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!

Authentically Teaching Across Subject Areas

One Room School House

I once again decided that I needed to refine my blog and sort the authentic project ideas out by academic subject area.  Having been posting on this blog for over two years, it is becoming hard for even me to find what I wrote on certain topics.

So, I started to sort the posts out by reading, writing, math, science, social studies… And after about ten posts I realized I was posting every post under every academic subject area.  That is actually the point of authentic learning and using authentic projects to teach.  Teaching in isolation is isolating – that was profound!  Learning reverts to rote and meaningless – information to be accumulated to finish a worksheet, write a report, or memorized to pass a test.

When learning authentically, the subjects should be integrated.  Yes, a math teacher is responsible for teaching math, but by making it real and making it count, you are also teaching reading, writing, science…  And your lessons are meaningful to the student, and will be internalized. 

In a way, the teachers in one-room schoolhouses of the past had a huge advantage as they naturally had to teach this way.  Across all the academic subjects, across grade levels, with limited access to text books, and no worksheets.  Yes, they did a lot of drilling that we don’t have to do today because children don’t need to memorize, they need to learn how to access information. Access that wasn’t available in a one-room schoolhouse.  There was no internet, there were no calculators. But there also were no monstrous curriculums that needed to be covered with far too much information and far too little time. They had the same students for years on end, they got to know their students, and they had no choice but to make it real and make it count. It was a matter of survival, not a matter of a child passing some exam at the end of the year that had little to do with what mattered to them and their lives.

Yes, I am looking at one-room schoolhouses with rose-colored glasses. And yes, some teachers got paid in apples and horses – probably not the preference of most teachers today. (I won’t even comment on the out-house at the side of the one-room schoolhouse pictured above – thank you modern conveniences!) But there are some interesting authentic lessons to learn by looking back to the past.

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. 

Authentic Project Ideas – Satellite Dishes

On a recent drive through the country, we found this satellite dish.  It is hard to tell from the picture how huge it is, I believe the area of the dish is several football fields!

So, what are these dishes used for?  Why are they called “satellite dishes?” How are they constructed?  Are they always round?  What are some jobs associated with satellite dishes? 

Read about satellite dishes.  Write about their uses.  Calculate their different sizes (area, perimeter, radius, circumference…)  Build a model.  Write a sci-fi story. (ET Phone Home!)

So many authentic projects…

Authentic Project Ideas – Water

Water. Where does our fresh water come from?  Does it come from different places/sources depending on where you live?

How can we conserve water?  Why is it important to use water wisely?  Are there places where there is a shortage of water? 

Is water recycled? How is waste water treated? Can you drink it after it is treated? How is seawater desalinated?

Write a brochure about where your water comes from.  Create a poster about the importance of water conservation.  Research where people in different places get their water from and create a chart… So many authentic project ideas, so many ways to go with this very important topic.