Authentic Teaching – Cooking

I don’t think I can write too often about cooking.  I can’t think of an authentic activity that can inspire so many driving questions and possible authentic projects. I have written before about using cooking to teach math.  But you can also teach reading through cooking.  And social studies.  And science…

Children need to use math to cook.  But they also should be looking up and reading recipes. And how about finding special dishes that represent different cultures.  Why do people eat different foods in different countries?  What grows best in different locations?  How does this affect what people cook with and eat?  Lots of different and delicious authentic ways to go with cooking! Enjoy!

Authentic Project Ideas – Animals in the Wild

A picture is worth a thousand words.  I am also hoping this picture is worth a blue ribbon at our summer county fair. And I plan to use it on a set of future handcrafted holiday cards!

As I mentioned in a previous blog, my husband and I ran into dozens of wild elk on a drive through Elk County, Pennsylvania (that’s a well named county).  I knew nothing about elk, but after seeing these gorgeous animals I did quite a bit of research.  They are actually members of the deer family.

I can think of many driving questions and projects involving elk.  The question that got me doing research was why were we seeing so many elk out in the early spring?  We had done this same drive during the summer and did not see one elk.  Now we were seeing them everywhere, including in many front yards of homes. Can you imagine walking out your front door and finding 25 elk standing there?

I wish everyone could see these majestic animals in person in the wild, but for many this would need to be a virtual experience.  This is not the same as an in person, wild encounter.  Even a zoo is not the same.  So, if a virtual experience is not authentic enough to engage your learners, with a little research you should be able to find other animals that are indigenous to your local habitat.  Good luck, and I would love to see photos of what engages your learners.

Authentic Project Ideas – Domestic vs Wild

I had never seen a wild turkey before.  It was so cool to see this flock (are they called a flock) of turkeys on a drive north of where we live.

Looking through my blog photos, I found a picture I had taken of domestic turkeys and was very surprised at the difference.  One big difference, literally, was that the domestic turkeys were bigger, as in more meat.  In the photos I had, the wild and domestic birds looked to be different colors also.

So, a driving question for an authentic project might be about the differences between wild and domestic turkeys.  Or wild and domestic “any animal.”  A question/prompt could be about the history of domestication of an animal. This could easily turn into an authentic project about the history of the domestication of dogs and/or cats.

Learners might also be surprised as to how many animals are considered domestic and what the definition of domestic is.  I learned this lesson when I entered a gorgeous “blue-ribbon” photo of alpacas into the wild animal category of our county fair and found out after I entered the photo that alpacas are considered domestic animals.  I had thought only dogs and cats were considered domestic.

If a project is truly authentic, you start with a photo of wild turkeys and end up with a project about domestication and a future award-winning photo of alpacas. (I let you know how the alpaca photo does in the domestic category next summer!)

Authentic Projects Need Authentic Products

Photo by T.B.♥️

How does a river like this become a “Grand Canyon?” 

Authentic projects need authentic products:  Create a booklet with illustrations and/or photographs.  Create a chart.  Create a graph to show the timeline.  Build several models showing the progression.  Write a fictional legend…

Deciding the best way to present your research is as important as the research itself. It is also a great time to experiment with different ways to reach your audience.

And according to some former students of mine, I was old enough that I saw the beginnings of the Grand Canyon form – hmmmm – definitely a need for authentic time lines!

Authentic Project Ideas – Folk Art

I friend I taught with introduced me to Hex signs. She grew up in Berks County, Pennsylvania, which is where most of the barns in the United States with Hex signs are located.  When I first heard about these signs I thought they had something to do with casting spells.  Turns out this is not true!

I spent a great deal of time researching, and planning for our trip to Berks County.  Then we drove around and photographed the gorgeous barns. I learned a great deal about the Pennsylvania Dutch.  The photo above is my favorite barn in Berks County.

Doing an authentic project about Hex signs will involve reading for research, and writing to explain the history and/or what Hex signs represent today.  An authentic project can go in the direction of history, current barns and where they are found, or branch off into Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Art. 

You don’t have to live in Pennsylvania to do a project on Hex signs, you don’t even need to live in the United States.  Just like you don’t need to live in the UK to do a project about castles.  While US Hex signs are predominately found in Berks County, Pennsylvania, a friend I sent the above photo to told me about similar folk art in Wisconsin. Except the Wisconsin folk art is done on furniture, and was brought over from a different area of Europe.  He ended up researching that. 

And if a leading question about Hex signs becomes an authentic project about another kind of folk art, that is authentic learning!

Authentic Teaching and Learning

This artwork was done by a 5th grade student who was working on the Martian Colony Project I was involved with.  I wish I could remember his name, I would give him credit for the artwork.

Someone from the outside looking in might question the time spent on this illustration.  Isn’t this a waste of valuable learning time.  This was done in the classroom, not in art class.  Shouldn’t the student have been reading, writing, or doing math.

When working on authentic projects it is important to remember that what you see as the final project is only a snapshot of the learning that took place.  While I don’t remember the student’s name, I do remember that conversation we had while he worked.  He was looking at a picture of a rover on Mars and asking all sorts of questions.  His classroom teacher and I directed him to sources to find his answers.  He also posed improvements to the rover.  This illustration accompanied a brochure that the class put together to accompany the tours they were giving of their Martian Colony.

So if you walk into a classroom where students are constructing, drawing, painting…stop and listen to what they are saying and what they are really doing.  The learning is authentic, ongoing, and owned by the students.

Authentic Teaching – Following Student Interest

This picture appears to be of flowers, but if you look closely you can see snow out the window. 

When we present students with driving questions and prompts, it is surprising how many times students notice the snow in the background and want to frame their project around that.

I taught in Central Florida for several years, and had the opportunity to take field trips to EPCOT at Disney World several times.  (It was not exactly a tough day at work.)  What fascinated me was how often the kids were enthralled by something other than the actual ride or show.  More than once I had to grab a kid by the collar who was leaning over way too far to see what was making the ride move or stay in its lane.

When we finished the ride, the discussion wasn’t about the obvious, it was about the behind the scenes mechanics.  How cool was that!

This trip was the culmination of a yearly unit on countries. Each student researched a country, wrote a report, and constructed a diorama.  Decades later, I realize that it would have been even better to go to EPCOT first and then have the kids design and build their models.  I can’t imagine how far they would have taken the project with the information they gained on the trip.  And if their final projects were more about design, motion, and construction, rather than the country they picked to learn about, then the projects would have been less “themed” learning and more “project-based/authentic

So, while we may be presenting a driving question about flowers, to really be authentic, be willing to go off on a project about snow.

Authentic Teaching – Poets and Poetry

Illustration by Eyen Johnson

I just attended an on-line poetry reading where the iconic Robert Frost Poem The Road Not Taken was shared.  I love Robert Frost and I love this poem.  Listening to this poem made me think about what a great idea it is to teach elementary and middle school students using the poetry of Robert Frost.  Ummm…NOT!
Let’s be honest – there are very few children who are mature enough to appreciate Robert Frost.  Maybe by high school, but I can assure you I didn’t appreciate him when I was in high school.  I had no use for his poetry.  I hated memorizing his poems.  And I honestly had no idea why this was anything but a waste of my time.  I pretty much hated poetry.

So fast forward to my teaching career and good old Robert is part of the 5th grade curriculum.  Now I am not one to fight city hall…so what to do?

Well, enter authentic teaching, learning, and projects.  We introduced the kids to Robert Frost and all the other poets that were in the curriculum. But then, instead of memorizing a poem, or writing in the style of Robert Frost we turned the kids loose to write their own poetry.

In one class the kids were working on a Martian Colony, so they wrote Martian Poetry.  Their poetry covered every topic possible – sports on Mars, monsters on Mars, weather, friendship, loneliness…  Some of the kids modeled their poetry after a Robert Frost poem, others looked to different poets. (The most popular choice by far – Shel Silverstein). 

The class ended up publishing a book of Martian Poetry that went home to every family. 

So, the kids really learned about poetry, they learned about different poets, and they had fun writing poetry.  The curriculum was covered. The project was authentic. The learning was authentic

Happy Holidays

Many people will be celebrating Christmas this week.  Many other families are, or will be, celebrating different winter holidays.

The holidays are certainly not what I hoped for this year.  My dreams of my entire family gathering for Thanksgiving, as we always have, did not happen.  The holidays this month have been piecemeal and very different from other years.  But different does not mean bad.  This has been an opportunity to grow and learn about what is truly important.

There are many ways children can be involved in the celebrations this week, even with the restrictions, monetary concerns…  Time for homemade gifts, letters, cards, homemade gift cards (for cleaning, cooking, babysitting).  Starting new family traditions.  And of course, these activities can all involve reading, writing, math, social studies, science…

Whatever holidays you celebrate this month, I hope they are safe and happy.  And the teacher in me also hopes you find ways to authentically continue to allow your learners to blossom and grow.