Recently, I have found myself explaining what some of the customary, current terms in education are right now… authentic learning seems to be one of them. Although the term has been around for quite some time, there seems to be a lack of understanding of what it really entails. A simple definition of authentic learning is: In this type of learning, materials and activities are framed around “real life” contexts, in which they would be used. For example, projects that allow students to explore and discuss information in ways that are relevant to them.
Multiple Choice Questions, Fill in the Blank answers, and the majority of what is done in classrooms each day… do not fit into this realm.
This approach differs greatly from the traditional “lecture” class, where teachers give students facts and other content that students must memorize and regurgitate for tests. Authentic learning, explained here by Steve Wheeler, is also an approach to learning that is solidly grounded in research on learning and cognition. One widely held learning theory, constructivism, postulates that students learn best by engaging in authentic learning tasks, by asking questions, and by drawing on past experiences. In short, for learning to occur, it must take place in a way, and in a place, that is relevant to their “real” lives, both in and outside of the classroom.
Also, recently, Teachers With Apps initiated an App Certification Program. When we contacted the developers of our first honoree, News-O-Matic, we got a very pleasant surprise. The developers offered to come into my school and allow the students to participate in the editing process of their daily news publication. So, yesterday, my students were very fortunate to be part of a relevant, connected, and authentic learning experience. They had the exciting and rare opportunity to be editors and chief of a real digital news publication for kids, News-O-Matic. Making sure the content is appropriate, appealing, and drawing in young readers, is very important to Press4Kids, the developers behind News-O-Matic. Lillian Stern, co-founder of Press4Kids, visited the school and engaged the students in a big way, she worked with them to decide what content would be published that very afternoon in their cutting edge application. What a thrill to learn what goes on behind the scenes; to experience first-hand what it is like to deal with the news and time sensitive material. Students were in awe as they listened to the role of an editor and then delighted when handed the job of choosing which articles would be best suited for that day’s publication. Not only did they hear about what was happening in the news, they discussed it, asked questions, gave opinions and ultimately voted on three of the news stories that would make it to publication. During this activity students exhibited deeper learning skills, higher order thinking had a real and substantive conversation, and personal learning occurred, BTW – this was a group of challenged learners. 21st-century skills were integrated, as well as autonomy, mastery, purpose, and self-motivation and at all times, the reflection was taking place. Wow, all this from one facilitator and one dynamic app.
The very best part was their work – the news stories were chosen, the titles selected, and the questions answered, were all there on the app at 3:30 in the afternoon! News-O-Matic’s publication is updated every day at 3:30 pm, just in time for students getting out of school. I can’t begin to tell you the level of excitement that took place when AJ saw the title he came up with headlining the story about the rhythmic sea lion… and when others found their input added to the Watching North Korea story. Of course, everyone was very satisfied to see the questions they voiced to the News-O-Matic team had been answered in the articles. Authentic learning, at its best!