How will you make learning personal and authentic for your students?
I've been thinking quite a bit about "personal and authentic" since my project based learning training with the Buck institute. Over the course of the three-day training we saw many powerful examples of personal and authentic learning and it was inspirational I do want to create powerful learning opportunities for my students and I think that making their learning authentic and personal will be critical.
During the week at the Buck Institute training, a colleague and I designed a project that will focus on the regions of the United States. While we have MANY standards to "cover" under this topic, our unit focuses on the standards having to do with natural disasters. What fourth-grader won't be jazzed to learn more about disasters? In the end, our students will work in small teams to develop a green screen public service announcement. Their announcements will list the natural disasters typical in their region, highlight one historical disaster in their region, and teach the audience how to prepare for, respond to, and prevent some natural disasters. Their learning and final product will be authentic. They will contact local agencies like, the chair of our town's master plan, fire, police, emcs, National Guard, FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Red Cross. They will set up a panel where fourth-grade students can question the experts who typically plan and execute responses to disasters in our community. This is authentic work. People charged with producing public service announcements do consult with experts in emergency management. We feel like the project will be engaging and we look forward to giving this project a go.
My class will be pen-pals with some of the seniors from the senior center. Generally, the students write back and forth with their pen-pals throughout the school year. At the conclusion of the year, we will gather together to have a big identity reveal. I'm wondering if I can capitalize on these relationships. There are rich opportunities for my students to learn about the past from someone from an entirely different generation with completely different experiences. I'm wondering if there are opportunities for my students to learn civics, geography, history, etc. from some of their pen-pal friends. I'm also wondering if there might be an opportunity for my students to share some of what they know with the seniors. My own mom has made amazing strides with technology in the past year. She has learned from her kids and her grandkids. I'm wondering if all of these seniors have access to tech coaches. Could my students provide some coaching? Is this even something the seniors would be interested in? Finally, might we expand our plans and incorporate some social get togethers where the learning is not planned but might just happen authentically. I'm thinking about hosting something as simple as a game night. Our students could bring the game one night and the seniors could bring it the next time. How cool would it be for my students to learn to play pitch or scrabble or whatever from the seniors? Might there be other things these sets of pen-pals can learn from one another?
Finally, I'll be on the look out for ways to integrate authentic problem solving in the classroom. I have been hard at work. setting up the physical space for the new year. In a previous post, I wrote about the #ClassroomBookaDay challenge I'll be taking on with my students. In that post, there is a photo from another teacher's classroom highlighting the display she set up to showcase each of the books read in her classroom. I've got a big bulletin board reserved for this purpose. I measured it (8 ft. wide x 3 ft. tall approximately) and started thinking about how I could configure it to create 180 cells where book cover photos will be displayed. The picture shows a 18 x 10 grid. I started running numbers in my head and quickly determined that there would be too much dead space or the cells would be oddly shaped for typical book covers. I started to consider other configurations. 18 x 10 is 180 so 9x20 is 180 too. So is 30x6. Our first math unit is on factors and multiples. Isn't this a real problem my students could solve if I gave them tools to support their thinking? So, in the first few days of school they'll get square tiles, calculators, pencils, paper, and any other requested tool to help solve this problem. Truth be told, I actually did solve this problem one day recently while driving along in the car with my 15 year-old son. He and I agreed that it was very satisfying to come up with a configuration that works perfectly. He is a sweet boy and he often humors me when we take on mini-math problems like this but he seemed sincere when he said that it was sort of fun. I asked him to say more about this. He said that he liked that it was a real problem that I had and he liked that he could solve it using any method he chose and he liked that it was untimed. Untimed is a big deal for my son who has processing speed challenges. As soon as he hears that he has limited time, his ability to actually work productively is reduced. This was enough positive feedback for me to be convinced that this problem is worth solving with my students. I'll be on the lookout for problems that are authentic as we move through the year.
One thing that has been nice about starting this blog is that I do go back to read posts I've written. They remind me of what I've learned and the commitments I've made to inspired learning. I hope that I'll read this post months from now and be able to cite many examples of personalized and authentic learning that have become the new hallmark of our classroom.