Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Passion Projects

Brock's project: map all Iowa school districts
and color-coding them by conference.
 One thing we know for certain about student learning: students will be much more involved and engaged if their course work connects to their lives, and most strongly motivated if it connects to their life ambitions. This can be difficult, however, when trying to integrate the students' specific interests into required course content; often there simply isn't room in a traditional class syllabus for such work.

Walker's colorful mobile
Here is where our TAG program can step in.  TAG, which stands for Talented and Gifted, is a program which allows those student whose achievement is outstanding to push their skills to a deeper level. At South Hamilton, Mr. Matt Schutt has been directing this K-12 program for the past two years and has watched over some pretty amazing things. One example we would like to share in this week's blog is the eighth graders' "passion projects." Mr. Schutt directed his junior high pupils to create a personal project founded in some passion they have, and it did not have to be based on one of the traditional subject areas. This type of assignment is touted by a large body of research as some of the most effective instructional design; one study conducted by Heidi Hayes Jacobs (2010) illustrated the great amount of "brain power" demanded of such projects, as they involve extensive decision making, problem solving, and investigation--important 21st century skills!

Ethan works on his geneology
The varied choices and what these kids created are pretty amazing, and we'd like to share some here. Some students decided to design structures using Keva planks. What are Keva planks? Well, to learn much more, you can click the link inserted there.  However, for a brief summary, we thought Keva's website explained it best: "Here are the basics.  Every piece is the same. Keva planks are 1/4 inch thick, 3/4 inch wide, and 4.5 inches long. You build structures by simply stacking the planks. No glue, no connectors."  Enter student creativity, problem solving, and more. This is what Grace Y decided to do for her Passion Project. Below you will find the video Grace built to summarize and display all the hard work she did with Keva planks--both the successful designs and not-so-successful ones. And the skills displayed in her video summary are pretty awesome as well.  Just watch:

Preston's nearly completed clock
Fabulous work, Grace!

Other students pursued other passions. Some decided to study and learn to speak German. Another student researched his family's genealogy.  Other students completed tasks such as building a clock from a kit, creating a colorful mobile, and designing tutorials for younger students on subjects they felt qualified. Each one was unique, for each child brings unique passions to the classroom.

In the work The Highly Engaged Classroom (2011), authors Robert Marzano and Debra J. Pickering explain the power of a student "Personal Projects" and explain what needs to happen to elicit robust learning. I believe Mr. Schutt and his junior high TAG students have accomplished just that. Congratulations to you all!

Thank you, again, for joining us here at Hawk-Wired. As the 2016-2017 school year winds down, we want you to know how we appreciate your following our adventures in this small but mighty rural school.  We look forward to sharing more with you in 2017-2018!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Saving Planet Earth

One thing is certain: educators are used to change. Just when we feel we have structured our curriculum and practices correctly, someone (usually the state legislature) changes the rules, and we must adjust to meet these new regulations while maintaining our commitment to students.

One example of these legislated changes is in how we teach science. In the past year or so, our staff has been busy planning to fulfill what are called the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These new standards have 3 key ideas:

  1.  K-12 science education should reflect the interconnected nature of science as it is practiced and experience
  2. The NGGS standards are student performance expectations--NOT curriculum
  3. The science concepts in the NGSS build coherently from K-12

Image from Pixabay
Consumer Science instructor Ali Engels wished to begin incorporating some of the new concepts before this school year was out. She decided to begin with the standards listed in the "Human Sustainability" category, which study the complex interaction of humans and our environment.  Her objectives were fairly simple: to discover what our students knew about society's impact on our planet and to build a clear understanding of how our actions impact our world. After one case study on Cape Cod's groundwater contamination, students could choose an environmental issue to research, hoping students would choose an issue they truly cared about.  After researching their topic, students were to create a PSA, a Public Service Announcement, informing the public on the situation and persuading them to do something to help, what we label as a "call to action".  To embrace another standard in this category, Mrs. Engels required students create some type of chart/graph to illustrate how this issue is changing and/or affecting our lives.  Analyzing data and developing a visual representation for it is an important skill in the sciences.

This project fits into the new standards well.  It focuses on what students can DO--their performance expectations--to show their understanding of science, and it clearly shows how science connects to our world. Pre and posttest data showed that students did gain a greater appreciation of our world. Before the unit of study, students were asked "How concerned should we be about our planet?" 50% responded with a 5 or less--which is minimal worry.  When asked that same question on the posttest, all students rated the need of concern at a 9 or 10, which were labeled "our planet is in danger!" Quite a shift of opinion.   When asked, "How have your views of the environment changed--if at all?" many students said, "I realize we must act to protect the environment."  It seems they truly did internalize their research.

So, here are their PSA's. We hope you watch them, and I think our students would hope you care just a bit more about our planet.



Thursday, April 13, 2017


Volunteers make South Hamilton Schools Great
Special note: this week's blog was written by K-6 Instructional/Technology Coach Cathy Stakey.

South Hamilton Schools are a great place to be. If you ever wondered why, just step into the building for a visit, ask a student or a staff member, or chat with a school volunteer.

Tuesday, April 11th was #LoveMySchoolDay. This is a social media campaign that encourages people to take a moment and share what they love about their schools through Twitter. It was created by John Wink when a fellow teacher made a comment that she wished everyone knew how great their school was.  That prompted John to wonder, "Why can't we tell everyone about the great things happening at our school?"  Voila! the idea was born.

Throughout the day of April 11, 2017, our SHCSD teachers found examples of great things and "tweeted" them out, using the power of the hashtag (#) to brag about South Hamilton Schools. Students joined in by writing their own tweets and posted them around the building. Quickly, South Hamilton became part of a national movement: the hashtag #LoveMySchoolDay trended to the top quickly and remained in the top ten of trending topics for the remainder of the day.

Here are a few of the moments captured in SHCSD's (South Hamilton Community School District) hallways throughout the day. We hope you find them as inspiring as we do!  We DO love our school!!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Making an EdPuzzle

One challenge teachers face in 2017 is grabbing our students' attention...and then keeping it.  The educational term for this phenomena is "engagement."  And the research is overwhelming: if students are engaged, they are much more likely to learn. But for today's teachers competing with cell phones and a digital world, engagement is a tough gig.  As instructors, we work to research, try new technology tools, and implement new instructional methods to involve our students and keep them from mentally "checking out."

South Hamilton science teacher Ali Engels decided to try one new tool this week: EdPuzzle.  EdPuzzle is website that allows its users to choose a video from YouTube or other source, download it, and remix it to insert "quiz" questions. Thus, as students watch the remixed version assigned through Google Classroom, the video will pause and pose a question students must answer before continuing to watch.  This is beneficial for a number of reasons: one, it demands students pay attention, listen and understand as they watch.  Many young people believe they are the masters of the multi-task: they believe they can Snapchat friends, watch TV, and watch an educational video without missing a thing.  The truth is, multi-tasking is a myth (you can read an article in Psychology Today about this if you click the link).  As humans, we must give our full attention to an idea if we hope to learn.  EdPuzzle "forces" a student to pay attention, for if their mind wanders, they won't be able to answer the questions.  Now, the video gives them the option to re-watch it; however, it would be easier to just listen the first time.

New science rooms under construction at SHHS
A second advantage EdPuzzle offers educators and students is immediate feedback.  Students often know immediately if they have chosen the correct answer; thus, they can monitor their comprehension of the material and choose to review if needed. As a teacher, we can quickly assess whether or not our students are understanding the concept.  It may seem strange, but many students are unaware when they have missed major ideas.  EdPuzzle assists students in recognizing their attention and comprehension.

Another advantage EdPuzzle offer Mrs. Engels and her chemistry students is that it is something fresh and different. Research shows bringing an assortment of strategies increases engagement. As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life. EdPuzzle offers these science students a novel way to learn a concept.

Of course, we South Hamilton students and faculty must remember that activities such as these would not be feasible as a student assignment if we were not a 1:1 district. We are fortunate, as we've said many times, to live and work in a district that provides a Chromebook to each student, K-12. How fabulous it is that our kids have this resource.

Our district is demonstrates its commitment to a quality education for every child in many ways. Right now our high school building is in the middle of an incredible remodel that will, among other things, give us some beautiful new science rooms.  We've shared a picture of one of the new rooms here.  Yes, our students and faculty are pretty lucky!

Before we go, we thought we'd share the EdPuzzle Mrs. Engels created--in case you were curious to see one of the many excellent technology tools our students use each day. Thanks for joining here for another issue of Hawk-Wired. See you again soon.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Sharing Student Projects

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Hello, Hawk-Wired friends.  This week we are happy to share some nifty student projects with you.

The first projects come from Mr. Steve Olson's Ag Business class. He asked his students to create a radio commercial to advertise an agricultural business. Now, when you think radio, many of you might envision microphones like those pictured on the left. However, high school students of 2017 with Chromebooks choose a different tool. Mr. Olson's students logged in to their WeVideo account...a Web 2.0 tool we use LOTS at South Hamilton.  In fact, we've written about We Video projects many times on this blog. But for the first time, this web tool was used to create radio commercials.  WeVideo worked very well for this purpose, for it offered students a wide variety of music and sound effects, along with the ability to record their narration, and produce a commercial worthy of airing on any radio station.  We are happy to share a couple of examples with you here.

We also wanted to share our favorite Earth's Era video from Mrs. Bianca Webber's ninth grade science class.  We blogged about the process a few weeks ago (Hawk-Wired: 21st Century Classroom), and now we are ready to share the final product.  We think you will be impressed with the creativity and technical know-how our South Hamilton students have.  Thanks for checking these out!  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fake Twitter in the Classroom

Image courtesy of Flickr.com. 
Social media has caused more than one headache for teachers, parents, and kids. From cyberbullying, to distracted learners, to some inappropriate sharing, social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook have been a problem in many ways.  But despite some troubled potential, these technology tools remain wildly popular.  At the end of the fourth quarter of 2016, Twitter reported having over 316 MILLION active users, while Facebook reported having 1.68 BILLION active members. There are more players in the social media field as well:  Snapchat reported 158 million users and Instagram claimed 160 million active users.  Teachers can ban it from their classrooms all they want, but we cannot deny the fact that the majority of our students are social media butterflies.

So....what to do?  Well, one South Hamilton teacher remembered the old adage: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."  Ms. Emily Long, SHHS's Spanish teacher, decided to bring social media into the classroom and use it to develop her students' skills. In Spanish IV, students' knowledge of Spanish is so advanced, they now are expected to read a novel written in Spanish and then write and discuss--in Spanish--on the novel. Here is where Ms. Long thought Twitter could be a great tool....but not the real Twitter...a fake one that she created where students could safely post and comment and not face the potential hazards of the Internet. Instead, students use the tool Google Draw so it can be safely shared with each other but not to the "outside" world

The assignment was to create a Twitter home page for a character in the novel, which included a picture of the character, a background image, and a user description.  The images and info had to match the character's description and interests.  Then students had to Tweet summaries of what was happening in the novel from their chosen' character's point of view. Once students beganTweeting, they could comment as their character on others' Tweets.  They can also add hashtags (#) to make connections to subjects on the various pages.  And don't forget the added challenge: it is all done in Spanish!  Here are some student sample:

Many may be asking, how does this activity push student learning?  It does so in several ways. To begin, students need to show their reading comprehension skills by composing Tweets that accurately reflect the action of the novel.  The Tweets also demonstrate the students' critical thinking skills about characters and the plot as Tweets include a deeper reflection on the novel. Hashtags demand they make connections between ideas, yet they must be concise for Tweets can only be 140 characters long. All of these are excellent reading skills, but add to this the Spanish knowledge it demands and it is a very valuable learning tool indeed.  Another bonus is that it connects to student interest and familiarity with social media; hopefully this motivates and challenges their learning a bit more than a traditional activity might. Thus, Ms. Long has indeed created a 21st century classroom activity---transforming the classroom by creating a technology project that simply wasn't possible just a few years ago. Super job!

Once again, thanks for joining us here at Hawk-Wired. We really enjoy sharing our learning with you. You can keep up with more South Hamilton happenings by "liking" our Facebook page (South Hamilton Community Schools), and/or by following us on the read Twitter (@schsd; #shhawks).  See you again soon!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Twenty-First Century Classroom

Textbooks and technology working together
A twenty-first century classroom. Those in education hear that phrase often, and just what that means varies from place to place.  However, there is some widespread agreement of its characteristics: student-centered, opportunities for creative expression, a collaborative environment, and technology integration. If you were to visit Mrs. Bianca Webber's Earth Science class this week, you would find all of these elements at work.

Mrs. Webber wanted to her students to learn about our planet Earth's geological history and how our planet has come to be the place we know and love. She also wanted to design a 21st century learning experience for her students. Eventually she landed on the idea of having students create a commercial trying to persuade their viewers to visit a geological era. Students were assigned groups, assigned an era, and sent off to work.

Luckily, students at South Hamilton have their very own Chromebook, for this project certainly requires its use. We thought it might be interesting for our readers to see just how many digital tools our ninth graders used in this one project:
  • Google Classroom--this online digital classroom distributed the assignment quickly and easily. Plus, students can no longer say, "I lost the assignment," for it is stored digitally and their work is shared automatically with Mrs. Webber. (And another bonus...it saves money and the environment by skipping the paper handouts).
  • Google Docs--this digital tool allowed our students to take notes on their assigned geological era and share the document with group members. You cannot imagine how much this improves collaboration. No more "Billy has all our stuff and he is gone today" or "Billy lost our stuff" excuses that paper-and-pencil work allowed.  All their information is stored safely online. Plus, with Docs, all members can work on it at the same time, at school or at home!  It truly is an amazingly powerful tool...much more than just a substitute for paper and pencil.
  • Google Docs Add-On Easy Bib--this Google add-on empowered our students to create a bibliography of the sources used quickly and easily. An important part of being a respectful digital citizen is to credit all websites from which you get information and images. With this tool, students were able to build one easily as they work, adding each source they find to the list. And again that other amazing aspect: they can do this collaboratively as all group members share the document and add to it as they go.
  • Google Drive-New Folder--students once again share their work, this time using a Google folder. All group members saved images in one place and later easily uploaded it to their video project.  
  • WeVideo--this online video software empowered our students to create amazing movies. It offers an incredible amount of creative options as students select music, sound effects, video effects, record narration, and more. PLUS, students can easily upload the images saved in their shared Google folder since their WeVideo account is directly connected to their Google Drive.
  • Google Drive and Google Classroom--Allows students to easily submit their finished video project
  • Google's Blogger--allows us to share this information in a blog :)
Students show off their storyboard
Now, we haven't abandoned those tried-and-true traditional tools.  Students used their textbook extensively. It served as an excellent starting point for information and provided an organizational strategy on which students could model their videos.  And paper-and-pencil storyboards were important. Storyboards are important before beginning any video project, for this solidifies the organizational plan before students begin build the video.

So, if we reflect on those twenty-first century characteristics, does this project "fit the bill"?  Student centered--check!  Provide an opportunity for students' creative expression--check!  Provide an opportunity for collaboration--check!  Require technology integration--check!  Yes, Mrs. Webber, you did it! This learning experience is definitely twenty-first century and truly transforms the classroom, for this project would not have been possible 10 years ago.

Well, that's all for this week's blog. We look forward to sharing our favorite Earth commercials with you next week.  Until then, continue to follow us on Facebook (South Hamilton Community Schools) and Twitter (@shcsd and #SHHAWKS).  See you next week!