Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Authenticity in Projects: An Example with Ethnography

Our class recently completed our major project for the "Exploration" theme--an ethnographic study of the kindergarten class. (Click here to see the presentation.) 

One of key features that makes Summers-Knoll different is our commitment to project-based learning. Authenticity in education, especially in projects, is a common refrain of progressive education. The whole faculty has been investigating more closely what this means to us and how it impacts your children. 

Walter recently forwarded an blog post from Buck Institute for Education to the teaching staff here about PBL, or Project Based Learning. Quoting from the blog:

“Fully authentic” means students are doing work that is real to them—it is authentic to their lives— or the work has a direct impact on or use in the real world.

A project can be authentic in four ways, some of which may be combined in one project:
1. It meets a real need in the world beyond the classroom or the products students create are used by real people.
Observing and reporting on the behavior of the kindergarteners is of immediate value to the SK community, especially the teachers who directly work with that class. 

2. It focuses on a problem or an issue or topic that is relevant to students’ lives—the more directly, the better—or on a problem or issue that is actually being faced by adults in the world students will soon enter.

While the problems of kindergarteners are not identical to the issues faced by my 5/6 students; the larger concept of how students interact in a classroom is extremely and directly relevant to my students.

3. It sets up a scenario or simulation that is realistic, even if it is fictitious.
4. It involves tools, tasks, standards, or processes used by adults in real settings and by professionals in the workplace. 
The general scenario--making observations about behavior, drawing conclusions from those observations, and submitting the data and observations for review by peers--is the process used by social scientists.  Additional, Heidi Ganzen, a UofM graduate student in sociology came to our class and talked about the types and techniques for making observations and helped us think about how to turn those observations into supported conclusions.  In meeting with Heidi, my students got to hear first hand about the real tools, tasks and processes used by someone actively engaged in the same kind of research.

Authenticity in projects:
Supports and promotes intrinsic motivation through clarity and meaningfulness of task--the students know WHY they are doing what they are doing.
Enhances comprehension and life skills through interaction with the actual tools and processes used by professionals in the field. 

Authenticity in projects is core to what we do at SK, and one of the reasons I love teaching here.

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