Authentic Project Ideas – A Photo is Worth a Thousand Poems

I love this photo.  There are so many layers to it. A river.  Trees.  Water so clear that the reflections of the trees are sharper than the actual trees in the photo.

To me this photo screams authentic poetry.  There is just something about it that begs for prose. 

As a mature (somewhat) adult I would write about the crystal clarity of the water.  Or the majesty of the trees.  As authentic means something that is meaningful to the writer, a child may write about tire swings over the water, or pushing a friend in, or fishing, or jumping off a cliff into too shallow a river – splat!

Or maybe instead of a poem, a story about exploring a lost river. Or becoming lost on a river…

I would love to hear about what your students come up with.

Authentic Project Ideas – Designing a Fountain

Fountains are very soothing to look at and add a serenity to the surrounding area.  Driving Question:  Why are fountains soothing?

This could lead to an authentic project to design a fountain and perhaps even build a working model, or a real fountain. 

Another Driving Question:  Do fountains waste water?  While the answer to this is hopefully no, this could lead to an authentic project learning about the energy a fountain does use and how to make a more energy efficient fountain. 

For younger students this project could simply be to learn about different famous fountains.  Actually, this could be a great project for older students as well. There are some very famous fountains around the world with a rich history.

Post Script – Growing up I lived near a fountain in front of a neighboring community.  My high school friends and I enjoyed putting a box of detergent in the fountain and watching it bubble up and over the fountain and then cover the nearby street with bubbles.  We were “cleaning” up our community.  Frequently!  It was the 1970s and we were before our time in developing authentic social responsibility skills by performing this community service.  Sadly, the fountain is long gone, so there will be no fifty-year reunion to clean the street again.

Authentic Project Ideas – Trucks

Our two-year-old grandson is infatuated with trucks.  Fire trucks, cement trucks, delivery trucks, freight trucks, construction trucks, food trucks, garbage trucks – especially garbage trucks!

It is amazing how many different kinds of trucks there are.  This is one topic where the driving question for an authentic project can be as broad or narrow as you like.  And this is also an easy topic to use for any age group.  Actually – all driving questions for authentic projects can be as broad or narrow as you like, and most topics can be used with any age group.

How many different types of trucks are there?  (I think perhaps millions based on the truck videos we have watched with our grandson the last few days!)  Can trucks be broken down into categories?  What kind of categories?  What kind of new truck do you think we need?

Design a better fire truck, construction truck, garbage truck…

Create a poster of different kinds of trucks…

Build a model of a new truck…

And might I add that on-line videos of garbage trucks are actually quite fascinating!

Authentic Project Ideas – Save a Starfish

The whole point of authentic teaching is that it is – well – authentic!  Make it real.  Make it count.

Teaching social skills is definitely something that is authentically real, and certainly counts.  But coming up with driving questions and project ideas that develop these skills can seem daunting, especially if you want what you are doing to really make a difference.  But, I think sometimes the problem is that we think that to make a difference we need to save the world.

There is a story about a boy on a beach who is picking up starfish and throwing them back in the water.  There are thousands of starfish washed up on the beach and there is no way that the boy can throw them all back in the water and save them all.  A man is watching him, questions this, and asks him why he even tries.  As he throws another starfish back in the water, he replies, “It made a difference to that one.”   (Adapted from The Star Fish Thrower by Loren Eiseley, 1907-1977)

I love this story.  I repeat it constantly.  To me it is the core of everything I do when I do something for someone else.  I don’t have to send a card to every elderly, lonely person to make a difference.  Just one.  I don’t need to donate a toy to every needy child at the holidays.  Just one, or two, or however many I can handle. I don’t need to clean up litter on every street in my town.  Just one block. I don’t need save the world by myself.

And when I devise a driving question, or come up with a framework for a project, I don’t need to come up with something that will save the world.  Just one starfish.  And imagine if every educator devised a project to save one starfish.  We might just end up saving all of them. This is the truly authentic lesson we need to teach children.  Save one starfish.

Authentic Project Ideas – Ants

Most couples celebrating their anniversary would sit and watch a romantic sunset after a special dinner.  My husband and I celebrated our anniversary by watching ants and several drops of a melted chocolate marshmallow from cooking s’mores over a fire.  Obviously, nerd marrying a nerd works because we were celebrating our 38th.

We were curious as to how long it would take the many ants that were out to find the chocolate.  Finally, one did, and it seemed to very much be enjoying itself. (If you look closely the happy ant is to the right of the biggest drop.) We thought the ant might then go and somehow inform the rest that dinner had been served.  When the ant took off, quickly, it went right through a line of ants and kept on going away from the rest of them.

Nearby, there was another group of ants very aggressively pursuing a dying dragonfly. They did not seem interested in the chocolate. (No accounting for taste.)

Authentic Driving Questions:  Do ants prefer bugs to chocolate? (That would just be sad!) How do ants communicate?  Will one ant communicate to the rest of the ants that there is a food source available?  How do ants live?  Colonies?

Create an actual living ant colony. Just don’t waste any chocolate marshmallows on them!

Authentic Project Ideas – Playgrounds

We just spent several days on playgrounds with our two-year-old fearless grandson.  He is a tad bit of an adrenaline junkie and I am now totally grey!

Playgrounds have changed so much since I was a child in the stone age.  They are actually much safer, so I really shouldn’t fret so much about my grandson climbing to the top of very, extremely, awfully tall equipment. 

Watching him play got me thinking of possible authentic projects about designing the perfect playground.  This could be a simple project for very young students, up to a complex math activity for older students (including advanced measurement skills, budget and cost analysis).

The history of playgrounds could be explored from see saws of centuries ago to the modern playgrounds of today.  The continued improvements for both fun and safety could also be explored.

Models, timelines, diagrams, maps…have fun!

Authentic Project Ideas – Tropical Fish

How many kinds of tropical fish are there?  Why are they called tropical fish? Are all tropical fish so bright and colorful?  Do all tropical fish live in reefs?  What is a reef made of?  What is an artificial reef?

So many authentic driving questions.  A great authentic project might be to design an artificial reef. This could incorporate many science and math goals. Another authentic project might be to create and take care of a tropical aquarium. (Or not – fish never did well in my classroom – I’m better with plants!)

Authentic Project Ideas – A Sailing Ship

This is a photo that was taken near the US Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut. If you look closely up in the masts, you will see Coast Guard Cadets getting the sails ready.  With modern ships, why would these cadets need to learn how to sail an old ship?

A driving question/authentic project could focus on why these cadets need this skill.  Or it could focus on old versus modern ships.  Or what it means to have a career in the Coast Guard. Or perhaps designing a dream yacht…

Maybe this photo could inspire a creative writing project about sailing, or pirates! 

What this photo will not inspire is – me ever being photographed that high up on anything!

Authentic Project Ideas – Iguanas

Caught this guy climbing up a tree near my Mom’s home in South Florida.  He was about 80 feet long.  Ok – he was actually about two feet long – but he was one big iguana!

I grew up in South Florida and we always saw plenty of little lizards running around – most without tails as our cats liked to bite the tails off.  But we never saw these huge iguanas until almost half a century later.  Driving Question:  What changed?  Why were we seeing these huge iguanas all over South Florida? 

Other authentic project ideas for younger children could be to learn about the iguana.

And I have always wondered, did those lizard tails ever grow back?  Poor things…

Authentic Project Ideas – Rock Formations

This photo was taken by a hiker I happen to know.  Not so sure I would have hiked through this! How did the rocks get into this formation?  How would you know it was safe to hike through?  What kind of rocks are these?  Where did the beautiful colors come from?

So many authentic questions.  This photo could lead to authentic projects about rock formations, types of rocks, best hiking trails in your area, equipment needed for hiking, hiking safety, beauty in nature…  And I’ll be participating in my favorite, much safer pastime while my husband hikes…on-line shopping!