Teaching Authentically – Start Small and…This is SO Cool!!

Early sketch for
Tex the Explorer
The Jared Box Project

Eyen and I are so honored to have been asked to write a book about The Jared Box Project. This is an amazing group that donated boxes of games, toys, etc to children in the hospital. They have donated over a million boxes to over 400 hospitals in the United States and also internationally.

As I have mentioned before, I started this blog as a way to get my books “out there” on the web. I had never even read a blog before, but the folks in my 55+ community told me I had to have a presence on the web for my books. Then the blog took on a life of its own and became a way for me to continue to promote authentic teaching and learning.

One of the concerns that teachers have is how to handle a huge authentic project on top of everything that they are already required to do. I can’t emphasize enough that you start small and take it from there. Many authentic projects are short, sweet, and accomplish their goal of engaging students without a lot of fuss. Some simply don’t work – time to move on. And some take over your life. The Martian Colony Project I worked on in 5th grade did just that. When that happens it actually becomes easier to incorporate your curriculum goals and objects as the project is so big you have everything happening right in front of you!

My books started as a deal I made with my illustrator, Eyen, to write a book together once he was an adult. We made this deal when he was in 5th grade. This was an authentic project that has engaged me and taught me so many things as an adult learner. I had no idea it would become this big. I had no idea we would publish five books together, with the Jared Box Book being number six – and more planned. I had no idea I would publish two books about teaching authentically with my principal, Peggy.
I had no idea I would write a blog – I had no idea what a blog was!

When I retired, I wanted to stay mentally active. I wanted to stay involved in promoting authentic learning. I wanted to continue to help others and volunteer. Oh, and I wanted to explore unique craft stores and boutiques.

Being involved in the authentic project of writing books with Peggy and Eyen has accomplished all of that – even the shopping part – explained below! I never planned for things to happen this way, but I payed attention to opportunity and walked through doors as they opened for me. I didn’t get up one morning and decide to write seven – and counting – books. I made a deal with a fifth grader over a decade ago, and here we are! A real authentic project with students should start just like that. Have a driving question or goal, start out small, pay attention to opportunity, see where it takes you.

So Eyen and I are now working on our book for the Jared Box Project. I am honestly overwhelmed by this opportunity, in a good way! I would have been overwhelmed in a bad way if this had been a goal of mine a decade ago, or if the opportunity had presented itself before now. But this had been a long a winding word to get to this point, full of so many amazing authentic teaching and learning experiences.

Eyen and I will be donating the book to The Jared Box Project, and we both feel blessed to have this opportunity. And I have become hooked and making Jared Boxes – hence the shopping part – so much fun.

Our goal is have the book out by the end of next summer. Stay tuned. And meanwhile, check out The Jared Box Project !

Authentic Project Ideas – Dogs

This is my son-in-law’s dog Mollie. She loves to spend time up in Pennsylvania with us, as she much prefers the retirement life to her life at home with two toddlers! When my husband walks her, he always gets asked the same question, “What kind of dog is she?” We are pretty sure she is part bull dog, but not sure what the other part is.

There are so many authentic projects that learners could do about dogs. How many types of breeds are there? How can you tell what breed a dog is? What have dogs been used for historically? When did they become family pets?

And if a learner wants to do a project about cats instead, that is what authentic learning is all about. (And before I met Mollie, I wondered why everyone just didn’t have a cat.) There is another authentic project, dogs versus cats! Why are people “dog people?” Why are people “cat people?” What is the ratio of dogs to cats as pets?

*We asked our daughter if she ever was going to do genetic testing to see what type of dog Mollie actually is, and the answer was, “No, she is a dog.” (Translation…$$ not happening.)

Authentic Project Ideas – Tornadoes

Kinzua Bridge State Park, McKean County, Pennsylvania

This is a photo I took on a recent trip to Kinzua Bridge State Park. A tornado tore apart this railroad bridge in 2003. The standing part of the bridge was reinforced and is now a walkway with a fantastic view of the park. You also see the power, and devastation, of a tornado.

A photograph can be used to be the inspiration for a prompt or question to start an authentic project. There are many prompts/driving questions I can think of from looking at this photo.

How strong would a tornado most likely need to be to do this kind of damage? How are tornadoes rated? Is this similar to how we categorize hurricanes? Why do we have State Parks/National Parks? Write a story about what happened here…

Depending on what your goals are, this could lead to learning and exploration about tornadoes, hurricanes, conservation, creative writing…honestly, the sky is the limit.

And just to brag a little, there were several dogs at the entrance to the walkway who refused to go out on the bridge, but our grand-dog ran right out on the bridge and loved it!

Authentic Project Ideas – Planting Trees

Teaching our children that they can make an authentic difference is something that I think is really important. There are so many current problems we have on our planet. And it can seem like, “why bother,” we really can’t make a difference. But we can! If everyone just tried to make a bit of a difference, think of the changes that we could make.

Our planet desperately needs trees planted. There are many, many groups that are planting trees. A great authentic project would be to learn why we need trees, what we use trees for, what are all the different types of trees… Then involving our students in either planting trees, or fundraising for groups that are planting them. Tons of authentic reading, math, science, social studies… Learning and a good cause – can’t beat that!

Authentic Project Ideas – Understanding Others

I live in the heart of Amish country in Central Pennsylvania. Because of this, I have interacted with the Amish and learned a great deal about their culture.

They are a fascinating group of people. The more I know about them, the more I want to learn. There are definitely some things they do, and believe in, that I would like to try to incorporate into my life, and some things I would not. (Totally not interested in giving up my washing machine and dryer.) But, isn’t that true for everyone. And isn’t it true that the more we learn, understand, and appreciate other people, the better we will get along.

I think a great authentic project for students in my area would be to learn about the Amish. What group(s) of people who practice different or unique religions, customs, or ideas are in your area? And what are your students interested in learning about these people? It won’t and shouldn’t be the same for every student. I am especially interested in Amish clothing. My friend down the street is interested in Amish cooking. Both topics are authentic and can lead to further discovery on different topics.

And just let me say…I do NOT want the Amish recipe for those little chocolate donuts stuffed with peanut butter filling. I have worked too hard to lose weight this year to get my hands on that recipe!

Authentic Project Ideas – Acid Rain

I remember constantly hearing stories about acid rain when I was in school. It seems that you really don’t hear much about acid rain anymore. What is acid rain exactly?  Is it still a problem?  Has it been “absorbed” by other categories of pollution problems? What causes it?  What can we do to help prevent it? Has the problem been solved?

This is a topic that can easily be used from preschool (a discussion of clean versus dirty water) through high school and beyond (what is the chemical composition of acid rain).

However, if the teaching is really authentic, then this needs to be more than just a discussion/study of acid rain, the causes and effects, etc.  Authenticity means it is real and counts for each student.  Is there something that is currently happening in your community that is causing acid rain?  Is there something in your community causing pollution? How does this impact your students? What can they do to authentically make a difference?

If a discussion about acid rain becomes an authentic project about pollution and cleaning up a local baseball field so that softball can be played on it…that is authentic teaching and learning.

Total Immersion

Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

My husband and I just returned from a fantastic trip to Disney World. We went specifically to visit Galaxy’s Edge, the new Star Wars Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Even with the entire population of Earth and at least one other planet in the park, it was a super experience. (It was great to see everyone out and about after the isolation of the last two years.) We waited in line for two hours for Rise of the Resistance, and it was totally worth it. I still have a smile on my face.

What Disney is now doing is the total immersion experience and it reminded me so much of authentic learning. We even found out that the University of Central Florida (near Disney World) is offering a degree in Total Immersion Design. How cool is that!

So teaching authentically, which is teaching using as much immersion as possible, has now entered the entertainment industry as total immersion. The theory being that total immersion is the way to engage the audience as much as possible. Engaged audiences retain the experience and want to return for more. Engaged students retain what they have learned and want to learn more…

Authentic Teaching

On a recent road trip my husband and I spent the night in a little town just off the highway in Virginia.  We ate dinner next to the hotel at one of the best Mexican restaurants we’ve ever been to…thank goodness we live six hours away or I would gain a ton of weight.

After dinner we decided to drive ten miles up the road to a memorial commemorating the birthplace of Stephen F. Austin, who is considered the father of the State of Texas.  It was just a simple stone marker with three flags; Virginia, Texas, and the United States.

When we returned to the hotel, both my husband and I read about Stephen F. Austin.  We also read about the history of iron mining in this area of the country, as the memorial explained that the Austins moved to Virginia to mine iron.  We both learned a great deal about Stephen F. Austin, Texas, and iron mining.  

So what is the point of this blog, besides the fact that I have zero control when it comes to Mexican food…

It’s the authentic experience that spurs real learning.  Stopping at a simple memorial marker opened up several lines of conversation for us.  Yes, we are adults (not according to our adult children, who think we have regressed back to being teenagers). But, the same kind of simple stops engage children as well (and adults who have regressed).  Make it real, make it count.

Authentic Project Ideas – Standing Stones

Standing stones have always inspired interest and speculation.  From the real world of Stonehenge to the fantasy world of time travel, stones have fascinated people.

How did they get there?  What did they represent? So much authentic history to learn about!

Research, write a story, create a legend, build a model…

Be authentic and have fun! And I am going back to my favorite activity regarding standing stones – reading Outlander!

Authentic Project Ideas – Changes in a Sport

Ok, so excuse me while I sound like my grandparents (who I adored), but in my day, ski jumpers skied down a snowy hill and then jumped off of it. I have no idea what this jumper is skiing on – or how this sport works now.

So, how has ski jumping – or any sport – changed over the years? Why were the changes made? Do you feel these were changes for the better?

So many authentic projects possible. (Lots of authentic projects on safety in sports waiting to be explored.) And if anyone would like to explain to me how ski jumping now works, I would appreciate it. Oh – and in case you are wondering, I am highly unlikely to take up the sport!