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 
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.