Total Immersion

Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

My husband and I just returned from a fantastic trip to Disney World. We went specifically to visit Galaxy’s Edge, the new Star Wars Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Even with the entire population of Earth and at least one other planet in the park, it was a super experience. (It was great to see everyone out and about after the isolation of the last two years.) We waited in line for two hours for Rise of the Resistance, and it was totally worth it. I still have a smile on my face.

What Disney is now doing is the total immersion experience and it reminded me so much of authentic learning. We even found out that the University of Central Florida (near Disney World) is offering a degree in Total Immersion Design. How cool is that!

So teaching authentically, which is teaching using as much immersion as possible, has now entered the entertainment industry as total immersion. The theory being that total immersion is the way to engage the audience as much as possible. Engaged audiences retain the experience and want to return for more. Engaged students retain what they have learned and want to learn more…

Authentic Teaching

On a recent road trip my husband and I spent the night in a little town just off the highway in Virginia.  We ate dinner next to the hotel at one of the best Mexican restaurants we’ve ever been to…thank goodness we live six hours away or I would gain a ton of weight.

After dinner we decided to drive ten miles up the road to a memorial commemorating the birthplace of Stephen F. Austin, who is considered the father of the State of Texas.  It was just a simple stone marker with three flags; Virginia, Texas, and the United States.

When we returned to the hotel, both my husband and I read about Stephen F. Austin.  We also read about the history of iron mining in this area of the country, as the memorial explained that the Austins moved to Virginia to mine iron.  We both learned a great deal about Stephen F. Austin, Texas, and iron mining.  

So what is the point of this blog, besides the fact that I have zero control when it comes to Mexican food…

It’s the authentic experience that spurs real learning.  Stopping at a simple memorial marker opened up several lines of conversation for us.  Yes, we are adults (not according to our adult children, who think we have regressed back to being teenagers). But, the same kind of simple stops engage children as well (and adults who have regressed).  Make it real, make it count.

Tex the Explorer – Journey Through Our Solar System is a Distinguished Favorite

The INDEPENDENT PRESS AWARD recognized Tex the Explorer – Journey Through Our Solar System by Ellie Smith, Illustrated by Eyen Johnson, as a Distinguished Favorite in the category of Children’s Picture Books.

The competition is judged by experts from different aspects of the book industry, including publishers, writers, editors, book cover designers and professional copywriters. Selected IPA Award Winners and Distinguished Favorites are based on overall excellence.

Tex the Explorer: Journey Through Our Solar System continues the journey of Tex the Explorer. Tex is a young T-Rex. He loves to explore. For his birthday his parents gave him a rocket ship. Tex is off to explore our Solar System!

In 2022, the INDEPENDENT PRESS AWARD had entries worldwide.  Authors and publishers from countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Jordan, Puerto Rico, Switzerland participated.

Tex the Explorer – Journey Through Our Solar System is available on Amazon.

Authentic Project Ideas – Standing Stones

Standing stones have always inspired interest and speculation.  From the real world of Stonehenge to the fantasy world of time travel, stones have fascinated people.

How did they get there?  What did they represent? So much authentic history to learn about!

Research, write a story, create a legend, build a model…

Be authentic and have fun! And I am going back to my favorite activity regarding standing stones – reading Outlander!

Authentic Project Ideas – Changes in a Sport

Ok, so excuse me while I sound like my grandparents (who I adored), but in my day, ski jumpers skied down a snowy hill and then jumped off of it. I have no idea what this jumper is skiing on – or how this sport works now.

So, how has ski jumping – or any sport – changed over the years? Why were the changes made? Do you feel these were changes for the better?

So many authentic projects possible. (Lots of authentic projects on safety in sports waiting to be explored.) And if anyone would like to explain to me how ski jumping now works, I would appreciate it. Oh – and in case you are wondering, I am highly unlikely to take up the sport!

Authentic Project Ideas – Doors and Counterweights

This is a door in a restaurant in an old colonial era tavern in Pennsylvania.  I think the counter-weight is such a cool way to close the door after people open it. (The large wood block hanging to the left of the door, with the rope leading up and over, tied to the top of the door.) It also puts some weight on the door so that it doesn’t fly open.

I was sitting and watching the door for a while – waiting for our table to be ready – and counted five people commenting on the door in fifteen minutes.  So, I obviously wasn’t the only one intrigued.

So many authentic projects could be inspired by this photo.  How do counter-weights work?  What are other examples of counter-weights?  (Check out the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland).  What is the mathematical formula for this door to work?  What if you put a lot more weight on the door?  What if you put less weight? 

And if this evolves into projects designing better doors, that’s authentic learning.  (I need a door with a package door that can be opened with an electronic code to slip my packages through – I believe Amazon is already working on something like this…)

Authentic Project Ideas – Bird Houses

This is a photo of a birdhouse that recently caught my eye. It was very simple, with holes on each side. I don’t know a lot about birdhouses, but the holes seemed very small. I am assuming that this house was built for a particular type/size of bird. Are there bird houses built for larger birds? What is the purpose of a birdhouse?

Why do people put up birdhouses versus bird feeders?

Ideas – Do authentic research about birdhouses and bird feeders. What are the different types of birdhouses/bird feeders? Build a better birdhouse. Build a better bird feeder.

Authentic Project Ideas – Ski Slopes

There are ski slopes a few blocks from our home.  We always enjoy seeing the snow on the slopes and watching the skiers racing downhill.  I tried skiing once.  I raced right down that hill.  Not because I was a natural skier, but because I had no control – could not turn, could not stop.  My cousin met me at the bottom, told me to take off my skis, and go enjoy some hot chocolate and the lodge shops.  Great advice.

So back to the purpose of this blog entry…  As I mentioned, we love to look at the snow on the slopes.  However, due to climate change, the snow is present much less than it was even a decade ago.  On average, we see snow and skiers in January through mid-March.  This is not a lot of time for the owners to make a profit on what is a very expensive business to operate.  The owners have found very creative ways to solve this problem during the ski season and during the rest of the year.

I thought it would be a great authentic project to have students look at this problem.  What could the owners do to make a profit and stay in business with the limited ski season?

*Just FYI, the property is used for concerts, chicken-wing feasts, go-carts…but I wouldn’t share this with your students.  Let them come up with their own authentic solutions. My cousin certainly had a great authentic solution for his skiing problem – that being me!

Teaching Authentically By Subject

Well, it’s a New Year, and I am back on my kick of trying to better organize my blog.  Once again, I tried to break my posts down into reading, writing, math, science, social studies….  The problem (or good news) is that when you are teaching authentically, you really can’t and don’t want to separate out the academic subjects that way.

Even if you are teaching high school math, you are teaching reading, writing, science, social studies, etc., if you are teaching authentically.  Make it real and make it count. And if you make it real and make it count, you are not teaching in isolation.

My husband and I were on a road trip recently, and I noticed many trucks on the road.  We live in Central Pennsylvania and we are a cross-through from New York to every point south and west.  So, we get allot of trucks on our highways.  Tons! Too many – ok my fault, as I am the best on-line shopping customer in Central Pennsylvania, so according to my husband, those trucks were all headed to our house…

Watching all of the trucks, I was thinking about the supply chain problems and what a great authentic project that would be…as a social studies project – truck drivers and their jobs.  But, it is also math – the cost of shipping by truck, the cost of the supply chain backlog.  And it is science – perhaps inventing a more efficient truck, or self-driving truck.  And it is reading – reading about the supply chain issues.  And writing – writing about possible solutions.

I also am not going to try to sort my blog into projects by different age groups.  The supply chain project would be perfect for Kindergarten – why there is a shortage of some items in stores and on-line. And it is perfect up through college – why there is a shortage of some items in stores and on-line.

So, I will start off the New Year by not messing with my blog, and just wishing everyone a happy and authentic 2022!

Happy Holidays

This is a photograph of one of my favorite wreaths, as it is figuratively and literally a “think outside of the box” wreath. And teaching authentically is definitely thinking outside of the box, or in this case, thinking outside of the circle!

A Happy Holiday Season to all and a Happy New Year! Thank you for allowing me into your lives to share a little bit of what I know about teaching, education, and what works!

Love, Ellie