Friday, December 16, 2016

Stomping, Clapping and Snapping...and MUSIC!

Mr. Finn directs the choir from his piano bench!
Stomping and clapping and snapping...oh my!  Who knew choir class was so full of sound and movement? Well, if you visit Mr. Myles Finn during 5th hour at South Hamilton High School, you will see stomping, snapping, clapping and more. In the end, you will hear the sweet music of a well-prepared choir.  It is quite the experience, and this week, we want to share this dynamic music classroom.

At South Hamilton High, fifth hour is the lunch period. This means 5th "hour" is actually 90 minutes long--with each student given 30 minutes in that time frame for lunch and a bit of a break.  No break for Mr. Finn, however. Instead, he uses the unique structure of the period to maximize his choir's rehearsal potential: men's choir meets while women enjoy lunch, then women rehearse while the men eat, and finally the mixed choir converges to finish the time frame.  Much is accomplished during this 90 minutes, and it begins immediately with the ringing of the bell.

Students use hand signs to
help build site reading skills
The first thing each choir tackles is the "four minute mastery" activity. "Mastery means it is mastered; it is perfect," says Mr. Finn as he sets the stopwatch on the piano. The four minute mastery activity helps students build a number of skills: rhythm reading, site reading, and ear training. When students complete the various lines to a "mastered" level, Mr. Finn checks the stop watch. As mastery grows, the time needed decreases and students can see their growth. Very cool.

If you think a choir student only learns music, you are wrong. In this one class period, students learned some of the science of sound and how we produce music with air and vocal chords. Students also gained knowledge in how to correctly breathe to support singing, the importance of correct diction, and some nifty tricks to assist the learning. At one point students mimicked the throwing of a dart to help them execute the timing and pronunciation of a phrase. The variety and fast pace of instruction keep these young musicians on their toes, for they must watch and listen carefully or they will quickly be left behind.  It is hard work.  No slacking.

Mr. Finn moves around the
classroom as students sing
And students are motivated to work, for they have a goal. This season's concert is complete, but before winter break, Mr. Finn plans on recording the choir and sending the file to a state competition. If selected, the choir has the honor of performing at the Iowa Choral Showcase. "Do you think we are good enough?" asks one student.

"If we work hard, I know we are," replies Mr. Finn.

The student quietly smiles. Motivating our students is important, and our secondary music staff of Mr. Finn, Ms. Alexa Gibbs (high school band), and Ms. Kaily McDonald (middle school band) do a great job of investigating and presenting opportunities in which our students can perform. These three young educators do an amazing job and work incredibly hard teaching students, demanding quality work, even organizing fund raisers to boost the program.  As they watch their young musicians blossom and grow, they know all the time and effort are worth it.

Just before the ending bell, Mr. Finn has one more song for his choir to perform. It is an African spiritual, and soon his students are swaying and clapping and stomping and's clear they are having fun!  The students are still singing and tapping their toes as they walk out and on to 6th period. "The goal is to have them leave singing, ready to practice again tomorrow," says Mr. Finn. Mission accomplished.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hour of Code Year Two

Each red dot represents a participating school. SHCSD is highlighted! 
Loyal readers will remember our posts from last year when we shared Adventures in Coding in our K-6 building and the excitement of bringing the Hour of Code to the elementary. Buoyed by the success of 2015, we decided to bring the Hour of Code to our Middle and High School and see what the "big kids" thought of coding. It was an interesting day!

Students collaborate to solve problems with code.
Math instructors Dan Fuchs, Kyle Galetich, and Jerilyn Geneser were gracious enough to devote one day this week, which is Computer Science in Education Week, to introduce students to the world of computer science. Very few of our secondary students have knowledge of what coding is or the career possibilities it offers them; thus, our participation in the Hour of Code was an eye-opening experience.  We began with a presentation explaining just what this event is and why we were bringing it to SHHS. What was particularly meaningful to these young people was the comment posted to our 2015 blog by Arlen Burroughs, a 2011 South Hamilton graduate and ISU student majoring in software engineering.  He said, "I wish coding had been introduced to SH while I was there. Coding has changed the way I look at and solve everyday problems, and I know it will do great things for the kids!" Such a strong endorsement from one of our own graduates piqued student interest as we approached the task.

How do I do that? They figure it out!
It may sound strange, but we had our high school students use the same Star Wars Hour of Code activity that our elementary students used last year. One might think older students would need a greater challenge. However, the tutorial boasts itself "appropriate for ages 6-106," and it truly is. The coding assignments are simple at first, but very quickly the tasks become more complex and more challenging. To push our secondary students, we did encouraged them to move from block programming to actually writing in JavaScipt, the most popular programming language used on the web today. Video tutorials guided them through the fifteen step project, which taught students such basic coding skills as commands, events, conditional statements, loops, and more. In the end, students were able to build a video game with their own setting, characters, and rules--all done through code. even allows students to download their finished final project and share with classmates; they can even play the game on their smart phones!

Students write code using Javascript.
At the end of each class period, we asked them, "Would you be interested in taking a coding class if it were offered here at South Hamilton?" In every section, at least half would raise their hands. Thus, this Hour of Code event did indeed seem to raise awareness and interest in the computer sciences. That makes it a success! It seems our next challenge, then, is to bring computer science classes to SHHS.

Thanks to Mr. Fuchs, Mr. Galetich, and Ms. Geneser for bringing this opportunity to South Hamilton Junior/Senior High School. Our students are lucky to have such good teachers. And thanks to you, the reader, for finding us once again and sharing our learning. See you next week!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Giant Map of Iowa Arrives at South Hamilton

Special note: This week's blog was written by K-6 Instructional/Technology Coach Cathy Stakey.

3rd graders get ready to explore Iowa, lead by a UNI student
"The giant traveling map of Iowa was a BIG help to me to learn more about Iowa!” said Tyler, a 5th grade student at South Hamilton.

A giant map????

That's right! Thanks to social studies teacher Julie Ullestad, the Geographic Alliance of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa Geography Department, South Hamilton Elementary students had a chance to learn about our great state by actually standing on it!  UNI professor Dr. Alex Oberle and a group of his best future teachers brought a 20' x 17' giant map of Iowa to our little school. With this teaching tool, students actually experienced the relationships between people and their environment in a hands-on, and even feet-on, way! Let us explain...
Dr. Oberle and his students
For one week, our elementary library's floor was consumed with this plastic representation of the Hawkeye State. In that time, PreK-6th grade classes were welcome to visit and learn all sorts of interesting things about their home. The unique map was provided at no cost for our South Hamilton students. And the map does not travel alone: Dr. Oberle and his teachers-in-training brought a trunk-full of instructional materials used to supplement the instruction, and they even conducted the lessons. It was great experience for our students and these aspiring educators.

Students outline Mighty Mississippi with rope
The learning opportunities were endless. A friendly game of Simon Says on the giant map of Iowa helped our students learn North, South, East, and West. Others let their feet do the walking as they moved across the giant map to find coordinate points of locations throughout the state and learn about latitude and longitude.  Later, students used 20 foot ropes to outline the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and extra wide ribbons to mark Interstates 35 and 80 crossing Iowa. By physically moving rope and ribbon, students actually touch our state borders and transportation system--a very powerful way to learn.

Older students were able to grasp more complex map skills such as using a scale, a compass rose, and a coordinate grid. In addition, students learned about Iowa history and agricultural exports. Fifth grader Tanna said, “One of my favorite activities was when we read some clues that described a product that could be found in an Iowa town. Then we went on the map and found that town. I now know a lot more about what Iowa produces and where those towns are. The fact that the map was so big and so interactive made learning these things a lot easier."

Using their clues, students work to identify the right location
It was a terrific week of learning as all elementary students were able to trek across Iowa and learn a bit about their home state's history, economy, and geography along the way. A big thank you goes out to Mrs. Julie Ullestad for coordinating the entire endeavor and to Dr. Oberle and his students for leading some fabulous learning opportunities. We hope kids from South Hamilton have a better understanding of all Iowa has to offer, and maybe many of these young people will choose to work and live and grow in this wonderful place we call home. Thanks for joining us and we hope to see you next week!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Storytelling in Math

Students work to build digital stories
Storytelling in math class?  That may seem like an odd combination; however,  it's actually a fantastic fit. Let us explain...

Miss Jeri Geneser, 7th grade math teacher, knows that storytelling is a powerful pathway to learning...especially when trying to teach math. You see, math is a very abstract concept and many students struggle to grab concepts that they cannot connect with.  Step in storytelling. Miss Geneser grouped her students (collaborative learning is valuable as well) and assigned them a concept from the unit they just finished: adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing positive and negative integers. She asked them to create a story that illustrated the rules at work when working with these positive and negative integers.  She provided some examples and challenged her students to create their own stories.

Collaborating in a cubbie :)
And this is a challenge. "To find the sum of a positive and negative integer, take the absolute value of each integer and then subtract these values. You keep the integer sign of the number with the greatest absolute value." How do you make a story with that?  Well, her seventh grade students did!  And once the storyline was decided, technology became a tool with which to tell the story.  Students used a variety of tools: WeVideo, Powtoon, and Google Slides.  The freedom to choose is another excellent teaching strategy, for students must do the critical thinking and decide what technology is the best fit for what they wish to accomplish.

And of course, let us not underestimate the power of fun! Students had fun being creative, telling their stories, and discovering the best way to tell it.  Their projects were varied and fun and reflected real learning.  Great job, Miss Geneser and your 7th grade math students!  We hope you find some time and watch some of the creations shared below.  See you next week!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Visual Poetry

Ralph Waldo Emerson 
Poetry.  Some love it, but many others do not. Any English teacher will tell you, teaching poetry can be a very tough gig--especially when students are resistant to examining those often confusing phrases and find meaning.  And as teachers, we greatly hope to move students beyond comprehension to a real connection and appreciation of the work.  This is the challenge Mrs. Lisa Pulis faced as students in Language Arts 11 began their study of poetry--specifically Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Snowstorm":

                     Announced by the trumpets of the sky
                     Arrives the snow, driving o'er the fields
                     Seems nowhere to alight; the whited air
                     Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven
                     And veils the farm-house at the garden's end

Some students might find this type of literature a bit daunting, but Mrs. Pulis had a plan. After reading and discussing the piece, she wanted to make it a visual experience, for the poem attempts to describe a blizzard so vividly, one cannot but help build mental images as he/she reads. Plus, Mrs. Pulis knows that strong readers are always creating mental pictures of what they read, so bringing this visualization to light is a great way to improve students' comprehension skills. Here is where technology can help: Mrs. Pulis had her students create movies using We Video.

Students began their video creation by searching the internet for images that fit various phrases in the poem. Of course, we demonstrate good digital citizenship showing students how to find images labeled "free to share or reuse"; we want our students to understand and respect copyright laws.  Next, students had to choose the key lines of poetry that inspired the chosen image and place them with it. Finally, students could add music and other sound pieces to finalize the video. In the end, these juniors were able to share a quality video which brought poetry to life:

Students then moved to find other ways to create visual representations of poetry, choosing one of their own song lyrics or an original piece.  The variety of expression was amazing! Students used more than images: they found ways to change letter sizes, colors, fonts, word art, along with images to create unique works of art.

Challenging our students to be creative is important, for it demands the brain work in a new way. Our students must be able to think in new and different ways, for many of the careers our students will pursue do not even exist yet...our world is changing that fast.  Great job, Mrs. Pulis and the Language 11 classes.  Way to push your thinking!!

Thanks for joining us here. We hope you find us next week as well.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Would You Like a Piece of Pie?

Pastries students prepare to enjoy their pies
Do you enjoy a delicious piece of pie?  Would you like a yummy homemade doughnut?  If so, you would love to be in Mrs. Kathy Thelke's classroom around 1:00 pm each day, for that is when Pastries class is busy working in the South Hamilton's kitchen labs. In fact, you just may be surprised at all the activity happening there.

Many of us grew up with a class called "Home Ec." Well, today's Family and Consumer Science (FCS) classes have come a long way since those days.  Students at South Hamilton can study interior design, fashion design, child development, food production, and, of course, pastries thanks to the work of instructor Kathy Thelke. She is the one-person staff of the Family and Consumer Science department. Many people do not recognize the importance of these classes, yet they are the first step to many career opportunities: hospitality and hotel management, nutrition, food science, fashion design, interior design, pastry chef, and more.
To accommodate the demands of the coursework, South Hamilton has invested in building an excellent classroom for its students. With the help of Mrs. Thelke, the area is designed to suit both a home setting, a commercial setting, and also meet the demands of the classroom work. The design works great as students work in the classroom portion to research recipes and discuss lab procedures then move to the kitchens and create the products they have researched. South Hamilton students are fortunate to have such a fantastic work environment and such an informed and energetic teacher.

A valuable benefit of Pastries and other FCS classes is the structure of the class. Education experts talk much about "project based learning." This teaching method demands the instructors create a real-world challenge at the core of every unit.  For example, in history class the teacher could assign the students to build a museum display to explain the Battle of Gettysburg.  Thus, student research is used to create a real thing while showing the teacher their understanding of the material.

Pastries class is a project-based class.  Students study a type of pastry and the things one must know about its contents, and then actually make the pie or doughnut or some other tasty concoction. The learning is relevant to their lives as well, for they will always know the secrets to baking delicious art some believe is disappearing.  The students couldn't wait to have me ask Mrs. Thelke how much her lemon meringue pie brings for charity auctions:  nearly $100! That's what an outstanding pie is worth these days, for homemade lemon meringue pies seem to be rare!  However, many of our South Hamilton graduates can certainly show you how it is done.  FCS clearly is an important part of our offerings at our middle school and high school.

Well, that's our blog for this week; we are so glad you joined us!  See you next week. :)

Two of the kitchen labs. The stainless steel sure looks sharp! The classroom area is the open area to the right
Note the sewing machines along the back wall. They come in handy in many of the classes.

Students work hard to take care of the beautiful labs.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Making Sense of What We See

Mr. Juber assists his students in the greenhouse
Steven Hawking, a former mathematics professor and author of the international best seller, A Brief History of Time, once said, "Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious." These words capture what teachers all over our world are urging their students to do.  Look. See. Wonder. Learn. It is this premise that guides Mr. Matt Juber, South Hamilton Life Science teacher, as he designs learning opportunities for his students.

Recently, Mr. Juber asked his seventh grade life science students, "I wonder:  if you sing to a plant, will it grow more than a normal plant?" Students wondered with him. Next he showed them a Mythbusters episode showing how scientist tested that question to find out if talking or singing could affect a plant.

Next Mr. Juber had his students wonder some more.  What other "variables" could you expose a plant to that may or may not affect its growth?  Students had some interesting ideas:  "Would Monster Energy drinks help a plant grow? Would artificial light work as well as sunlight? Would a plant do better with creek water or tap water? Look. See. Wonder.  Now, it's time to learn.

Will a plant grow if "watered" with milk?
Students began with some pea plants, a variable of their choice, and a prediction in the form of a hypothesis. Next, Mr. Juber had his students plant their pea pods and spend the next weeks exposing their plants to some interesting variables--creek water, energy drinks, ground-up Snickers bars--and then measured and documented plant growth. Interesting, right?  However, the learning does not stop there. How does one make sense of the data being collected? Enter technology!

It was in this phase of learning that Mr. Juber introduced a new tech tool: spreadsheets.  Students have had limited experience with Google spreadsheets, so Mr Juber challenged their curiousity more. What can a spreadsheet do with data?  How would your organize it?  Instead of showing them, Mr. Juber shared a sample set of data points with students and simply said, "Organize this so it can communicate to people what they can learn from the experiment." After some work time, students shared their organizational ideas and brainstormed which organizational method worked best and why. By making students find the answer, Mr. Juber made them look, see, wonder, and learn. Additionally, the learning was important to them because they want to accurately record and see how much their variable is affecting the growth of their plant, and they now see how a spreadsheet can assist with that task.
Students share their spreadsheets
As the unit progresses (for it is ongoing at this time), more and more spreadsheet skills are introduced: how to create charts and graphs, why we would use a chart and/or graph, and which one would suit your purpose most effectively. Students discovered a trendline, and how it can communicate how much the plant is (or is not) growing. Three times a week, students measure plants, record their data, and add it to their spreadsheet, analyzing whether or not their hypothesis is correct or incorrect. If you wonder if they are excited, just ask them how their plant is doing. Faces light up as they report on its progress and make their guesses as to what is going to happen to it next.  (Spoiler alert: there have been some real surprises as students tried some pretty crazy variables on their plants.)

Our seventh graders have three weeks left with the pea plant experiment.   "Try to make sense of what you see," advise Mr. Hawking.  Stay tuned and we will have some students share what "sense" our students have made of what they have seen.  Thanks for joining us.  See you next week!