Authentic Project Ideas – Designing a Ferris Wheel

This was a small, simple Ferris Wheel that I saw at a carnival last summer.  It actually looked kind of sad to me – it definitely needed a tad more creativity in the design. Perhaps a theme, a little decoration, something…

Which got me thinking about designing a Ferris Wheel.  Students could add creative carriages, etc.  And for older students there is the engineering behind Ferris Wheels.  The history of Ferris Wheels, famous Ferris Wheels…

And always remember that this is just the starting point.  If a student ends up doing research on the clouds seen from the top of the Ferris Wheel – that’s an authentic project!

*We were in London about a decade ago with our children and didn’t ride the London Eye because it was expensive. We are still kicking ourselves!

Authentic Listening

There are a lot of really great things being posted right now about Authentic Learning – PBL.  Looking through all of it, I do get a little overwhelmed.  I think it is really important to remember that true Authentic Learning should not be planned out to the nth degree.  You need a prompt or driving question.  You need specific goals and objectives that you want to accomplish.  But, the direction of the project should come from the students.  This is why when we wrote One School’s Journey, Peggy and I did not include lesson plans.  If you are following lesson plans then the project is not authentic.

Teaching authentically means that you need to listen to your kids, REALLY listen and pay attention.  There are so many opportunities to plug in your goals and objectives if you are paying attention to what they are doing or saying.  This is actually the most important part of teaching authentically, because if you plug in what you need to accomplish into what students are doing, they will be motivated to follow through.  And motivated, engaged students remember what they learn. 

Sometimes it is a tad challenging, but rarely was I stuck, and had to do a non-authentic lesson to cover what I wanted/needed to accomplish. 

I have many, many project ideas on my blog.  Looking through any resource, mine or others, the trick is to pick a prompt or driving question that you see has the potential to cover what you want to accomplish. 

Have Fun and Stay Safe!

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!

Teaching Authentically, Staying Authentic

Chicken

I had this photo in my file of posts to write, and I realized that the timing was perfect to work on this topic.  Children are hearing lots of things on television about a meat shortage.  This just adds to their concerns (and ours) about what is happening in our world.  While my original topic was going to be to explore organic and free-range food sources, I think a better topic might be what our options are for food today.

My original prompts for authentic exploration were as follows:  Many stores advertise that their meats are organic or free range.  There are also many other claims markets make.  What exactly does organic mean?  Free range? Are there benefits to one over the other?  Is there a better way to raise livestock?  Are companies really honest about this?  How is this enforced? This may lead to an authentic project on ranching, farming, or even the pros and cons of being a vegetarian  (and how is that different from veganism).

So, take this topic and incorporate what is happening in our world today. What are our options for food today.  The reason I am totally committed to authentic learning and projects is because it approaches education in a real and current way.  Adjusting a lesson/project to address current events – well you can’t get much more authentic than that!

Stay Well, Stay Healthy

Teaching Authentically On Line

IMG_20200501_141043059

Since March we have been meeting on Zoom with our granddaughter every day, trying to cover kindergarten concepts.  Working with a five-year-old on Zoom is definitely not the easiest way to teach.  I have no idea how teachers are managing to work with several at the same time.

We immediately started to work with her on projects, but struggled with maintaining her interest and attention through several lessons, until it hit me like a lightening bolt to practice what I preach and teach authentically.  This did not mean to let her run away with the lesson, it meant to incorporate her passions into what I wanted to accomplish academically.

Her current passions are Unicorns, Alicorns, and Mermalicorns –  that is a Mermaid-Unicorn with wings, in case you didn’t know that.  (In one of our first Zoom session, I mentioned that Unicorns were not real.  I believe I will be forgiven for that comment in about a century or so.)

Once we started incorporating her love of unicorns into our lessons, they took off.  We were able to share facts we felt were important, practice spelling, and counting, and just plain have fun working with her.  She introduced new aspects to our authentic lessons that expanded what we were able to accomplish. She even informed us during a recent lesson, that mermaids are pretend, but we should still put one in our drawing we were making about what lived in the ocean.  (I am not touching the unicorn reality subject again, I can be taught!)

At the end of a recent lesson, she announced that she wanted to talk about cameras (this was a reference to the camera that took a photo of her and her baby brother with Santa last December).  We had a wonderful authentic conversation about cameras, practiced more spelling, did some math (photo size, age of cameras of the past), and drew pictures of cameras.  (My picture was judged to be the best by her, out of pity for me, I have zero drawing skills.)

In hindsight, I am stunned that I did not start out immediately by working with her authentically, using her interests to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish with her.  After all, I blog about this every week, and it is my passion.  But throwing Zoom into the mix threw me.  I will definitely admit it is not as easy as teaching in person.  Being authentic is definitely harder when you are not authentically there.  But going authentic has changed the impact and productivity of our lessons in a 100% positive way.

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy!

Authentic Does Not Mean Perfect

Gramma

This is a masterpiece that was done for me by my five-year-old granddaughter.  (I am not biased at all – it is a masterpiece worthy of a museum!)

What I love about this, besides the fact that it was done by her, is that it is not perfect.  Somewhere along the way we lost the learning process in our strive for perfection.  And as educators we got that message out loud and clear that we were striving for perfect “A+” work.

But when you are pushing perfection, you are looking at the end product, not the journey that got you there.  And if the educational journey has to be perfect, you eliminate risk taking and you eliminate authenticity.

Our greatest learning experiences come from the process, not the final product.  My granddaughter is learning how to write and spell.  Her work isn’t perfect.  But she is sounding out words and writing down what she hears.  She loves to do this.  She has been praised for her attempts, so she keeps at it, and keeps learning.  Sometimes she asks for help, sometimes she doesn’t.  Sometimes she is given a gentle nudge if she is stuck.

And if you can’t read “kindergarten,” this masterpiece, which hangs proudly on my refrigerator (not in a museum, but after posting it I expect to hear from the National Art Gallery) says, “This picture is for Gramma.”

 

Authentic Project Ideas – Sunsets

FLASunset

Why are sunsets so fascinating?  Why do people love to photograph sunsets?  What causes the different colors in the sky that we sometimes see at sunset?  What caused the ring around the sun in this photo?

Lots of authentic projects here:  researching/explaining what causes the beautiful colors we sometimes see at sunset.  Poetry about sunsets.  Creating a photo journal of sunsets…

And remember, questions and prompts are a starting point.  So, if this turns into a project about explaining that our sun is a star, that all stars are suns, how many stars we think there might be in our galaxy, how many galaxies there might be in our universe…that is authentic learning!

*I am entering this photo in our county fair this summer in the “sunrise/sunset” category.  Wish me luck!

Authentic Project Ideas – Recording History in the Making

State College Penn State University    April 2, 2020

We are all living through a historical event of world-wide impact.  As with all history, we learn from what we experience, and should record these lessons for the future.

Keeping a diary, log, or photo-journal of current events about COVID-19 is an authentic way to record history in the making.  It is also a way to open up honest communication with our children about what is happening.  Honest age-appropriate communication to stress the importance of what is happening, while allaying overwhelming fears.  Even young children can keep a photo-journal of current events, without focusing on the parts they are not old enough to process and handle.

There are unbelievable pictures of empty streets in cities throughout the world.  Scenes that most of us have never seen in our lifetime.  This is an opportunity to learn more about our world, our inter-dependence, and develop a greater appreciation for others.  This is a time to increase our humanity.

The focus of my blog is authentic learning.  Make it real and make it count.  There is no better way to teach and learn.  Education is also the key to understanding, and understanding helps replace fear with rational thought and action.

Stay Safe, Stay Well

Caring Cards

IMG_20200327_104810127

With approximately one-third of the world’s population under some sort of restrictions, there is no better time to reach out to relatives, neighbors, and friends who are feeling isolated.

I have been making and sending cards out to people I know, and the reception has been humbling.  It is amazing the difference getting a card in the mail can make to someone feeling isolated and alone.  And it also helps me to feel less isolated, by reaching out to others.

Our children are feeling isolated as well.  This is a great time for children to make cards for others.  Not only are they authentically learning about giving and compassion for others, making the cards will help them feel less isolated.  (And they are also authentically practicing writing skills.)

Don’t forget to have them address the envelope – possible authentic geography lesson.  They should also put on the postage – this may lead to an authentic project about the cost of mailing letters, the history of stamps, stamp collecting…

For teenagers, they might want to make and send cards to nursing homes and thank you cards to hospital staff and first-responders.  They can do the research for what they would like to do, find addresses, etc.

And the above photo is a virtual “thinking of you” card for all of you.  Stay well!