Monday, February 20, 2017

Fake Twitter in the Classroom

Image courtesy of 
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 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!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Racing in the Hallways

Hallway racetrack 
When one hears the word "mousetrap," most people think of a wooden rectangle with a metal spring that is used to catch an unwanted mouse. However, if you are taking Mr. Carlton Ness's Energy and Power Class, a mousetrap becomes a source of energy which can power a vehicle. Figuring out just how that can happen was one of the challenges Mr. Ness put to this group of students, ranging from grades nine to twelve, when he asked them to design a mousetrap vehicle.

The challenge began weeks ago when Mr. Ness's classroom studied the science of energy, concepts like torque, and the physics of movement. Students then had to apply their knowledge by designing and creating a car powered by a mouse trap. All students were given the same box of materials, and considering all the factors that affect movement (weight distribution, wind resistance, etc.), build a car that can travel as far as possible. 

Designs varied. Some choose big wheels on either side on the back and small wheels in front while others centered the back wheels. Some students sculpted the front end to be more aerodynamic while others left it square. Some mounted the mousetrap on a block for different weight distribution, while others attached it to the car's base. When completed, the students set them on the hallway racetrack, powered them up by winding the spring, and then let them fly. 

After each car was released and its resting spot marked, students began their critical analysis. Cars were returned to their final place (the winner was Aaron, by the way), and analyzed for its design's strengths and weaknesses. Students were required to write a paragraph of analysis for each car, deciding which design ideas made a difference (good and bad). The winning design had added a small button on the front, so when the metal spring released its energy and the metal piece lay forward, it did not hit the ground and slow the car nor cause it to veer sideways. "This was a good idea," said one designer to another. 

One student taking notes as he analyzes
There is more designing to come for these students (after all, this is only January). Next they return to the classroom and study the different types of energy (solar, wind, etc,) and will design a car with one of these alternative energy sources. Again, they will deal with the physics of motion but now will add the knowledge of power sources. Interesting!  And after watching the class laugh as they compare successes and failures in the first round of designing, we can clearly see they will enjoy round two!

Not only are these students enjoying this class, they are acquiring important skills as well. Along with baseline knowledge of energy and power, they are learning to think critically and make decisions based on their analysis. These are powerful skills in most every career, but the knowledge these South Hamilton High kids are gaining will be especially helpful if they choose careers in engineering or mechanics. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be nearly 740,000 jobs as mechanics, and over 277,000 openings for mechanical engineers who make an average salary of over $83,000.  Thus, the early exposure to these types of skills is an excellent opportunity for them!

Well, that is our blog for this week. We wish to thank Mr. Carlton Ness and his students for allowing us to visit and see all the great things happening in the south end of the building. And thank you, reader, for spending your minutes with us. See you soon!

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!