about leaving some unique gifts from other religions/cultures on my neighbors’ doorsteps, with an explanation about what the gifts represent. I need to do some research and planning. I will need to do some writing. And I am going to need to be creative. This is an authentic project!

Authentic Project Ideas – Building a Gingerbread House

My son had a math teacher in middle school who was also a national champion ginger bread house designer and builder!  She gave the kids a marvelous assignment for extra credit – to design and build a ginger bread house. 

There was lots of guidance and many suggestions.  She sent home lots of reading material for parents to help them assist with the project.  I am pretty much inept in the kitchen and she sent home enough written support, and did enough instruction with the kids, that I was able to get through this with my son successfully. 

There was tons of authentic math involved…creating the design (scale, angles), measuring the ingredients (fractions, units of measurement), baking temperature and baking time (measuring temperature, elapsed time)…  There were limitless opportunities to bring in authentic math skills.

We continued this as a family tradition for many years. As a mother, I saw it as great family bonding time, especially with teenagers who were difficult to corral into family bonding. As a teacher, I also knew my teenagers were getting great authentic experiences with reading, math, creativity and problem solving.

One year, we even encountered an authentic mystery to solve. We used chocolate mints as shingles on the roof.  We were surprised and a tad confused to see that every morning the shingles had “melted.”  We lived in the north and didn’t overheat our house, so we couldn’t figure out what was happening.  We had lots of hypotheses but none seemed to be the answer.  One night I came downstairs to get something from the kitchen and caught one of our cats happily licking the roof.  Mystery solved!

*The photo above is not the house we built.  It is a professionally created display that is presented yearly at a local hotel. You probably figured that out on your own! 

Authentic Teaching – New is Old Again

This old Sampler was hanging on the wall of a home I was recently in.  It got me thinking about how we used to teach – make it real and make it count. 

I am certainly not advocating that we return to the days of girls being educated in sewing and cooking only – with only peripheral attention to other academics at best. But if you put history in context, these were skills that girls needed to survive.  So, what do girls – and boys – need today to survive?  What counts?  What it authentic?

With a major holiday tomorrow in the United States, and many holidays approaching world wide, what are some things that children could authentically do to learn and grow?  Children need to be able to read, write, calculate, and understand our place in the world.  They need to be computer literate.  They need to be able to evaluate information being presented to them.  They need to think for themselves.

For Thanksgiving tomorrow, they won’t be stitching samplers, well I am guessing most won’t, but they can be reading recipes and helping with the cooking for Thanksgiving. Perhaps they will be adding favorite ingredients to recipes, or creating homemade centerpieces. And with many families not able to gather due to the pandemic, perhaps they can think of creative ways to include those they are separated from.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate this holiday tomorrow. And Happy Holiday Season to everyone!

Stay Safe!

Authentic Project Ideas – What to do with those Holiday Cards

For the first time, I am making my own holiday cards this year.  I realized while I was doing this, that I have a huge stash of new holiday cards from previous years that I will probably never use.  I did a little digging on line and found out that nursing homes love to receive new holiday cards for their residents to use.

This would be a great authentic project.  Collecting new cards and donating them to a local nursing home.  Finding out which nursing homes or organizations would like cards donated, organizing this, getting the word out, having a drop off spot…

All of these authentic activities could cover many different academic goals. Reading – researching on line. Math – counting, tallying, predicting, graphing. Writing – composing letters/emails to ask for donations, writing to organizations asking if they would like new cards donated. Social Responsibility Skills – donating time and effort for others.

This may also lead to an authentic project of sending greeting cards to residents of a nursing home or hospital.

I also have a collection of cards that I have received over the years. They are just too gorgeous to throw out.   I found out that St. Jude collects used cards to recycle for future use.  Just doing the on-line research is an authentic activity that could lead to many authentic projects.

Safe and Happy Holidays!

Authentic Teaching – Including Educational Objectives

Parents frequently have the opportunity to just explore with their children.  Just spending time looking, listening, talking…  And this is when children really learn.  When the exchange is spontaneous, real, authentic

Authentic learning is just that.  It is spontaneous and real.  The only difference is that the educator also has objectives and goals that need to be woven in. 

Here is the difference.  The father gets up in the morning and decides to take his young son on a hike.  While on the hike they discover a lake.  The father and son enjoy the view, and the father also talks to his son about what they are seeing.  Lots of authentic learning is taking place.

Now, picture the father as an educator (and aren’t all parents educators).  He gets up in the morning, looks at his plan book, and sees he wants to introduce the concept of “lake” to his young learner.  So, he plans a hike that ends at a lake.  Here is the big difference. The father went on a hike and happened to end up at a lake. The educator plans a hike that ends up at a lake.

Once they get there, the educator lets his young learner take everything in, and also introduces the concept of “lake.”  And if there is not a lake nearby to explore, he plans a field trip.  Or he finds a video on line that explores a lake. (Authentic can be virtual as well…)

Oh…and in the first scenario, the mom left at home enjoyed some quality nap time!

Authentic Project Ideas – Thanksgiving

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!

Authentic Project Ideas – Fall Leaf Colors

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!

Authentically Teaching Across Subject Areas

One Room School House

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.

Authentic Project Ideas – Domestic vs Wild Animals

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.