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.

Authentic Teaching – Horses to Football

Working on a recent blog about project ideas for horses, I was thinking that really this blog could be about any animal.  Which got me thinking that any of my blogs could be about something similar…or not similar.  That is what authentic teaching and learning is all about.

The point of authentic learning is to present an idea, and see where your learners take you.  You are still in the driver’s seat, but you are allowing your learners to navigate how you get there.  As long as you get there, that is the point.

So, if your goal is to learn about animal habitats, and you suggest an authentic project about horses, and your learner(s) are more interested in dogs, or cats, or snakes (yuck), then that is fine.  And if your learners are only interested in football…and they want to read about football and write about football…the history of football, create a timeline about the sport, design a football stadium.  Start pulling in all of your goals into football. 

So, we started with horses and now we are on football.  Back to animal habitats…how many stadiums are home to wild animals? What kinds of animals?  How did they get there? Has a wild animal ever interrupted a game?  What happened?  That is authentic teaching and learning.

Authentic Project Ideas – Horses

Kids love horses!  The authentic projects that could be done about horses are endless. Actually, the authentic projects that can be done on any topic are endless…

The history of horses.  Where did horses originally come from?  How have horses been used in the past?  How are horses used today?  What are the different kinds of horses?  What is the difference between a horse and a pony? Are zebras a type of horse? Do you find different kinds of horses in different places?  What are the most valuable horses?

Create a book about horses.  Create a chart about the different kinds of horses.  Diorama, slide show, poster, photo journal… 

For older learners this could go the route of learning about agencies that help horses being mistreated.  Perhaps setting up a fundraiser to support their cause.

Giddy Up! 

Authentic Project Ideas – Cliff Divers

Put this under the project idea category of “you have got to be kidding me!” This is what these folks do for a job.  They dive off of cliffs.  I have never been so glad that I earned my living as a teacher!

This photo was taken in Acapulco.  Our guide told us that none of the divers have ever been seriously injured.  They start out as children and learn to dive off of the lowest rocks and gradually move up. My daughter was a competitive gymnast and it was fascinating to watch how gymnasts learned new skills.  It took years to develop some skills and by the time they were doing them on different apparatus they were so well trained for so long, you really didn’t worry about them getting hurt. 

Still, watching the divers, I held my breath!

So how long does it take for a diver to master the highest cliffs?  Are there cliff divers in other places?  What is the history of the Acapulco cliff divers? (Research, time line, report, display, Power Point…)

Do they use math when they dive?  How?  Could computers be used to make their dives even safer?  How? How are computers used in other sports to improve achievement and safety?

While I really push the idea of authenticity, please don’t authentically dive off of a cliff to research this topic!

Authentic Project Ideas – Plants and Seasons

Good-bye gorgeous summer plants. Hello fall pumpkins. In most parts of the world the season is starting to change.  Actually, that is a great authentic project right there…is the season changing from summer to fall all over the world? In which parts of the world is the season changing from summer to fall? Do the seasons change in all parts of the world?  What season is it changing to?  Why? What causes seasons to change? Are we closer/farther away from the sun? (Most children will answer yes to this question…great authentic follow-up here.)

In many parts of the world we will lose our beautiful summer plants soon.  What will they be replaced with?  What grows well when the weather cools? What should be planted now?  What kinds of decorative plants?  Crops?  Where?  So many authentic ways to go with this… Enjoy what’s left of the summer (or winter)!