Authentic Project Ideas – The History of the Elevator

I did a post about elevators a while back, but this one was too cool to pass up!

We just returned from a historic lodge which had this elevator.  You opened the door and then pulled the gate back to get in.  There were modern elevators in the lodge also, but we went out of our way to always use this one. The only other time I have seen an elevator like this was in Europe years ago. 

So, what is the history of the elevator?  Who invented it? Where was it invented?  (Reading)

Design an elevator (Math).  Construct an elevator (Math).  What will elevators in the future look like (Writing/Math)?  Lots of authentic ways to go with this…up, down…sideways?

Authentic Project Ideas – Designing a Carousel

I saw this whimsical carousel in Boston.  I love the sea-life included in the carousel, so appropriate as Boston is all about seafood!

It would be a fun authentic project to design a carousel (lots of math, lots of writing) and perhaps incorporate a theme from where you live, or what you enjoy, into the carousel.  It could feature famous landmarks, favorite sports, characters from books…

Your students could even build a model of their carousel.  A working model could incorporate the authentic topics of energy and motion.

Maybe even design and build a model amusement park.  With authentic projects the sky – and beyond – is the limit.

Authentic Teaching

My daughter was taught reading in fifth grade using a very analytical program developed for above grade-level readers.  It was very researched-based.  Lots of solid educational theory behind it.  She was a voracious reader.  By the end of fifth grade she hated reading.  She hated books.  She refused to read.  (With a fantastic reading teacher in sixth grade, my daughter discovered her love of reading again, thank goodness.)

Why?  This program picked books apart.  The kids had to analyze them to death.  Every chapter was torn apart and looked at.

Think of it this way.  View a gorgeous Monet painting.  Stand several yards back and take it all in.  Breath-taking.  I fell in love with art through the work of Monet. Now, press your nose up to the canvas.  Pick it apart. Analyze the color.  Analyze the strokes.  Not so great anymore, is it?

I see the same thing happening with project based learning, what I call authentic learning.  Semantics – project based learning, authentic learning, learning through play…everything has the same goal – to make learning real, make it worthwhile, make it count.  Not only are folks hung up on the semantics, they are hung up on planning every detail out ahead of time, getting plans from others, following commercial programs – not authentic at all.

Don’t do to authentic projects what that reading program did.  Don’t pre-plan and pick apart the experience until you destroy the spontaneity and joy of learning for you and your students.  Go with the flow, as the captain of your ship keep it on course, but allow for your passengers to experience the choices from the buffet along the way!

Authentic Project Ideas – Creative Recycling

I love entering photos and crafts into our local county Grange Fair (which sadly won’t be taking place this summer due to Coronavirus).  One of my favorite categories to view is the craft category of turning something old into something useful again.  I have never entered, but it is so cool to see what people do.  Old jean shorts turned into purses, t-shirts turned into quilts, glass bottles turned into lamp bases, fronts of old greeting cards turned into new cards…

I saw this at a local restaurant and it reminded me of that category.  Simply taking old horseshoes and turning them into a menu holder on the wall. I don’t think this would be a ribbon winning entry – not overly creative – but it is certainly a really cool authentic way to recycle.

So, authentic project idea – turn something old into something useful again.  Write directions for what you are creating.  Include any needed math.  Maybe somehow turn this into a community service project – creating something to cheer someone up…lots of ways this project could go.  I would love to hear what your learners come up with!

Authentically Teaching All Subjects

I had an idea to refine my blog by adding more topics to my menu, breaking down my ideas into reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. As I started to look at my entries, I realized that if I did this I would be moving away from exactly what I am trying to promote – teaching authentically.

If you are teaching authentically, then you are not teaching in isolation. If you are authentically teaching math, it should involve research/reading. If you are authentically teaching reading, it should involve social studies, science, and math. Writing should be authentically incorporated into every subject, it should not be an exercise unto itself.

So I am going to leave all of my ideas for authentic projects under one topic. It really shouldn’t make it more difficult to find an idea, as the whole point of my blog is to give you lots of ideas to think about and see if one resonates for you and your students. Need to teach area – design a dream house, measure for carpet, plan a new park, figure out how many chocolate chip cookies can fit on a cookie sheet… (And send me the recipe please – still looking for a great chocolate chip cookie recipe!)

Teaching Authentically – Baking

Baking is a fantastic authentic way to teach kids math.  (True confession – I still need to visualize some sort of cooking experience when I am trying to figure out fractions.)

While baking with kids, you need to talk with them about what they are doing.  Insert math language and content into the conversation. Guide them, but let them problem solve.

You can step in to stop a catastrophe – it would definitely be catastrophic to add too much salt to a cookie recipe, while adding too many chocolate chips would be a bonus!

Have fun, and please send me any good recipes for chocolate chip cookies.  We lost our favorite family recipe (absolutely catastrophic).

Managing Authentic Learning

In response to one of my posts, several people asked some great questions.  How do you manage students going off in different directions with their authentic projects?  How do you meet your objectives?

Several people responded with great answers.  I am adding my thoughts and paraphrasing what was said. (Thank you to everyone who answered these questions, both on Facebook and on my blog.)

What we found when we had students going off in several directions with authentic projects was that we were able to group them into smaller groups based on their interests.  Some groups were larger, some were small, and some students really wanted to work alone, which was fine.  But I don’t remember a time that we were managing more than a handful of groups, which honestly is not that hard to do when kids are engaged and motivated.

To meet objectives, make authentic project milestones require that your content covers your objectives. For example, if you students are designing and building model cars, and you have an objective to cover motion, friction, and energy, then have a project milestone be to race the cars and insert a discussion of motion, friction, and energy into the follow-up of the race.

Managing authentic projects is work, but it is also a lot of fun, different every day, and never boring.  The kids are engaged, and so are the teachers.  Can’t beat that!

Authentic Teaching – Budgeting

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In many families money is tight right now, and many items are hard to get even if you can afford them.  This is stressful for both adults and children.  Involving children in honest, age appropriate budget conversations is a way to not only relieve some of the stress, but also an authentic way to teach budgeting.

Even young children can do chores to earn money for what they want, based on what parents can afford.  Children can also learn about ordering on line, how credit cards work, and how long something will take to ship and be delivered.  Lots of authentic reading and math skills.  Lots of honest conversations about our current world.

Teaching Authentically at Home

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I know many (most) of the children we educate are currently learning at home.  Projects work beautifully in the home.  But don’t forget that authentic learning doesn’t need to be a big involved project.  Every day activities are great times for authentic teaching and learning.  Cooking is full of reading and math.  (I still can’t do math problems unless I picture cooking and/or food in my head!)  Planning and implementing a schedule for the day.  Writing a grocery list.  Estimating the cost of everything in the grocery cart. (My grandmother used to say, “Just count the items in the cart and multiply by 50¢.” Great authentic lesson in inflation!)

I joke that I was the laziest teacher and parent on the planet.  If the kids could do something, why should I do it.  The truth of the matter is I was doing some really good teaching and parenting, if I say so myself.  Honestly, it is more work to have your kids do something. As an adult I could do it neater and faster.  If your child is writing a grocery list and you are having to help prompt or spell, it takes twice as long.  But if you write the list you are missing an authentic learning moment – on so many levels!

I hope everyone is safe and well.

Best to All,  Ellie

Authentic Project Ideas – Snow

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What causes snow?  How does snow form?  At what temperature does snow form?

Rain, freezing rain, ice, snow…what happens to cause each of these?

Are there different types of snow? What are the best conditions to build a snowman?

These prompts could also lead to authentic projects about how artificial ice and snow are made?  Maybe even the creation of a working model artificial ice rink or ski slope…

Or…how is snow made for all the holiday specials on television when it snows exactly when the script says it should?

I live in a northern climate and absolutely love the snow.  Snow means hot chocolate, warm fireplaces, and catching up on my reading!