Authentic Learning Experiences Engage Students

Authentic Learning Experiences Engage Students
Posted on 05/04/2017
This is the image for the news article titled Authentic Learning Experiences Engage StudentsGifted students at Cherokee with their bridges projectDesigning bridges, buying and selling stocks, planning a dream backyard – all tasks you associate with engineers, stockbrokers, and architects.

But elementary students across the district are engaging in these activities as part of the initiative to incorporate authentic learning experiences into instruction. Some of these examples include Design LAB, Envision Backyard and Travel Projects, the Stock Market Game, and even developing their own capstone projects.

“Incorporating authentic learning experiences into instruction allows students to investigate relevant, real-world problems that are transdisciplinary and have multifaceted solutions,” explains Jenifer Lodovico, Director of Gifted Services.

Here’s a look at some of the projects that gifted students have been working on this semester.


Building Bridges

A group of gifted students from Cherokee Elementary will be competing in the Design LAB competition this weekend at the Cincinnati Public Library. Design LAB, sponsored by the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati, has a theme of “bridges” this year and encouraged students to find a problem in their community and then build a bridge to solve the issue.

The Cherokee group feels that the intersection at 747 and Smith Road is dangerous for runners and other pedestrian traffic, so they took on the task of designing a bridge for the intersection.

A number of Lakota schools began working on their Design LAB projects back in January. Each school was paired with a professional from the field to serve as an advisor. Cherokee worked with the interior designer for Kroger.

“Much of the work was done in class, but as we got closer to the completion date, students were giving up lunch and recess time to work on their bridges,” said Kim Carlson, Cherokee’s Gifted Intervention Specialist. “That’s a testament to just how much they loved this project! The students learned so much about leadership, delegating tasks, and developing and using conflict resolution strategies.”

An engineer from the Butler County engineer’s office even visited the class to talk about bridges and about concepts like tension. The students used drawing, measurement, and scaling techniques as part of the process.

Design LAB not only met math curriculum standards, but met career enrichment standards as well.

Designing a Backyard

Over at Heritage Elementary, Erin Maddox’s fourth grade MathPlus class is taking on the Backyard Project. It’s part of the district-purchased Envision program in which students design and create scaled maps of their dream backyard.

The Backyard Project is cross-curricular -- blending math, social studies, science, and writing skills. Project tasks include researching climates and terrain features for the city or state where the backyard will be located, estimating the expense of recreation and relaxation areas, understanding food chains in the water habitat and  the care and cost of plants, and identifying a major historical person or event that they will pay tribute to in their backyard. Finally, the students create models of their backyard, as well as artwork paying tribute to the historical person or event. 

“Long-term projects like these allow students to gain experience with skills that are important in all aspects of life,” said Maddox. “They learn time management, use creativity, develop research strategies, and use public speaking skills as they present their work. The students can feel a bit overwhelmed at the beginning of the project, but once they are finished, they have such a sense of accomplishment and pride in their work.”

Investing in the Stock Market

Adena’s Debra Roberts is one of several Lakota teachers who use the Stock Market Game with her gifted students. In this simulation game, each participant has $100,000 and 10 weeks to try to increase their investment. It is a practical way to introduce students to how the stock market works, and requires students to use math skills to research and analyze stocks.

“Students learn how difficult it is to keep track of stocks, and they find it is a lot harder than they thought it would be,” said Roberts. “The experience really gives them an appreciation of how much work it takes to be successful – and how unpredictable the stock market is.”

Creating Capstone Projects

Freedom Elementary fifth-graders get to finish their three years in math enrichment and Math Plus by creating their own capstone project. Students choose questions that interest them, submit a proposal, find answers to the question, and then report these findings in a presentation and a gallery walk for peers and parents. 

One student wants to study the physics of a basketball free throw, in order to perfect a basketball "granny shot" that would lead to an increased in his percentage of free throws during a game. Another student is exploring what it would take to build a bridge from Florida to the closest point in Africa. 

“This is the second year for this quarterly project, and I think it hits exactly what I want to do as their teacher - give them the tools and then get out of their way and let them create their own path to learning,” said Christy Knopp, Gifted Intervention Specialist at Freedom. “It is so much more likely to ‘stick’ when it has a connection to what they are curious about.”

Photo caption: Cherokee students created the “The Power-Up Bridge” as part of the Design LAB contest. Groups members - left to right: Kaylee Overfield, Kaitlyn Johnson, Charlotte Carlson, and John Banks.