Final Exam…In the OR?

HeckleyFinalcollageCramming for finals. Memorizing hundreds of useless (now Google-able) facts that were promptly forgotten. Most all of us can recount at least one nightmarish exam saga in our high school or college past!

Assessment of learning is changing, though. It’s becoming more authentic, more reflective of the real world, and much, much more meaningful. Consider the final exam that Hamilton Southeastern High School science teacher Ashley Heckly designed for the seniors in her Biomedical Innovations class this week. In Mrs. Heckly’s own words…

fullsizeoutput_7b6Biomedical Innovations is designed for students to work through open-ended problems focused on health challenges of the 21st century. After having students work in groups throughout the year, an independent paper and pencil type of final did not feel right. Instead, I decided to transform the presentation lab into six operating rooms where students would work through the final as a group. The final was composed of six “surgeries” based on problems we studied throughout the year. The students recorded their answers to each problem on the paper body. To complete the experience, students dressed in their lab coats and received hospital ID badges, scrub hats, masks, booties, and gloves.

To get the full exam experience, don’t miss this one minute video recap!

Encouraging Leaders Through Literature

Amazing how a simple conversation between educators can spark a cross-curricular, global, enduring learning experience.  Thanks to Mrs. Kussy & Mrs. Robinson (3rd grade) from Brooks School Elementary for writing up this incredible HSE21 project to share with us, to Mrs. Patrick (BSE Media Specialist) for the video story, and to the many third graders who, through Wikispaces, are teaching the rest of us about some wonderful, insightful books!

It started as a simple collaboration between us and Mrs. Patrick and with a goal: get powerful diverse books into the hands of third graders and effectively use them to help students learn to identify a theme and support it with explicit text evidence. The books the students are reading are in the BSE Library’s collection of diverse literature which was purchased through the “Windows and Mirrors” grant — an HSE Foundation Grant that Mrs. Patrick received in 2015.

We began with three simple goals for our students. First, read and enjoy books with diversity. Second, identify the theme and support it with evidence. Third, share it beyond our classroom walls. Of course, Mrs. Patrick had a brilliant suggestion to create a class Wikispace website as the avenue to share these beautiful books and the student’s thinking and writing. Each class created its own Wiki to do just that. Students are united together in one space sharing their thoughts globally while reading diverse global texts. Students began the year sharing responses and reflections in a personal space, notebooks. Then they moved to sharing reflections via a classroom space, Seesaw. So a natural progression was to move to a global space for sharing, a Wikispace.

Weekly, students are self-selecting diverse books of interest to read and share their thinking. As they do this, they are able to add to other classmate’s posts to support their thinking with more evidence. Our next step is to have digital discussions about their affirmation or opposition to the same pieces of literature.

Throughout this entire process students have had to opportunity to discover that they are connected in some fashion with leaders of the past or present, and realistic fictional characters. Naturally, this had led us as teachers to discuss global issues being addressed through the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Along the way students are discovering leaders, real and fictional, representing cultures and diversity from all around the world and are in turn identifying these places on the world map. As we step back and analyze the work the students are involved in, it is addressing every content area and more. All of this work is “Encouraging Leaders Through Literature”.

Learn about many diverse books on our class Wikispaces!  

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ISTEP Breakout!?!

Round two of ISTEP, Indiana’s version of a state-wide, high stakes test, occurs this week. Across Indiana’s 300+ public school districts, classrooms have reviewed through all sorts of methods. Here in Fishers, skills are reviewed through collaborative, interactive and fun ways. One teacher in particular recently found a way to make skill review a fun and engaging learning experience: ISTEP BREAKOUT!

Similar to the trendy sites around town where teams of friends (or strangers) can embark on an ‘escape’ journey for a fee, Breakout in the classroom is a team activity. Student groups solve their breakout puzzle through collaborative problem solving. In the case of Mrs. Porzuczek’s class, breaking out meant solving math problems with puzzling clues – problems that reviewed important fourth grade math concepts!

Breakout kits can be purchased for classrooms now, but Mrs. P., a fourth grade teacher at Brooks School Elementary, designed her own Breakout experiences and bought her own supplies. I visited Mrs. P.’s class to ask how they liked the new review style – and, no surprise, the students loved Breakout. Just look at a few of their comments following the experience. (You can pause the slide show to read each comment fully!)

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A Day With No Bells

Student Choice Day 2Innovative. Creative. Fun! And a little bit risky. These are just a few of the terms that could describe March 3rd, the first (maybe annual?) Student Choice Day at Fishers High School.

Any teenager will tell you that in high school, their days are ruled by bells. On Student Choice Day, though, the bells were turned off. Teens lament that their days are full of “sameness”, the same classes, at the same times, day after day after day. Student Choice Day – well, it turned  routine upside down! Teaching and learning were as evident as ever on March 3rd. The process and content just got a make-over.

How did they do it? How did committed educators and some out-of-the-box thinking turn into what many students described as “the best school day EVER”? Listen in below, as FHS Assistant Principal Steve Loser (that’s a long ‘o’ sound) describes the evolution of FHS’ Student Choice Day. Then check out the mosaic of just some of the many course titles from which students could choose on March 3rd. Finally, enjoy a gallery of photos. What a day!

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March 2nd, aka…?

Dr. Seuss’ birthday, of course! At Harrison Parkway Elementary, the birthday of the beloved rhyming genius and children’s author is celebrated yearly in a big way. At HPE, March 2nd is Seussical Day! As part of her commitment to Read Across America, HPE Media Specialist Kristin Sager rolls out the red carpet every March 2nd, inviting family and community readers to come share a Seuss title. First and second grade students rotate through a half day of Seussical experiences, all designed to encourage the love of literature and reading.

Enjoy the slide show below of this year’s Seussical Day! (If reading via email distribution, click on post title to view slide show.)


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An Eagle’s Nest is HOW big???

How does a first grade class come to understand literally how big a bald eagle’s nest really is? Build a nest in the classroom, of course!

If you’ve been following HSE21 Shorts, you’ll know that Mrs. Vogel’s first grade class at Sand Creek Elementary began watching the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam in December 2016, right as eaglet E-9 was making his/her entry to the world. Watching the Eagle Cam led to lots of eagle questions – which led to research, the creation of some very authentic projects, and the sharing of learning!

How did the project unfold?  The class spent several days observing and monitoring the nest – as questions arose, the students wrote them on post-it notes. With Mrs. Vogel’s help, the class categorized their post-its and created four research groups.  Each student joined a group and became an expert on one area of eagle life. The students consulted library books, digital resources (like World Book Online), and even visited with experts from the Indianapolis Zoo via Skype to find reliable answers to their research questions.

HSE21 Shorts was thrilled to receive this invitation recently from Mrs. Vogel:

We have been researching and creating and are ready to share our learning.  We
have a life sized nest, 3D models, a video, and much more!  On Friday we are hosting
an open house for classes to come and see our project and learn about eagles. 

Check out the image gallery and video below of eagle projects and scenes from this awesome open house of learning. Mrs. Vogel’s students shared with kindergarteners and fourth graders, with administrators, parents, and teachers. All the while, of course, E-9 was on the big screen. As of this writing, E-9 has gone from a fuzz ball to feathered bird and is growing fast! He’s testing out his wings often, and should be fledging very soon. You, too, can live stream the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam here.

Thanks to the students who have taught HSE21 Shorts a great deal about bald eagles! First graders CAN, and DO!

Let’s Talk About Hunger

HSE21 recognizes the value of giving students the opportunity to consider pressing global problems – world hunger, for example. In HSE Schools, issues like world hunger are confronted in manners that are age and developmentally appropriate. For high school seniors enrolled in AP Environmental Science, confronting world (and community) hunger recently meant participating in an in-school Oxfam Hunger Banquet.


Mrs. Safi, AP Environmental Science teacher at HSE High School, used resources provided by Oxfam to host the Hunger Banquet.  Each student drew the role of a specific character  – each character had a personal story. Students sat in groups based on their characters’ economic class; each economic class shared a typical meal. Mrs. Safi led discussion as her students (role-playing the Oxfam characters) shared the stories of their lives. Before class ended, discussion circled back around to the facts of hunger – both in the world and in our local community. From the many students whose meal consisted of only rice, to the two first world students who could choose from a smorgasbord of tasty options, the Banquet was an enlightening experience for all.




Note: The AP Environmental Science curriculum is written by the College Board and approved by individual states. A description of this highly applicable course is in the box to the left.






E-9, Online!


Shot from the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam, 1/27/17.

Penguin research has become a staple for many first grade classrooms in our district. Why penguins?

“Kids love penguins. They’re cute.”
“It’s what we’ve always done. It works.”

“Our libraries have penguin books.”

You get the idea. Penguins are a high-interest topic through which young students can learn about the inquiry process. There’s nothing wrong with penguins.

But what if a more interactive research opportunity presents itself…

Check out the narrative and video snippets below to learn how Mrs. Vogel of Sand Creek Elementary took advantage of digital access to provide a connected research opportunity for her first graders! It all started when she discovered the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam, a 24-hour live stream feed of Harriet, a mama eagle, and E-9, her newborn eaglet. Mrs. Vogel continues…

…[instead of penguins] I switched [our inquiry project] to eagles so we could use the web cam as a provocation.  It’s going really well.  We’ve learned the history of Harriet and her families; we watch the web cam everyday (all day), have started researching, and have Skyped with the Indianapolis Zoo to learn more about bald eagles.  We have also started following several other eagle cams that are at different stages in their mating cycle. The students are working in groups (according to their interests) to answer some class questions and then they will decide how they want to share their learning.

The Hand-Turkey Learning Experiment

Today’s 21st century learning example originally appeared in the curriculum blog Teaching and Learning in HSE. It is reprinted here as a fun example example of what it can mean to up-end a traditional, rote activity – turning it into something creative and personally meaningful for each student. Think: student choice, student VOICE, and student-driven learning and expression. Enjoy!

The Importance of Play
by Angela Fritz, Art Department Chair, Hamilton Southeastern High School

When I was in grade school, the excitement of the holidays seemed to build in a palpable way as an impending vacation grew closer.  In an era that had a different sense of urgency, almost without fail, the day before vacation would be filled with a variety of treats and games.  Word searches and crossword puzzles, of questionable educational value but perhaps mildly attached to either our curriculum or the holiday itself, were the norm.

wyatt-fritz  My bet is you know what I’m talking about: Lay your hand down on the paper and trace around it.  The fingers become some semblance of feathers and your thumb make a neck.  As for the legs, they just had to be added.  Everybody’s hand turkey came out about the same—a lot like the teacher’s example.

As an art teacher, I can appreciate the patience involved in the cutting and staying inside the lines. I even see value in those practiced skills.  There is no question, however, that the traditional assignment lacks personal voice and relevance.  So over time, we stopped making hand turkeys.

Somewhere along the way that we moved beyond the cookie cutter crafts because they have little educational value.  For the most part, it was a time filler and not very personal, not very unique, not very relevant.  As educators, we were likely correct about that incarnation of the hand turkey assignment.

By dropping the craft project, did we also lose some of the fun, some of the excitement? Perhaps.  But what if we reinvented those mundane childhood “arts and crafts” projects and turned them into something fun and exciting but still with educational value?  Can we have it all? Can learning be fun?

My Experiment

As a teacher, I am still filled with excitement as a holiday closes in on us, for obvious reasons: time off with friends and family, time to relax and get rejuvenated.  Maybe it’s just romanticized memory, but I often have that feeling of being a little kid in school, excited about the possibility of “fun and games” the breaks bring to the school setting.

Feeling nostalgic for this pre-vacation excitement, I decided to collaborate with Dan Moosbrugger, a fellow art teacher. We decided to try for it all!  A few days before Thanksgiving, we threw down the gauntlet to our AP Drawing and Three-Dimensional Art students.  We challenged them to show us their skills and tackle the hand turkey.  Their task was to take what is a stereotypical and mundane assignment and produce something unique, something exceptional, something far from ordinary.

Our students were immediately intrigued, and the results were beyond our expectations.  They took the challenge to heart and really outdid themselves.  Their results are not only interesting, they are funny, extravagant, and full of personal voice and artistic expression.

A Rafter of Turkeys

Enjoy this gallery walk through a gobble of turkeys produced by our students.  (How many of you knew that the designation for a group of turkeys is a rafter or gobble of turkeys?)


Student 1 took a literal approach to creating a hand turkey. Student 2 tied her hand turkey to other work she is doing on feminism. Student 3 dabbled with aesthetics. All of these artists are seniors.


Student 4’s “Rubber Glove” turkey took a different approach by adding wax to Rubbermaid cleaning gloves. Student 5 used mixed metals, and Student 6 went for a humorous commentary on the life of a turkey.

You have to admit these are NOT our grade school hand turkeys.

Add Play, but with a Purpose

Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play says that, “Play energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.” My students weren’t following a teacher example.  They were seeing how far out of the water they could blow the traditional examples.  They were having fun, but they were making their work personal.  The results reflect the imagination of the students and skills we hope they developed, and they were certainly engaged in the challenge!

My point is that the value of play should not be underestimated.  There can be real value in the lighthearted play we may have long ago dismissed.  Play with a purpose belongs in school!  I have learned a lesson from this assignment.  With a little creativity and imagination, we can have both learning and play.  In fact, with creativity and imagination, the fun is in the learning.

Perhaps we should reconsider and reinvent more than just the “hand turkey.”

A Night Zoo Thank You

Dear @nightzookeeper,

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-9-05-18-amWow! What energy your recent visit brought to HSE Schools! We are so thankful that you were able to stay in Indiana for eight school days – inspiring teachers and young zookeepers to imagine, wonder and create via the written word.

To students already a part of Night Zoo, your visit was a chance to meet THE Night Zookeeper himself  (yes, you are a celebrity in these parts), and to wander through the Zoo along with you. For other children, tales of the Night Zoo have sparked creativity in writing as nothing before.

Thanks to you and your team for taking your creative idea (the Night Zoo) to the next level, and then the next…so that now our students have an opportunity not only to read a book about a night zoo, but to write and publish, and to share creative ideas with students around the world! Innovative Idea + Committed Teamwork = Children’s Creativity Unleashed!


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