by Dr. Nicole Pourchier, Middle School Principal at Loganville Christian Academy
As educators, we know that students learn best through authentic learning experiences, but what do these experiences look like in a classroom environment? The word authentic implies that something is real; therefore, authentic learning is grounded in real world problems and experiences. Academic content can be memorized, but to engage children in authentic learning, there must be opportunities for students to apply the content in situations that they will experience in life outside of school.
In classrooms that prioritize authentic learning, students will draw upon subject area content to solve problems and complete hands-on projects. For example, in a geometry class you might find students applying what they’ve learned about surface area to determine how much material is needed to sod the school’s baseball field. You will also find students collaborating with peers to generate and prototype ideas as they take part in design-based projects.
This year at Loganville Christian Academy, we have prioritized authentic learning experiences in our middle school elective courses. In addition to offering new courses in technology, engineering, art, agriculture, and financial literacy, we have had to rethink how we evaluate students when their learning is grounded in hands-on and project-based experiences. This has led us to prioritize specific learning skills that we want our students to practice and master in these courses. These skills fall into five categories:
Commitment to Learning
When students are committed to learning, they arrive to class on-time and prepared, and they direct their full energy to learning. Committed learners also maintain a positive mindset as they engage in difficult tasks and self-assess their progress and needs.
Collaboration requires students to be focused and dependable as they work with peers to complete projects or solve problems. This means that students must also learn to encourage others and maintain accountability among group members.
As students engage in collaborative learning experiences, it is important that they practice effective communication skills. Strong communicators listen well and know how to respectfully disagree with their peers. This entails an awareness of others during group dialogue and the ability to ask clarifying questions.
Learning to problem solve requires students to develop a positive and flexible mindset. In order to solve problems, learners must be willing to try multiple solutions and learn from their mistakes. Problem solving also involves identifying relevant content knowledge and skills and then applying those skills and information to generate solutions.
Although authentic learning experiences require students to use content knowledge to solve problems and complete projects, it does not mean that content mastery takes a backseat to application in the learning process. Students are still expected to master subject-specific content, but content becomes a means to an end, not an end in itself.
As we prepare students for careers in the Information Age, it is vital that they practice and develop skills in these key areas. Individuals who are committed to learning, can solve problems, master content, and are able to collaborate and communicate with others will be ready to adapt to a changing workforce in which their future careers may not yet exist.
[Pictured below is an example of a hands-on project recently completed by MS students at LCA. The sixth graders collaborated in groups and designed miniature models of chicken coops to serve as prototypes.]