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!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Project Lead the Way at South Hamilton

Image courtesy of
Imagine designing toys adapted to assist with the special needs of a child suffering from cerebral palsy. Sound difficult? Yet that is what junior high students at South Hamilton are doing thanks to PLTW--Project Lead The Way, and middle/high school science teacher Bianca Webber.

PLTW, a national initiative, describes itself this way: "[We] provide transformative learning experiences for K-12 students and teachers across the US.  We create an engaging, hands-on classroom environment and empower students to develop in-demand knowledge and skills they need to thrive." Mrs.  Webber's "Design and Modeling" class certainly puts this educational theory into action.  The nine-week course required of all 8th graders is built upon the premise that students are engineers charged with the challenge of designing items for kids with cerebral palsy. They build background knowledge of the condition and the problems it creates for those living with the disorder. Students then work to help improve quality of life for those living with it.

Students take picture of cube
This week students were involved in a reverse engineering project. Mrs. Webber presented the class with a toy called a "puzzle cube."  She asked her engineers-in-training to dissect the toy, create a multi-view sketch, dimension it, then re-design the cube to better fit the needs of a child with cerebral palsy.  The classroom was buzzing as students collaborated, brainstormed, worked to trouble-shoot, and learn!  It truly was the engaging, hands-on environment to which PWLT claims to be.  Mrs. Webber was literally jogging from table to table, student to student, assisting them, guiding them, and challenging them to be problem-solvers and thinkers.

A dissembled puzzle cube
Technology is also an important component of PLTW.  Students utilized their Chromebooks to photograph the puzzle cube in its various stages of construction.  Additionally, all the assignments in Mrs. Webber's Design and Modeling are distributed digitally via Google Classroom--which connects to Google's powerful Apps for Education.  Thus, students are not only challenged to be creative and analytical thinkers, they also have to manipulate the technology competently to complete their work---just like the real world!

Students brainstorm design ideas 
The exposure to design and engineering concepts at the 8th grade level is very important, for many of our young people are not even aware of what engineering is, what skills it involves, nor what careers await them should they choose that path. After experiencing Design and Modeling in 8th grade, students are able to take Introduction to Engineering in 9th grade, Principles of Engineering in 10th grade, and then can choose Introduction to Civil Engineering or Introduction to Digital Electronics during their junior and senior years. When completed, South Hamilton graduates are prepared for the coursework challenges ahead of them should they choose a career in engineering.

Joining Mrs. Webber on our engineering staff is Mr. Carlton Ness, industrial tech teacher, and Mr. Dan Fuchs, senior-level math instructor.  Our PTLW instructors have spent hours in training, learning the state-of-the-art technology and teaching methods this curriculum involves. South Hamilton is blessed to have such dedicated professionals willing to put so much of their personal time in so our students have a wide variety of opportunities to build a unique and successful future.

Well, thanks so much for joining us here at Hawk-Wired. We always enjoying sharing a piece of our small but mighty school here in Jewell, Iowa. Hope to see you next week.  And if you are curious to learn more about PLTW, just click this link and/or watch this video.

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!