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 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 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!

Authentic Project Ideas – Hot Air Balloons

How do hot air balloons work?  What makes them rise up in the sky? What is the history of hot air balloons?  When were they first used?  For what purposes? What is the difference between a hot air balloon and a blimp? 

Read about hot air balloons.  Learn about how they work.  Create a poster, photo journal, model, authentic working model…  So many authentic ways to go with this topic…

And to clarify…I took this picture of a balloon flying over my neighborhood.  It is fairly easy to book a ride on this balloon.  And to further clarify…NOT HAPPENING!

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.

Authentic Project Ideas – What Was That?

I have decided to go on a quest to scrapbook all 67 counties in my home state of Pennsylvania. This started as a way to get out and about during COVID, just something to safely do. Drive around, take some interesting photos, and go home and create a scrapbook page.

It changed into a huge project that I am really enjoying. Not only am I learning more about my new home state (we moved here four years ago) but I am being reminded about how much fun simple things are. And how many authentic projects are out there waiting to be discovered!

For example, in one county my husband and I drove past a huge factory. We commented on it, but it didn’t really look that interesting. When we returned home we mentioned this to some friends, who then told us, that was the original Chef Boyardeee Factory. If we had stopped and investigated a little, we would have seen the smoke stack with Chef Boyardeee written on it. But we had just driven past.

So a few weeks later we made the two hour drive back to investigate, and sure enough, there it was. We took some photos, explored some more, returned home, and ate Chef Boyardee Ravioli and Beefaroni! We then researched about the history of Chef Boyardee and the factory. Fascinating story. Lots of potential authentic projects – history, biography, time line, financing, factory location, factory construction…

So many authentic projects are just waiting out there, if you stop and smell the roses – or in this case the ravioli – there are buildings, and objects, and plants, and animals…. just waiting for someone to stop, look, question, research, and learn from.

Authentic Teaching – Engaging Your Learners

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.