How does a river like this become a “Grand Canyon?”
Authentic projects need authentic products: Create a booklet with illustrations and/or photographs. Create a chart. Create a graph to show the timeline. Build several models showing the progression. Write a fictional legend…
Deciding the best way to present your research is as important as the research itself. It is also a great time to experiment with different ways to reach your audience.
And according to some former students of mine, I was old enough that I saw the beginnings of the Grand Canyon form – hmmmm – definitely a need for authentic time lines!
What is the history of Valentine’s Day? Where did it start? What countries celebrate Valentine’s Day? How do people celebrate Valentine’s Day?
With COVID-19 and many people shut in at home it might be a great authentic social-skills project to make Valentines for people who might need a nice surprise in their mailbox or on their doorstep.
And since authentic projects start with a driving question and go from there, this photo might take your learners in an entirely different direction. The above photo is of a preserved rose in a small, closed glass container. I have had it for several years – I rarely open it – and it is still as beautiful as the day I received it. How are flowers preserved like this? Can this process be used on other flowers? How long can you expect a preserved flower to last? What are other ways to preserve flowers? Is there a safe way to preserve flowers at home? (Hint – I have used hairspray very effectively on wedding bouquets.)
We now pause to take a break from the winter. We were buried in snow this week and as I started to write a blog about more authentic project ideas for the topic of snow, I decided I really wanted to write about the sunny south of the US.
So, I looked through my photos and found a favorite from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Cruise ships are a huge part of the Florida economy. What are all the ways that a ship impacts a port’s economy? What are all the positive impacts a ship brings? For little ones this could be a project about jobs on ships. What are all the negative impacts? For older learners this could go into a project about congestion and pollution.
How has COVID-19 and the shutdown of the cruise industry impacted port economies?
Study ship designs and design a better ship. Design improvements for a local port. Create a list of all jobs on a ship and “apply” for a job… Tons of authentic ways to go with this topic. Bon Voyage!
Salt has been a very valued commodity for centuries. Why? What are all of the uses for salt?
One winter use is salting roads. We have bad weather coming in and the trucks are out salting our roads. Why? My husband and several other people in our neighborhood have put out signs to stop the trucks from salting our driveways. Interestingly, my husband and my neighbor’s husband have two very different reasons for not wanting salt on the driveway. What are reasons to not use salt on driveways/roads?
Why has salt historically been used on food? Why is salt bad for you?
So many places to go with this topic – so many authentic roads to follow – with our without salt!
I friend I taught with introduced me to Hex signs. She grew up in Berks County, Pennsylvania, which is where most of the barns in the United States with Hex signs are located. When I first heard about these signs I thought they had something to do with casting spells. Turns out this is not true!
I spent a great deal of time researching, and planning for our trip to Berks County. Then we drove around and photographed the gorgeous barns. I learned a great deal about the Pennsylvania Dutch. The photo above is my favorite barn in Berks County.
Doing an authentic project about Hex signs will involve reading for research, and writing to explain the history and/or what Hex signs represent today. An authentic project can go in the direction of history, current barns and where they are found, or branch off into Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Art.
You don’t have to live in Pennsylvania to do a project on Hex signs, you don’t even need to live in the United States. Just like you don’t need to live in the UK to do a project about castles. While US Hex signs are predominately found in Berks County, Pennsylvania, a friend I sent the above photo to told me about similar folk art in Wisconsin. Except the Wisconsin folk art is done on furniture, and was brought over from a different area of Europe. He ended up researching that.
And if a leading question about Hex signs becomes an authentic project about another kind of folk art, that is authentic learning!
Before this snow fall, our local forecasters said that it would be a nice fluffy snow. How did they know that? What are the different categories of snow and what causes these types of snow? What temperature and atmospheric conditions are needed for different categories of snow? (I found five categories and they have very descriptive names that kids will like!)
And if this project turns into an essay on the perfect snow for building a snowman and a photo-journal of snowmen…that is authentic learning!
This artwork was done by a 5th grade student who was working on the Martian Colony Project I was involved with. I wish I could remember his name, I would give him credit for the artwork.
Someone from the outside looking in might question the time spent on this illustration. Isn’t this a waste of valuable learning time. This was done in the classroom, not in art class. Shouldn’t the student have been reading, writing, or doing math.
When working on authentic projects it is important to remember that what you see as the final project is only a snapshot of the learning that took place. While I don’t remember the student’s name, I do remember that conversation we had while he worked. He was looking at a picture of a rover on Mars and asking all sorts of questions. His classroom teacher and I directed him to sources to find his answers. He also posed improvements to the rover. This illustration accompanied a brochure that the class put together to accompany the tours they were giving of their Martian Colony.
So if you walk into a classroom where students are constructing, drawing, painting…stop and listen to what they are saying and what they are really doing. The learning is authentic, ongoing, and owned by the students.
This picture appears to be of flowers, but if you look closely you can see snow out the window.
When we present students with driving questions and prompts, it is surprising how many times students notice the snow in the background and want to frame their project around that.
I taught in Central Florida for several years, and had the opportunity to take field trips to EPCOT at Disney World several times. (It was not exactly a tough day at work.) What fascinated me was how often the kids were enthralled by something other than the actual ride or show. More than once I had to grab a kid by the collar who was leaning over way too far to see what was making the ride move or stay in its lane.
When we finished the ride, the discussion wasn’t about the obvious, it was about the behind the scenes mechanics. How cool was that!
This trip was the culmination of a yearly unit on countries. Each student researched a country, wrote a report, and constructed a diorama. Decades later, I realize that it would have been even better to go to EPCOT first and then have the kids design and build their models. I can’t imagine how far they would have taken the project with the information they gained on the trip. And if their final projects were more about design, motion, and construction, rather than the country they picked to learn about, then the projects would have been less “themed” learning and more “project-based/authentic”
So, while we may be presenting a driving question about flowers, to really be authentic, be willing to go off on a project about snow.
I just attended an on-line poetry reading where the iconic Robert Frost Poem The Road Not Taken was shared. I love Robert Frost and I love this poem. Listening to this poem made me think about what a great idea it is to teach elementary and middle school students using the poetry of Robert Frost. Ummm…NOT! Let’s be honest – there are very few children who are mature enough to appreciate Robert Frost. Maybe by high school, but I can assure you I didn’t appreciate him when I was in high school. I had no use for his poetry. I hated memorizing his poems. And I honestly had no idea why this was anything but a waste of my time. I pretty much hated poetry.
So fast forward to my teaching career and good old Robert is part of the 5th grade curriculum. Now I am not one to fight city hall…so what to do?
Well, enter authentic teaching, learning, and projects. We introduced the kids to Robert Frost and all the other poets that were in the curriculum. But then, instead of memorizing a poem, or writing in the style of Robert Frost we turned the kids loose to write their own poetry.
In one class the kids were working on a Martian Colony, so they wrote Martian Poetry. Their poetry covered every topic possible – sports on Mars, monsters on Mars, weather, friendship, loneliness… Some of the kids modeled their poetry after a Robert Frost poem, others looked to different poets. (The most popular choice by far – Shel Silverstein).
The class ended up publishing a book of Martian Poetry that went home to every family.
So, the kids really learned about poetry, they learned about different poets, and they had fun writing poetry. The curriculum was covered. The project was authentic. The learning was authentic.