22 June 2011

Learning Through Real World Experiences

By Dayna Lauer

In today’s system of education, we frequently hear the phrase, “Teaching to the test.” Unfortunately with the addition of the adoption of the Common Core Standards, many teachers around the county are tossing out any ideas of weaving together the standards, the test preparation, and solid classroom instruction. Many are, in fact, simply teaching to the test. It is a regrettable effect and one that can be reversed.

I propose that standardized test preparation and common standards can be combined in a classroom centered on authentic instruction. By this I mean, instruction that has a connection to the real world in which we all live, advocates for higher order thinking, encourages conversation, and promotes depth of knowledge for ALL students. These factors can also be enhanced by technology integration. Thus it is imperative for teachers to begin structuring lessons around authentic tasks.

Recently I spent time working with teachers who intended to structure a task for students that would integrate multiple classes, meet multiple standards, and give students the skills needed to perform well on the state standardized tests in the Spring. I was amazed at their product! While it would take me much longer than this blog to describe all of the elements that were involved, here is the summary: students will visit a local arboretum during which they will receive instruction on the flora and fauna of the arboretum. While there, students will be measuring slope and distances on their walk. They will also be calculating their heart rate as they walk at various speeds around the arboretum. The students will then be responsible for producing a local field guide to the arboretum that incorporates QR codes. Included in the field guide will be student produced digital pictures of the plants, as well as student created artwork of the species. Students will also work collaboratively to create a Google Map walking tour of the arboretum and create a website dedicated to the history of the arboretum.

This authentic, interdisciplinary unit took these teachers three solid days of planning to create and they are excited to implement it in the fall. I am sure the results will be equally exciting. It is important to note, that the summer is the perfect time for authentic planning to begin, because while teachers may not be in the classroom during the summer months, they certainly spend countless hours preparing for the students they will meet in the fall!

Dayna Laur is a 13-year veteran social studies teacher at Central York High School and is a National Faculty Member for the Buck Institute for Education. She has her National Board Certification, a bachelor’s degree in history from Virginia Tech, a Master of Arts degree in education in curriculum and instruction from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Science degree in 21st-century teaching and learning from Wilkes University. Over the past four years, she has worked closely with the Classrooms for the Future initiative in Pennsylvania, presenting to teachers, instructional technology coaches, administrators, and higher education faculty members on ways in integrate project-based learning in a technology-rich classroom environment. She has been featured as the model teacher for Authentic Based Classroom Instruction as produced by the National Institute for Professional Practice and as a model teacher for the Schools that Work Series as produced by Edutopia.

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