Authentic Learning: 3 Ideas

A big push now in education is authentic learning; whether it is called strategic design, a learning framework or other blending technology with relevant learning for the future of learners is paramount. How can you teach “real-world experiences” and connect them to content is the question? Inspiration can come from anywhere is you are open-minded and looking or not. I want to highlight three of my projects that bring authentic experiences to the classroom. The Big Week is one such project that spruced up my Taxonomy unit that can be a little bland. The Big Week was inspired when my husband found a movie he said I would like and as we finished the movie said, “You should do that in your class.” The movie? The Big Year with Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson. It is a very cute movie about birding. I thought to myself, “I can’t do a big year.” However, I let the idea percolate as I could use something for my Taxonomy unit as I didn’t currently like everything about that unit. So, I thought that I could do a big week. I started brainstorming on the idea and presented it to my PLC team and then we all did some brainstorming about how many birds we wanted to require of our students, what components we wanted to maintain as expectations and the hashtag, #thebigweek was formed! Here is what we put together:


     The first year we went birding around the campus with the student feedback being the wished they had more birds to observe and the second we went to our local nature park and spend the day. Students learned scientific classification while getting out in nature and experiencing what professional birding is like and getting their hands dirty. We had lots of excitement when a large owl was spotted and then many tried all day to find said owl when it was frightened away. In addition, we had some stellar birding poses. You can see those in the presentation below.

     Another idea is my Chick Genes PBL. I’ve been doing Chick Genes for several years and it has been a great experience; while it always makes me anxious. Eggs don’t always hatch and it still holds and impact for the older students. So, I am always worried. At it has happened, but I’ve also been able to do a little side research on my own with regards to timing and fertilization. Hint: chickens will not lay fertile eggs when they are molting. The inspiration for this project came when I was thinking on how I could plan an experience for my students in which they could actually observe heredity through genetics. I thought about incubating eggs. If I could know the breeds of the hens and the rooster, I could set up a challenge in which my students had to research the dominant and recessive genes for each breed and then predict the outcome of the offspring. Meanwhile, the eggs are incubating and preparing for hatching. Then when the chicks hatch, we would observe for about 2 weeks their traits and match them to their mommy. This year Phoenix and Auracauna breeds were used and it was perfect as one breed has tufts; which are lethal in homozygous dominant, and the other is rump-less meaning no tails. These traits were very evident early in the observations. Students adore the interaction. I use a video as an entry doc for this PBL. This example is from the year before last. Here is a sample rubric:



     Finally, Animal Children’s Books, is a service learning project I involve student in at the end of the year. My students, mostly 9th graders, write books over animals and then read them via Skype, Skype in the Classroom. I have a set of content expectations and that the students, hopefully, seamlessly work in their original stories which are fairytale, informative and entertaining, character building, biography, etc. This project is a lot of fun for all involved. This year we Skyped with Canada, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, South Texas and locally. Here is the rubric:



     I’ll be presenting on authentic learning at the Region 10 Authentic Learning Conference this Tuesday, May 27, 2014. Here is my presentation made via Haiku Deck, Authentic Learning. Authentic learning brings excitement, passion and interest to classroom experiences.


Challenge Yourself with Professional Learning

I’ve just ended a fabulous five month professional development opportunity at The Dallas Museum of Art and The Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, TX. It is one of those workshops that are so impactful it takes weeks to process and really get all the meaning through reflection. The facilitators were Magdalena Grohman, Associate Director of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science and Technology at the University of Texas at Dallas, Lisa Dwinal, Professional Devleopment and Campus Based Partnerships Manager at The Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and Amanda Bake, Head of Family Access and School Experiences at the Dallas Museum of Art. I thank them all for their insights and leadership. Here is the link to the Teaching for Creativity Institute:

This workshop was a partnership between the DMA and the Perot, starting at the DMA in the morning and finishing in the after at the Perot. I wanted to attend initially as I was searching for ways to develop more inquiry learning in my science classroom. Thankfully, my district paid for me to attend. I gave five Saturdays of my time and I’m getting so much in return. It was hard at times to teach all week and be tired on Saturday. However, I made myself get up and go. I was excited to go even though I was tired. I met other educators from high school to preschool, from public to private schooling and one gentlemen that wanted to attend to foster creativity in his workplace with new-hires. What a diverse group of individuals to learn from with our experiences through the workshops. My first take away is a general one that I want to share. It is so important to push yourself of out your comfort zone! I sat down on the morning of the first Saturday and was handed a sketch pad and pencil! What?! You want me to sketch?! I can’t sketch! I am not going to lie, I was thinking, “What did I get myself into? My district paid for this and I have to finish it….on my goodness….I can’t do this.” How many times in our lessons do you think our students think that? It’s not a bad thing by any means. We are challenging them and pushing their boundaries as we should. How often do you push yourself? During one of our activities, I literally sat in the floor of the DMA and “took in” a painting. I had to take twenty minutes to observe the painting, write my thoughts on my sketch pad about the painting, sketch the painting and then describe how I felt, how it smelled, what did I hear?…..How many times on an outing to a museum do we slow down and actually think this deeply about an exhibit?

A second take away is this: Are you teaching creatively or teaching for creativity? Think about that statement. If you teach and are concerned and reflective on your teaching practice you probably teach creatively. Are you fostering creativity in your students and encouraging questioning for deeper understanding? Wow, that hit me like a bag of bricks. I need to decipher that difference in my classroom. I learned so many practices and activities to use to foster creativity in my students and am so excited. I have tried one simple technique with success in my classroom already and have planned a change in my lessons for next year. I will post separately about each of those activities.

Professional learning is imperative to doing our best as teachers in the classroom and out. Share ideas, share lessons and ask others to share. Through collaboration, the best ideas are formed! I challenge you to try something out of your comfort zone and to push yourself as you push your students! As a science teacher this activity challenged me to evaluate two unlike art pieces to produce my own piece of art that could come from both the chosen pieces. I worked collaboratively with my group to design the art. A connection to science is how the offspring would look or what would be the phenotype of the offspring of the two pieces?

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This institute was challenging and exciting and made me see through many different perspectives. If you are in the area, I would definitely say attend the next set of workshops! If not, find a workshop or activity that challenges you! I found this opportunity by just looking at the events on The Perot website. It is amazing what you will find, when you start looking. The Comfort Zone is way overrated!