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!)

Authentic Project Ideas – Solar Energy

How does Solar Energy work?  I thought I understood how it worked, but when it was explained to me by someone involved in the industry, I was totally surprised to learn that I did not understand it at all.

A great authentic project would be to not only learn about how solar energy works, but to think about ways to improve it.  Even the youngest learners can understand the basics of solar energy. Learners can also draw diagrams or make authentic models of how solar energy works. Or maybe even propose other alternative ways to create energy.

And remember that if this project turns into a discussion and plan of how to conserve energy, and that leads to planning a way to track energy consumption – that is authentic learning!

Authentic Project Ideas – Lemonade Stand That Makes a Difference

Summer is finally here, and kids are out of school and home for the summer. (Officially that is – most have been home for months.)  This is the time that summer lemonade and baked good stands start to appear. 

With so many people struggling to make ends meet due to the Coronavirus and the economic impact of the shutdowns, it would be a great authentic project to turn these summer stands into fundraisers for local food banks. 

An authentic project such as a lemonade stand with home-made cookies includes reading recipes, using math to make the lemonade and cookies, writing signs, more math to sell the lemonade and cookies…the authentic experiences are endless.

And it is never too early for kids to learn how good it feels to help those in need, and that every little bit helps.  It may not seem like much to donate a few dollars to a food bank, but it means the world to the family that gets food due to that donation. 

Authentic Teaching – Listening to Students

As I have stated many times, I am passionate about Authentic Learning.  It is the reason I started my blog after I retired.  I was ready to stop teaching, but not ready to leave education and something I believe in with all my heart and soul.

I also love photography, and realized that my photos were giving me lots of project ideas.  If you stop, look around, and smell the roses, you will be amazed and what you see. 

But for a project to be authentic you need to listen, really listen, to your students.  What are they thinking about, what do they want to know, what are they interested in.  Then you create your driving question, and start to frame your authentic project with experiences that require that your content covers your curriculum objectives.

Authentic teaching requires planning, but that planning needs to revolve and change based on what your students are interested in. Plan a lesson, watch your student engagement, listen to their interests and questions, and change course if necessary.

Teaching authentically involves giving yourself that time to reflect and smell those roses. It is so important to good teaching and much more pleasant way to go through life!

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).

Authentic Project Ideas – Wood Board Games

Toys and games of the past were made out of wood.  There were so many simple, yet fun games, that were played in the past.  What were some of these games?  When and where were they created?  Who played them?

Create a new authentic board game.  Make the game board.  (Cardboard is fine if you don’t happen to be a wood carver!)  Create your own rules.  Teach the game to your friends.

And if it is a game that can be played over Zoom, if you make one and send it to your friends as well – even better!

Stay Safe!

How to Present Projects – Tri Boards

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I think one of the past biases that I personally held about tri-boards was because of how they historically had been used.  And that history was…send the tri-board home, have mom do it, and send it back and get that A+.

You cannot blame parents for this one.  First of all, teachers were basically dumping this on parents.  They had strict curriculums they needed to follow, no time for what was perceived as arts and crafts…send it home and let the parents deal with it.  Then teachers rewarded work obviously done by adults.

And let’s not blame the teachers.  They were under huge pressure to follow curriculums that moved too quickly and demanded coverage of too much material.   (I overheard a fifth-grader say to his classroom teacher during a math lesson, “You know if you slowed down a little I might actually learn something.”  Out of the mouths of babes.)

As a special education teacher, I was trained to slow it down, scaffold skills, and modify lessons to fit student needs. Hence why I am passionate about the project-based learning, authentic learning, learning through play movement, whatever you want to call it…it works!

During the pandemic I have seen a huge increase of people digging into how children really learn. The posts about project-based learning, authentic learning, learning through play, etc, have exploded. Fingers crossed that this understanding of how important teaching authentically is continues after we all go back to our “new normal.”

So back to tri-boards. Giving students a tri-board to use to display work is a really cool thing to do.  Tri-boards can be used to encourage organization (three parts to the board), conveying the important points (limited space), originality (not just printing things from the web and gluing them on the tri-board)….

And the final tri-board does not have to be perfect. What we want to see is academic growth, not perfection. We want to see authentic student work!

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 Project Ideas – Inventing a New Game

Basketball

One of the best games I ever played was a game that several fifth-graders had invented.  It involved shooting a basket, then running a diamond backwards, jumping rope… I don’t remember all of the things you had to do to score, but it was a blast!  (And I came in last – no surprise.)

Making up rules for a new game is a great authentic project. The project can involve reading (reading about other games and rules to get ideas), writing (recording the rules, and editing after you follow the rules to see if they covered everything), and math (developing a scoring system).

With social distancing and other limits to what kids normally play, it is a great time to invent a new game that can be played and enjoyed with the limitations currently in place.

Stay Safe!

Teaching Environmental Responsibility Authentically- Protecting Our Environment

FactoryQuiltQUILT BY CHRIS STAVER

The last two months have been a fascinating look at what happens to our planet when we cause less pollution.  Photos of Venice and the clean water are astounding.  Pictures of the clean sky over Los Angeles – amazing.  Animals coming back to their old habitats.  All of this in just a few months.

Obviously, at some point we will all re-emerge and begin to interact more with our environment.  But maybe some good will come out of this and we will do it a little more responsibly.  We have certainly seen how quickly our planet can begin to recover from some of the damage caused by humans.

I have written about several project ideas that have a theme of protecting and cleaning up our environment.  Teaching children how to learn and think authentically is something I am obviously passionate about.  We also need to take a good, hard look at what we are doing to our planet, and what we are leaving behind for our children and grandchildren.  What better way to cover both than an authentic project about our environment.  And the timing, with what is currently happening in our world, is perfect for this authentic exploration.

There are some really neat organizations out there that are making a big difference in cleaning up our environment.  For example, 4ocean sells bracelets made of beads from plastic pulled out of the ocean (a huge environmental problem).  For every bracelet they sell they pull a pound of plastic from the ocean.

There are many other grassroots organizations, businesses, and charities that are making a huge difference.  Most started as a simple project. (Read about the start of 4ocean, it is an interesting story.)  A really cool authentic project could be to develop a new way or idea to clean up, or prevent pollution, on our planet.  Who knows…this project may become something that makes a difference.

Stay Safe!