Students in the Gifted and Talented program and the Advanced Academics programs in Carroll ISD are participating in many activities involving authentic learning. So, what is authentic learning? Basically, the concept revolves around students learning by doing. Because of advances in technology, students are able to experience and actively participate in “real life experiences.”
“Authentic learning focuses on real-world, complex problems and their solutions,” says Gina Peddy, Carroll ISD’s K-12 Curriculum Coordinator for Gifted and Talented and Advanced Academics. “Usually the learning environments in these classrooms tend to incorporate more of a multidisciplinary approach. This type of instruction uses a more in-depth and rigorous classroom project to facilitate learning and assess student competence. It requires the activities be more student-centered and inquiry based.”
At the elementary level, Carroll’s gifted and talented students are participating in authentic learning by creating their own business. Students must grasp the concept of marketing, consumer awareness, and business marketing models in the toy industry. Students are given a template which shows them the things that should be considered when starting a business. Students then create a business plan for their business. They are required to state the purpose of the company, determine the cost of the product, and explain why people would want to purchase this product, how the success of the business will be measured, and then what options need to be considered if people do not like the product.
“After students created the toy, then students created a commercial in order to promote the product,” Peddy said. Students then evaluated the toys for reliability, creativity, and durability.
Students at the middle school level also participated in authentic learning. Constitutional Convention week was celebrated in early December at the middle schools. Prior to students attending the convention, they had to review the topics for debate to ensure they understood the topic. Students then had to research the topic. They had to ensure they understood not only what the topic was, but how the topic would impact their delegates. Students were then required to write a speech based upon how that particular delegate voted on the topic, thus, essentially becoming that delegate.
Peddy said once the convention actually started, students dressed up as delegates from the different states and debated their points of view. Students had to listen to the arguments presented – consider the impact the decision would have on their state and then make an educated decision to agree with the amendment or disagree based upon how it would benefit or hurt their constitutes.
Finally, students at the high school level also participated in authentic learning. Advanced Placement European History students recently attended an Enlightenment Salon. Students were challenged to become one of the notable personages of the Era of Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. Students became characters such as: Thomas Hobbes, Blaise Pascal, John Locke, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Catherine the Great, John Wesley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine. In order to ensure students fully grasped the concept of the assignment, students were required to write a paper discussing what the character was known for, their accepted philosophy, and how they were viewed during the Enlightenment. Students were then required to appear in character for the Salon of Madam Tencin. Students were required to bring questions to the salon that they would like to ask other characters attending the event.
As one can see, authentic learning goes beyond the content; it intentionally brings into play multiple disciplines, multiple perspectives, ways of working, habits of the mind, and community. In order for our students to be competitive in a global society, today’s students must become comfortable with the complexities of ill-defined real-world problems. The more authentic learning experiences students can experience, the better prepared they will be to deal with the problems they will experience later in life.