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:

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     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:

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     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:

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     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.

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