The authenticity of a task increases students’ intrinsic motivation in completing it. When students’ motivation is high, they put more effort into learning. How do we create authentic activities in the classroom?
Because of the worlds of possibility that technology opens up, we can use it to help students engage with what they are learning in the classroom and the larger world around us. Since this principle applies to students of all ages, here are some projects across all grade levels.
Maybe you remember writing assignments that felt like chores and the lackadaisical work you did to complete them. Technology gives students a real audience. Writing is primarily a form of communication. It is hard to get excited about communicating, as a student, with just the teacher all of the time.
The internet has opened up new writing genres, such as the blog, and new opportunities for publication, such as Wikipedia. You can set up a classroom blog and have students put their writings there. Once students have their writing online (using anonymity practices in line with school or district policy), family members can share their students’ work through social media. Set the blog up so you can mediate comments and your students will be able to get positive feedback from the people in their communities.
Wikipedia and other information sites depend on volunteer writers. Older students could find a research topic that is not fully covered on Wikipedia. They could flesh out the research, write the article, and publish it for all the world to see. This helps students to be better writers by asking them to come up with something unique. They will need to use details in their writing. Wikipedia writers have to document their sources, which is another great writing practice.
Arts and Multimedia
Fifty years ago, to create more than a silent Super-8 home movie, you needed costly film or video equipment. To create more than a simple reel to reel recording, you needed a studio’s worth of microphones and multi-track recorders. To create animation, you needed not only film equipment but also the patience to create 12-24 pictures for each second of a movie. In short, amateurs could not do these things.
Now you can record video or audio or create stop-action animation using free apps on a smartphone. My students got excited about showing off their knowledge about a topic by making stop-action animation. We used a still camera, clay, and free video software on a desktop. It is even easier now to download an app and click photos that get saved as a movie. Free recording software allows students to create and edit recording tracks. Students can make movies using cell phones and free software to put scenes together into a full video.
Whether it is in fourth grade or in higher grade-level mathematics, we want students to become familiar with basic statistics. We want them to know how to figure them and also what they mean. Why use made up data from the textbook when you can use real data? For example, the US government has all kinds of demographic data. They have information on what kinds of jobs are available and what the average person makes in a given industry. Real researchers use real data in order to understand something in the world. We should provide students with a similar opportunity.
Students of all ages may also enjoy looking at sports statistics. Professional sports groups often have statistics available on their websites. Sometimes boys and young men do not connect well with school. Using the sports stats of their favorite athletes can pique their interest.
U.S. Government’s open data – https://www.data.gov/
NBA.com Stats – http://stats.nba.com/
Your students can study weather patterns with real data. Look around on the web for data files for your country and/or your area. These might be in Excel format or some other format you can open with a spreadsheet program. You may be able to find historical data or detailed data about a single day. Students can learn how to graph this data as part of mathematics. They can also learn how to use the data to draw conclusions about scientific questions they may have. They might even find literary connections, such as information about the winter Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about in The Long Winter.
Many scientists have discovered “crowd-sourcing” where they ask large groups of people on the internet to collect or analyze data. By dividing up their work into small bits that ordinary folks can do, scientists can accomplish much more than they used to. Through crowd-sourcing, your students can become involved in real science projects, from archeology to astronomy. Here are some possibilities:
Citizen Science Alliance – http://www.citizensciencealliance.org/index.html
SciStarter – http://scistarter.com/
Weather Underground – https://www.wunderground.com/history/
Thirty years ago, textbooks and printed encyclopedias were the best sources of information for students about human history and cultures. Now, there are many authentic artifacts that students can study. For instance, you will find original manuscripts from all over, such as letters, diaries, and newspaper clippings. For events from the middle 1800’s forward, there may be photographs and even film or videos. It’s one thing to read what a textbook author has to say about something from the past. It is quite another to read what the people themselves had to say. Using primary sources, students can understand that people from the past had the same concerns about their lives as we do today. Many of these archives of documents are easy to find and free to use.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Look around the web and you will find even more possibilities. Your students will amaze you when they can get engaged with authentic projects.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Howard County Library System.