I have blogged about this before, but felt it was important to revisit again. When working on authentic projects, it is only authentic if the students are allowed to follow their own path with the project. This can be a bit of a balancing act if the adult is trying to accomplish specific objectives and goals (as they should be).
This balance can be achieved through adult discourse and guidance. For example, you introduce the topic of clouds, and you have a science goal of learning about cloud formation. Your students may chose to continue to do an in depth and authentic project about cloud formation, or they may choose to follow a different path after they have learned the basics about how clouds form. What happens when an airplane flies through a cloud? What are the different types of clouds? Do we have more clouds in warm or cold weather? Do some areas of the Earth have more clouds? Where are the best beaches with the fewest cloudy days? (Please let me know the answer to this one – I am a certified sun worshiper!)
NFL Football – is it more difficult to see the football in the air on cloudy days? How do these clouds form? And why do football players put black paint under their eyes? Do they need this paint on cloudy days?
Space – are there clouds on other planets? How do they form – do we even know for sure how they form?
It can take some creative thinking, but the challenge can actually be fun, and rewarding, when you figure out the “tie in.” And if you are stumped, ask the kids! Their ideas might not always be an obvious path to follow, but if it makes sense to them, and accomplishes your goals, that is even more authentic. Mission accomplished, and engagement has occurred. And when students are engaged – they learn!