Authentic Learning

      Authentic learning must make information meaningful to the students.  In order to do so, the environment in which learning takes place must also be meaningful.  Why should students lea rn how to solve word problems about things that will never happen, when there is so much in their lives that already involves math, reading, writing, or any other subject matter? What exactly would it require to incorporate student's prior knowledge into what they learn in school?
      As Brown, Duguid, and Collins
state, "Activity, concept, and culture are interdependent. No one can be totally understood without the other two. Learning must involve all three".  Learning must reflect actual practice.  This stance is also reflected by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards(1989).  These standards require that teachers use "real world problems to motivate and apply theory."  These standards take mathematics away from being abstract concepts, to ideas that the students can understand...ideas that are situated within what they already know(4).  By making word problems and other lessons closely related to the students lives, the tasks become more meaningful and more authentic.  As explained by Wolf et. al., children become more excited about literature when they are able to relate the stories to things they have already observed(5). 
      Brown, Collins, and Duguid
also suggest that the most effective way to learn is through cognitive apprenticeships.  They take the apprenticeship idea of learning skills of a trade from an expert and apply it to learning in school.  For example, students should use the same tools and language as experts.  The culture of learning should match the culture of the experts.
      Part of apprenticeships is having someone to support you in case you have questions or fail.  As termed by Vygotsky
, scaffolding allows help when students need it and allow them to work freely when they can accomplish the tasks by themselves.  An authentic learning environment would have to incorporate these fading scaffolds in order to move students to new levels of development.  Teachers must also provide structure and support reflection(4).
      How is it possible to include all of these things into a classroom?  It is important to remember that authenticity does not mean you have to take students to the Louvre
to learn about art, but that each lesson plan should subtly increase the amount of authenticity involved in the tasks.  For example tasks can fall on a continuum of authenticity where memorizing facts about paintings would be less authentic than visiting a web site that has a guided tour.  But the guided tour is less authentic than actually visiting the museum.  Schools should aim to make student experiences as authentic as possible to what happens in real life, and in doing so should provide support for the students to be reflective and to learn. 
offers great advantages for authentic environments that were not available before.  Technology can provide scaffolds for the students, and can allow students access to tools not normally encountered in schools.

Interesting discussion about the use of word problems.

Tiffany Marra