Authentic Learning…..

from the dictionary: learning that is genuine, real, not false or copied…

                             from latin: Original., primary, at first hand


In Tasmania in 1980 Rob Banfield started teaching in science, maths, and a few other areas. He has taught in Java at Bandung International School. He holds an Ed.D in leadership professional learning and has keen interests in curriculum design, pedagogy development, effective leadership and strategic planning.



Why would we be  interested in authentic learning, surely all learning is authentic?

Perhaps NOT!  Some learning has to be not first hand and  uses copied texts and demonstrations. Safety, efficiency and  the  practicalities of schools demand these professional  boundaries.

However, we know that engagement of students in real learning often increases their motivation, energy and indeed their learning of new concepts and applied skills.

My enthusiasm for this authentic style of teaching has a few personal waypoints. One particular “hard to teach class” in 1983 encouraged me to manipulate an entire Grade 9 Science Curriculum around the real science of cars.  Cars were a real inquiry object with intrinsic interest to 15 year old boys! Later I was introduced to the idea of negotiated curriculums, where I let go of the reins and discovered the wealth of untapped knowledge already residing in the brains of my assigned students. Soon, real inquiries into astronomical Quasars with 13 year olds became a reality.  In recent years I was fortunate enough to interact with Dan Buckley from the UK (certainly worth an extended Google). His work with   students responding to  real tender scopes to achieve real solutions to real problems, struck another cord with me.  Dan’s innovative approach to curriculum  motivated students as authentic learners whilst responding to  skills and concepts demanded by the agreed curriculum.

Isolated examples are fine, but what is the potential to authenticate the curriculum in our everyday real world of technology?

I randomly selected the Grade 3 Australian  Science Curriculum to apply my ideas of a  real learning framework. I was  first challenged by the science content areas of biology, earth, chemistry, and physical science areas as I read the curriculum scope. These areas contained  dry, important things we need to know. So, I ventured across to the science inquiry skills list. Ah ha, here was the stuff of real science in my mind. Experiments, observation, data, reporting etc… But, alas the creative juices could still not conjure up a real life inquiry for my imaginary  Grade 3  learners.

I opened up a digital skill link that took me to some Scootle learning objects and ideas. Here I found the seed of an authentic learning plan in amongst the suggestions on Shadows. The shadow inquiries had a clear link back to the earth science content field of planet rotation, seasons, day and night etc…

Now applying a little imagination here is my initial thinking for Grade 3 Science authentic inquiry.


“Our town council is processing a new application to allow for the building of a single 4 story office block in our main street. As part of the planning approval process, the councillors want to know what the shadowing effect will be on neighbouring buildings, the streetscape and people at various times of the day and the year. Currently the maximum height of buildings is limited to two stories. The council requires a 5 page report and a concise 20 minute presentation of your findings for a full Council Planning meeting in June.”

My class would work in 7  groups of four students and present to a genuine town planning engineer at a future time.  My invited engineer would be asked to give feedback to each group and perhaps provide real written responses from his council division. My planning will involve the science, literacy and numeracy outcomes from Grade 3, an even some history outcomes.

I am keen, Grade 3 science is being applied to a real life problem,  where we don’t know  a prepared “proper” answer. The detailed planning, teaching and negotiation with people from outside my school needs to be done. The scope of the inquiry may change as my planning develops.

Learning can be (more) authentic, more motivating for students (and teachers) and integrate various   discrete curriculum areas (as happens in the real world).