Thursday, August 25, 2016

South Hamilton Elementary Is Rockin' with Chromebooks

The new Chromebooks for grades 2-6!
It's hard to believe, but the 2016-2017 school year is underway.  And even though it is still hot and humid outside, it feels like Christmas in the elementary building. Why? Because South Hamilton Elementary students have received a special gift: their very own, brand new Chromebook for classroom use!

Our elementary school has been blessed to be 1:1 with computers in the classrooms for the past 4 years. However, during the past three years, students and teachers have been "making due" with Macbooks, which were purchased for our high school/middle school kids over eight years ago.  In the world of technology, eight years is a VERY long time. And not only were those machines getting old, they also had experienced 8 years of extensive use. The Macbooks served our District extremely well; however, they were breaking down, and it was becoming extremely difficult to provide a working laptop to all students. That has all changed this year!

This transition began last year as it became evident the old equipment was breaking down quickly.  So teachers and administrators began to discuss what technology fit our elementary's needs.  We have found many of our youngest learners, specifically kindergarten and first graders, lack the fine motor skills that working a keyboard and trackpad demand. This is why our iPads were such a great fit at these levels. Thus, for these grade levels, our District purchased touchscreen Chromebooks.  This nifty machine has a full keyboard, and this keyboard can flip behind the screen so that it can function as a touchscreen tablet as well. We feel this computer will be a good fit for our young ones.

2nd graders begin Chromebook training!
Children in grades two through six will be provided with a traditional HP Chromebook. They are fabulous machines. Kids love the big fourteen-inch screens and the very responsive keyboard and trackpad. These new computers also boot up quickly. No more sitting and waiting those long minutes for the Macbook to load up; a Chromebook is ready for use in just seconds.

Training to use the new computers has already begun. After teaching students for six hours on Tuesday, elementary faculty spent the next two hours in a training session learning how to use their Chromebooks effectively. On Thursday, teacher instruction complete, K-6 Instructional/Technology Coach Cathy Stakey began training the students, showing them how to log in, pin important apps to the shelf, and bookmark frequently used websites. Luckily, our students have established a strong base of computer skills over the past three years, and these skills carry over beautifully to the new Chromebooks. They were able to jump right in and adapt to the changes quickly.  Being able to adjust to new technology is now a life skill, for the digital world is always moving and always changing, and South Hamilton students are learning to adapt to different challenges technology brings to them.  South Hamilton is committed to prepare students for their future and so technology must be a part of their education.

We are so glad to be back to work for the 2016-2017 school year, and we are thrilled to have you here reading about us.  Stay tuned: there will be many more blogs about what is happening in our hallways. We look forward to sharing our world with you.  You can follow us on Facebook at South Hamilton Community Schools, and/or on Twitter @shcsd and #shhawks.  See you next week!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Learning and Tweeting

Twitter Logo
Have you heard of Twitter?  Unless you are living on a different planet, we are guessing your answer is yes.  Twitter is what is called microblogging in the world of social media.  It allows you to send out messages to friends, families, and followers, but the trick is you must say what you wish to say in 140 characters or less.  Many people use Twitter to communicate to an audience. In fact, you can find South Hamilton's "tweets" on the right side panel here on our blog.

It is probably no surprise to you that one of the biggest groups to use Twitter is teens. Often when you see a young person with his/her face buried in a cell phone, they are reading their Twitter feed.  They love reading the short messages posted by friends or the celebrities they follow.  Lots of fun.

Sample tweet from Mrs. Retalick's chemistry class
Because it is such a challenge to motivate students, and because so many students love Twitter, many teachers are working on ways to incorporate the social media tool into their classroom.  South Hamilton science teacher Kelsi Retalick found a way to motivate learning with Twitter.  In her chemistry class, she asked her juniors and seniors to research a scientist and then convince everyone that their scientist is the greatest scientist ever! To convince their audience that their scientist was the greatest, students had to make either a Google presentation or a video campaign persuading classmates to vote for their candidate.  Here is where Twitter came in: students could promote their scientist by sending out tweets with a link to their presentation included in the tweet.  If you look at a sample tweet on the right, you will see it has received 10 "retweets."  That's a great thing, for it indicates that word about Einstein is really getting around!  And as you see in the post, one retweet equals one vote. I wonder if Einstein is in the lead?

This is a great example of how technology can engage students in material.  Some young people may find science and scientists uninteresting, perhaps even boring, but with the Twitter twist, Ms. Retalick hopes to see more kids tuning in instead of tuning out!  Beyond motivation, this project also demands students use technology in new ways.  Students learn to create with digital tools and then communicate and share their creations with another.  As we have said many times here at Hawk-Wired, students must be able to work in this digital environment to be successful in many segments of today's working world.  Developing these skills now is a fantastic opportunity.  Great job by all!  Here are some samples of student's promotional materials: who was/is the greatest scientist of all time??

  Thanks for joining us again this week!  We wish all our faithful readers a wonderful holiday weekend.  Thanks for following us!

Friday, May 20, 2016

May: Full of Travel and Fun

Students gather around Mrs. Doering as they mix play dough
Our South Hamilton kids are pretty lucky. They have a great group of teachers and staff working hard to bring unique and valuable experiences to our students. During the month of May our K-6 kids embark upon field trips around the state. Our first graders travel to the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines next week. second graders visited Living History Farms also in Des Moines, our third graders toured the Iowa State Capitol Building, fourth graders spent some hours at an art museum, fifth graders spent a day at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, and the sixth graders return tonight from a fabulous camping trip at Springbrook State Park. South Hamilton leaders know that it is important to give young people experiences outside our small town, for many never would experiences these places without these field trip opportunities.

Titus and Sam finish the treasure hunt with a selfie with something green!
And thanks to the super-special 2nd grade teaching team of Gail George, Kara Sloan, and Dede Henderson, the fun was extended for our second graders. Today our kids participated in Fun Friday. This involved having students organized into groups of 8 who then move to different action stations hosted around the school. At these stations, students got to do some fabulous activities: mix up some homemade play dough, create some neat art work, play bingo, go on a QR code treasure hunt and more!

Parker and Karlie finished with a selfie with a smiling teacher!
The best part of Fun Friday was the learning involved in each station: the chemistry of homemade play dough, the creativity of the art, and the critical thinking of the treasure hunt. Yet, despite all the higher level thinking, our students had a wonderful time. One second grader said to Mrs. George, "I want to do ALL the stations again!"  That's a pretty good measure that the day was a success.

So...thanks for catching up with us here at Hawk-Wired. We would like to finish this week's blog with best wishes for our seniors, the Class of 2016. Commencement is this Sunday, and we celebrate with our young people as they prepare to pursue their dreams. Good luck to all!  See you next week!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Digital Mother's Day Greetings

Word cloud made with Tagxedo
When the month of May arrives, so does Mother's Day.  In our elementary school, Mother's Day is a pretty big deal: our kids want to reach out to Mom and tell her how much they appreciate her! So, we have found some pretty neat digital tools to make some special Mother's Day greetings.

To create unique and personalized cards, our kindergarteners created word clouds.  Word clouds are a fun way to turn words into art.  The project began with Mrs. Coy, Mrs. Heins, and Mrs. Reidemann having students list 5 words that describe their moms. We then choose a couple of different Web 2.0 tools to create the clouds: some classes used Tagxedo and some used ABCya.  After entering the text, students can choose colors and shapes and make the card.  This is lots of fun!

For our older students, we decided to make digital books that were titled, "Things I Love About My Mom." To create these, we used Google Slides.  Google Slides is an amazingly versatile tool. It was created as a presentation tool, much like Microsoft Powerpoint; however, we use it in so many more ways.  Two weeks ago we blogged to explain how we used Slides to create newsletters. This week we used Slides to create these digital books.  Students had the ability to choose background colors, insert images from the web, and my favorite, draw using the drawing tools to create images and even make a comic book.  Students really enjoyed the creative freedom and experimented with all of these tools offered, and since they were so passionate about their topic, they had a fantastic time making the book.  And as always, it is important to share our work with a real audience (and in this case, MOM), so we posted them on our blogs.  It was a fun project, and we wanted to share one with you here in our blog. Samantha really spent lots of time turning shapes and colors into really nifty art.  Here you can find blogs with more projects:

Mr. Paulsen's Class Blog
Mrs. Marienau's Class Blog
Mrs. Klemp's Class Blog

As always, we deeply thank you for reading about our little school.  We so enjoy sharing the great stuff happening at South Hamilton. A special thank you to those who take a minute and write a nice comment. It is so fun to hear what you think.  Happy Mother's Day to all our readers who are mothers!  See you next week!

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Power of an Essential Question
"Curiosity killed the cat."

I'm guessing most of us have heard that old saying.  This phrase seems to imply that curiosity is a bad thing, and sometimes it certainly can be. However, in education, curiosity is a very good thing. In fact, the University of Californina-Davis recently conducted a series of experiments to prove it.  In this study the researchers asked a group of people a series of questions such as "What Beatles song was number one on the charts for 19 weeks," or "What does the term dinosaur really mean," and then utilized MRI scans of the brain as individuals worked to find answers.  The study came to two important conclusions: 1, curiosity prepares the brain to learn, and 2, curiosity makes the learning experience much more enjoyable.
The implications of this study are pretty clear: in education, we must work diligently to try and tie in a student's curiosity--especially when approaching a research project.  That brings us to today's blog title: the power of an essential question.  You see, if you ask students an interesting question that they must research--then analyze that research--in order to answer, learning will be more powerful and much more enjoyable.  Fifth grade social studies instructor Julie Ullestad put this concept to work as she designed her Ancient Civilizations unit.  After organizing her students into groups, she assigned each group with an ancient culture (Aztec, Inca, Anasazi, Maya) and then asked the group to answer this essential question: "Were they civilized?"  

Of course, more guidance than a question is needed.  We provided a definition and then a discussion on what it means to be "civilized."  We even had a little fun with them by showing this old commercial for Right Guard (do you remember these?  AND students did know Hulk Hogan :)

We also had a technology piece: once students had gathered the information on the different parts of their ancient culture, they had to build an informative website using Google Sites. Here is another example of how great Google Apps for Education are, for Google Sites allowed students to collaborate during class time--all working on the same website but on their very own page.  Once each individual had completed their work, the group had to create one last page: Are they civilized?  

Students debate: Are they civilzed?
The conversations we saw as students argued their point were fabulous!  Students were speaking from an informed point of view; we even saw 5th graders grab their computers and bring up their webpage which contained the facts they needed to support their argument. It was a great learning event.  If Mrs. Ullestad had assigned a research paper on an ancient civilization, or simply lectured to students about these cultures then created a multiple choice test to check their knowledge, the learning would not have been nearly as powerful.  Piquing their curiosity with an essential question and then incorporating technology to show the learning made for a much more enjoyable and "deeper" learning experience.  And our 1:1 learning environment empowered students to put all their learning together in one effective place.  Click the linked picture below to view the results of one group's hard work.  They have created a wonderful website!

Thanks for joining us for another episode of Hawk Learning.  We enjoy sharing all the good things happening at our little rural school.  See you next week!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Outstanding Curriculum + Great Instructional Methods = Exceptional Learning!

Paul Simon image courtesy of Wikipedia
Sometimes schools get things wrong. One thing we often get wrong is how students learn math, science, literature, history, music, etc. as separate entities with no connection with each other. In our education system, high school classrooms can be like islands that students visit for 1 hour, then a bell rings and they leave to visit another isle. At the end of the day, students may have choppy bits of information they feel they must memorize for the next few weeks until the test is over.  In the song "Kodachrome", Paul Simon states, "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school/It's a wonder I can think at all."  Without the subjects connected to one another nor connected to their world, students may agree with Mr. Simon.

One way South Hamilton High School has addressed this shortcoming is its creation of the course America II.  America II is a class required of all juniors, and it examines American history WITH American literature. English instructor Lisa Pulis and history teacher Jolene Voga worked together and created a curriculum which examines American history and literature through a group lens, reading and learning about our country, all of its struggles and victories, through the eyes of a historian and the eyes of an author. Hopefully students finish the course with a deep appreciation and an understanding of the United States of America and what it means to be an American.

Having an outstanding curriculum is an important base in the creation of excellence in education, but South Hamilton teachers, like Mrs. Pulis and Mrs. Voga, do not stop there: they quickly move to the methods of instruction that demand critical thinking. So these instructors approached the study of the 1920s and the Harlem Renaissance with a unique project: have students create a digital newsletter. This newsletter demanded students do the following tasks: one, examine the artwork, the literature, and the music of this time period; two, find a common theme in these cultural pieces; three, create a newsletter that shows the reader the art, music, and literature of the Harlem Renaissance, and using this newsletter, explain how the reader can find the theme in these artifacts.

Collaboration is a key skill
Many skill sets are demanded while completing this project.  Students must read and learn about an important time in American history, they must think critically about the entire culture of the time period, they must analyze what this says about the people of the U.S. living during this time, they must collaborate to communicate this learning using technology effectively, and finally they must present their learning effectively.  Whew!  And our South Hamilton kids did all of this in 5 class periods.

On a techy side note, students used Google Slides in a creative way to build the newsletter. By adjusting the page settings to 8.5 x 11 and choosing the "blank" template, students had a perfect palette on which to create. Google slides offers unique drawing tools, the downloading of images to the page, even the insertion of video so the audience can see and hear pieces of the Harlem Renaissance come alive. Students used no paper for this newspaper--even "handing it in" meant they shared the final slideshow with their instructors. This is a great example of how technology can transform learning. If we were not a 1:1 school where each student is given a laptop, if we did not have Google Apps for Education tools to build such projects, if we did not have the strong wifi infrastructure so students could work wirelessly in the class, this project could never exist.  Since we are blessed to live in a school district that provides these tools, students and teachers can transform teaching and learning into projects we could not even imagine ten years ago.

We cannot end this week's blog without sharing some of the student projects.  Please read some of these fantastic digital newsletters, for here our young people display some fabulous insight on this piece of American history. I doubt Paul Simon would sing the same lyric if he attended South Hamilton High School :) 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Online Friends and Online Chatting

When your child tells you that they are hanging out and talking with friends, do you imagine this?
Image courtesy of
I would guess most adults do.  However, in 2016, "hanging out and talking with friends" may look like this:
Image courtesy of

It's true.  This week we were in fourth grade classrooms where students' ages range from 9-11 years old, and we asked them: "How many of you have online 'friends' that you've never met?"  Amazingly, over half the students raised their hands.  The platforms they use vary, but the most popular place to find online friends was through video gaming.  They explained to us that strangers can ask to join your "game room" or "your place on the map"--depending on the type of video game being played.  We knew then it was good that we had created our digital citizenship lesson, using our favorite site Common Sense as a resource, on the topic of online friends and online chatting.

Our discussion began with an analysis of the differences between online chatting and face-to-face chatting.  Soon our students realized that we never really KNOW with whom we are chatting online; we simply must trust whatever the person says.  With that knowledge, we then began to discuss the dangers in that situation.  Once students stop and think about it, they see all sorts of concerns.  But that is the key: stop and think!

When we finished our discussion, students logged in to our Google Classroom and examined one online discussion and looked for any "warning flags."  Students spotted them quickly.  We then reviewed what information we should always keep private from online friends: 

Soon after this check, we asked if they were ready to take the "online chatting pledge" to prove they were ready to safely chat with friends online:
These conversations are important.  We want our students to enjoy the wonderful experiences made possible by the internet.  But just as we must discuss safety rules before letting our children wander around at the mall, we also must have safety rules when wandering around the world wide web.  We want our students to stop and think before jumping into friendships and conversations, always knowing they must be smart to be safe!  Closing the lesson, we felt good that we had spent those 30 minutes talking about this big part of life. 

Our digital citizenship curriculum is an important part of South Hamilton Elementary Schools.  We want our students to be prepared for their futures, and we fully realize the internet will be a big part of it.  Hopefully this curriculum contains many lessons which will inform our students on how to be safe and how to use the internet effectively. 

We hope you have enjoyed learning about our work in the classroom with technology.  If you are a parent and looking for guidance as to how to monitor your child's online behavior, Common Sense has fantastic information for parents (and teachers!) as to what content is good and bad for our children and how we can help protect our kids when they are online.  We have blogged about this resource before (click here to re-read A Post for Parents), but it is worth another mention!  And we hope you find our blog a fun way to learn about what is happening with technology and our kids!  

See you next week!