Authentic Project Idea – Making Snow

Snow Machine

A picture is worth a thousand words.  I can think of so many different authentic projects that this picture might inspire!  Why would someone want to make snow?  What would you do with man-made snow?  How do you make snow? What do you need to make snow?  What is the chemical composition of man-made snow and does this differ from “real” snow? How does man-made snow impact the environment?  What did they do in Olympic games of the past if it didn’t snow and we didn’t know how to make snow…was this ever a problem?  What sports are played in/on the snow? (Remember for real authentic teaching go with student interest – go with the snow flow!)

All of these questions and more can lead to an authentic project.  And if a student builds a snow maker in the middle of your classroom or living room…send pictures!

Authentic Project Idea – Solutions for Traffic Gridlock


I just returned from a trip out to Los Angeles.  While there I took this picture of the city from one of the highways.  When I looked at the picture later, I was shocked that I managed to capture an LA highway with only two cars on it.  We were totally surrounded by traffic, so I have no idea how I managed this picture!  (“Twilight Zone” moment.)

Los Angeles has some of the worst, if not worst traffic in the United States.  There are many cities around the world, including LA, that are on the verge of total gridlock. So, not only would a great authentic project be for students to start to think of creative ways to solve these traffic nightmares, it will most likely be one of our current young students who ends up helping to solve this problem as an adult.

Mass transit, tele-commuting, self-driven cars, monorails, flying cars…  Ideas?  Plans?  Diagrams?  Models?


Authentic Project Idea – Waterslides


Watching kids tear down waterslides, I started to think about all the features that need to get designed into the slide to make it fun and safe. This would be a  great authentic project for older students to do, research about waterslide engineering and designing a waterslide.  Younger students could focus on fun designs.  Waterslide models could also be built.  Lots of authentic math and reading opportunities!

*Don’t get me started about the waterslides hanging off the sides of cruise ships.  How do you spell CRAZY!

Authentic Project Idea – Waves


What causes the waves in the oceans?  Why are waves bigger on some coastlines than on others?  Where are the best places to surf?  Lots of questions, lots of research, many possible currents to follow (waves…currents…get it!)  Hmm…what causes ocean currents?

Authentic projects often start with a simple question, lead to research, and end in models or experiments.

Authentic Project Idea – Clouds


How do clouds form?  What are the different types of clouds? What do clouds tell us about approaching weather systems?

Can you get one type of cloud on top of another type of cloud?  Yes, you can!  I  was in an airplane when I started thinking about clouds and I saw one type of cloud layered on top of another type of cloud. Or maybe that was just one type of cloud?  Off to do some authentic research myself!

Maybe I’ll start to photograph and label all of the different types of clouds I can find and what they mean…

Authentic Teaching Opportunities – Project Presentations, and more…

state fair 1

Adults often do many things for children that they can do for themselves, especially when preparing for a project.  We all know how important it is to be prepared for a lesson with students.  But being prepared, and adults doing work that students can learn from, are two very different things.  Planning and gathering materials for a project are important activities that students can and should be involved with.  When plans miraculously happen, and materials just appear, many learning opportunities are lost.

When we presented the State Fair to other groups of students, many math opportunities occurred.  There was measurement to plan how to set up the fair in the space we had available.  There was discourse and compromise among students to agree on how to place each state in the fair – Alaska wanted to display the states alphabetically, Texas by size, California by population…   A schedule was developed – after the students figured out how much time each group would need at the fair based on number of displays to visit and how much average time would be spent at each display.  Groups were invited based on this schedule.  Then the schedule was adjusted for groups that had a conflict with the available times.  Then the schedule was re-adjusted after the first day when the students realized larger groups and older students needed more time at the fair than smaller and younger groups, etc.

There are many math opportunities for parents working with children at home as well.  When inviting other children over make sure your child is involved in this discourse.  You would be surprised how much math you use every day without even realizing it.   (Except of course when I balance my checkbook.  Then I totally realize how much math is involved as I try to make sense of the usual mess I have made!)

Authentic Project Idea – Airplane Engines


How do airplane engines work?  What is the difference between how propellers work and how jet engines work?  Some airplanes have hybrid propellers/jet engines, how do those work?

Authentic projects often start with a simple question, lead to research, and end with a student construction of a 747 (if you are lucky, it will just be a model).