Celebration Houses 1 – Connected Learning

IMG_8995This two-part story is a wonderful example of how great teachers foster deep and meaningful learning. As you read about the Celebration Houses project, notice how Indiana’s Academic Standards are addressed in ways that are inquiry-based, engaging, and authentic. Notice how student teams collaborate towards a final creative product. One more…Notice how technology was employed purposefully as a cognitive learning tool!

HSE21 Shorts asked fifth grade teachers Amber Hudson and Lisa Keaffaber, from Hamilton Southeastern Intermediate & Junior High, to take us into their ‘teacher brains’ to explain how this learning experience connected content from across the curriculum. In our next post, we’ll examine ways in which this project fostered community connections both within the classroom and throughout our city.

Q: How did this project come about?

A: It all started when Amber said, “Hey, I heard about this gingerbread house idea, and I think we should try it.”  After brainstorming some ideas on how to incorporate it into our curriculum, standards, and our students’ interests, the Gingerbread Celebration House Project was born.

Students returned from Thanksgiving break to find the classrooms transformed. In place of desks were heaps of cardboard and cardboard boxes. Hanging around the rooms were 31 QR codes with pictures, and huge sheets of paper with thought-provoking questions.

Before students could experience the room, we read two picture books: one on being an American and one on faith.  Both books focused on the beautiful differences that are among us and seen in our celebrations of faith.  After experiencing the songs, dances, videos, and pictures of the various holidays via the QR codes and pictures, each student uploaded a video to FlipGrid explaining which celebrations they found most interesting. This is how we determined which student would construct which house.

IMG_9008Q: What were your goals for the project?

A: Our goals were to give students an awareness and appreciation of cultural celebrations from around the world that occur throughout the year AND to have them share their understanding with the people of Fishers.

Though many families in our district do celebrate Christmas, other important holidays are celebrated by families in our classroom and around the world that are also significant and special.

Q: How did the learning experience align with academic standards? 

In humanities class, social studies is incorporated into reading and writing. Through reading, students discovered both similarities and differences they had with other students’ traditions.  For example, light (as in candles and strands of lights) are a common feature in holidays for Buddhists, Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

Here is a sample of Indiana Academic Standards for humanities subjects that were addressed in this project:

Reading standards

  • Determine two or more main ideas of a text.
  • Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more events, ideas, or concepts based on specific information in the text.
  • Combine information from several texts or digital sources on the same topic in order to demonstrate knowledge about the subject.
  • Determine the meaning of general academic and content-specific words and phrases in a nonfiction text relevant to a fifth grade topic or text.

Writing standards:

  •  Introduce a topic; organize sentences and paragraphs logically, using an organizational form that suits the topic.
  • Employ sufficient examples, facts, quotations, or other information from various sources and texts to give clear support for topics.
  • Connect ideas within and across categories using transition words (e.g., therefore, in addition).
  • Include text features (e.g., formatting, pictures, graphics) and multimedia when useful to aid comprehension.

In STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) class, math and science are interwoven for a more real world experience. Constructing and decorating the Celebration Houses became an authentic means through which students could practice STEM skills. Students used the engineering design process to develop a viable structure for their house; they then applied their skills to construct and decorate their houses.  Hands on.  The engagement was through the roof — literally!

Math standards:

  • Multiply multi-digit whole numbers fluently using a standard algorithmic approach.
  • Add, subtract, multiply, and divide decimals to hundredths, using models or drawings and strategies based on place value or the properties of operations.  Describe the strategy and explain the reasoning.
  • Solve real-world problems involving multiplication and division of whole numbers and decimals
  • Find the area of a rectangle with fractional side lengths by modeling with unit squares of the appropriate unit fraction side lengths, and show that the area is the same as would be found by multiplying the side lengths.  Multiply fractional side lengths to find areas of rectangles, and represent fraction products as rectangular areas.

Enjoy the Celebration House photos below, and be on the lookout for Celebration Houses 2, as the Celebration Houses head out to the Fishers community!


Surgeon General

Dr. AdamsWelcome back, HSE21 Shorts readers! We begin the new school year with a timely real world connection. A member of our community, Dr. Jerome Adams, was recently confirmed as the new Surgeon General of the United States! Before Dr. Adams is sworn in next week in Washington, D.C., he graciously took time to interact with students at Geist Elementary and HSE High Schools.



At Geist, Dr. Adams spoke with second, third and fourth grade students about components of healthy living. There’s something especially powerful when the nation’s top doctor talks about turning off the TV and getting outside in the sunshine! And if the nation’s Top Doc does push ups…

In the high school setting, Dr. Adams spoke to students from Biomedical Project Lead the Way courses as well as the Black Student Union, We the People, and several government classes.  In preparation for his visit, Dr. Adams had teachers and students read this CDC article on recent public health achievements – these achievements, as well as continuing public health challenges, provided the basis for great discussion between Dr. Adams and the students.

Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 2.49.26 PMHSE21 Shorts asked teachers to describe Dr. Adams’ impact. Here are responses from Biomedical Innovations teacher Ashly Heckly:

Aside from just having a ‘title’, Dr. Adams seems to speak to significant pressing issues. What will you be able to tie in to your curriculum from his talk?
In Biomedical Innovations we are currently studying public health at the local, national, and global levels. We have been discussing the top five health issues of the 21st century, what the solution would be to these issues, and what would have to happen in order to make these solutions a reality. During this unit, we will also be studying the work of epidemiologists and how they analyze patient symptoms, test results, and other clues to successfully pinpoint the specific nature of the disease and the source. Students will end the unit by writing and presenting a grant proposal outlining an intervention plan for a particular disease, illness, or injury. Dr. Adams gave students a ‘from the field’ perspective that help them see how applicable what they are studying is to real life!

What was the reaction of the students to Dr. Adams?
Dr. Adams discussed the opiod epidemic and his conversations with high school students that are addicted to heroin. It shocked the students to hear of high school students being addicted because that is not the face that comes to mind when they think of drug addicts. They also didn’t realize that they could become addicted after only doing a drug one time and that many people are becoming addicted after taking prescription medication prescribed to them by their doctor.

The students appreciated that Dr. Adams offered them multiple view points when discussing different issues. It helped them realize that these issues are very complex and that the answers aren’t always black and white.

Dr Adams GeistThe students also admired Dr. Adams’ outstanding character traits. They were so grateful that he stayed to talk and take a picture with each student that waited in line. They were also amazed at how humble he is even though he has many great achievements.

Thank you, Dr. Adams, for your generosity of time and talents in our community. We wish you much success as you lead the charge to find solutions to our nation’s most serious and pressing health issues.

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.






Changing Lives Through Global Connections

MURCH1Brooks School Elementary connected educator Amy Murch has always been a pioneer when it comes to bringing the world to her classroom. Last year, Murch’s fourth graders participated in the Skype 50 State Challenge – racking up a total of 45 states and 5 countries! Through forums such as Skype Education and Twitter, Mrs. Murch and her students have taught Irish students about Genius Hour, celebrated creativity on International Dot Day, learned principles of flight from a NASA researcher, and written a blog post for world explorer Justin Miles. Night Zookeeper has become the class’ portal for writing enrichment; and this week, Murch’s fourth graders are gearing up for the Global Read Aloud, in which students from over sixty nations will connect through literature.

All that to say, by becoming a global connected educator herself, Mrs. Murch has developed quite an expertise in connecting her students — and is now helping other teachers learn to connect their classrooms as well. Don’t miss Amy’s new article on using Twitter in the classroom at ChangeKidsLives.org.

Then download the Murch-inspired Twitter for Educators Infographic (shown below) here:  Twitter+for+Beginners+PDF

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The Future of Fishers: Students Visit With the Mayor

unnamedHamilton Southeastern High School students in Katie Gelhar’s government and current issues classes made some real world connections when Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness recently visited to talk with the teens about the growth of Fishers and what’s in store for the future.

Mayor Fadness gave a basic overview of how our town–now city–has developed, and described his own journey to become very first mayor of the City of Fishers.  The students asked great questions of Mayor Fadness. Students queried the Mayor on topics current issues like mass transit, jobs, and their future as Fishers residents.

The students were also curious for details of new innovations and changes that are on the horizon here in Hamilton County and Fishers in particular. The Mayor explained some of the new traffic patterns and roundabouts added to I-69 at 106th Street.  He shared his vision to create a unique community, with features such as  farm-to-table restaurants and community art.  He also spoke about a new sports complex announced recently that will house a hockey rink and thirty-two basketball courts.  The city will be leasing 12 courts for the community to use.

Thank you, Mayor Fadness, for sharing your expertise–allowing young adults in our Fishers community to connect their in-class learning to real world processes, experiences, and challenges!

BYOD Countdown: Learning From Other Schools

In a few short months, both district high schools, Hamilton Southeastern HS and Fishers HS, will begin a new adventure. It’s called BYOD–that’s short for Bring Your Own Device. When school begins in August of this year (2015), each student in grades 9-12 will bring a tablet or laptop to school on a daily basis. The access and connection made possible through one-to-one digital tools will allow teachers to deepen and extend learning beyond classroom walls. Schools throughout the state and nation have made this move from print to digital, understanding the power that digital access gives students–through the world wide web, our children have the opportunity to connect with experts around the globe, help tackle real-world problems, and much more. Learning becomes authentic.

IMG_0509HSE’s August 2015 BYOD roll out is the culmination of several years of research, strategic planning, and practical preparation. For our school district, part of this preparation has included visiting other schools and districts throughout Indiana, especially those that have gone before us in this major curricular shift. The image here is of a recent visit to Brebeuf, a nearby high school already in its third year of a BYOD program. The group of HSE and Brebeuf teachers and educators spent half a day relating experiences, discussing concerns, and learning from one another. Just as collaboration among students deepens learning, so it is with teachers. Our teachers hope to continue the relationships that have begun with Brebeuf’s educators, and with today’s digital tools, continuing conversations are just a mouse click away.

The Music of HSE21, Part 1

If you are an elementary music teacher in Hamilton Southeastern Schools, your ‘class’ is literally the entire school! You have the privilege of teaching every first through fourth grade student in the building; yet, compared to a classroom teacher, you don’t see your students very  often. Elementary students rotate through music class only one or two times per week. In the past, this hasn’t left much time to practice new instrumental skills, or vocal selections for school programs.

Enter the 21st century! With a strong desire to deepen and enrich their music programs, several elementary music teachers recently put their creative problem-solving skills (HSE21!) to work, looking for ways to provide their students with content beyond their one or two music classes each week. In the next several days, HSE21 Shorts will highlight several of these dynamic music teachers.

Suleman Hussain, oScreen Shot 2015-02-12 at 12.00.46 PMf Cumberland Road Elementary, has developed several online spaces through which he highlights student learning, shares lessons with parents, and gives students information to practice musical skills and pieces. Mr. Hussain keeps lessons up-to-date on Google Drive in grade level folders, accessible to parents and students 24-7. Through his YouTube channel within HSE’s domain, parents now have a window Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 12.02.55 PMinto music class–they can see and hear what their children are singing and playing–who knows, children may even be teaching their parents a song or two! Mr. Hussain also uses YouTube to post tutorials, a breakdown of the newest xylophone song, for example.

Through digital tools for learning, music teachers like Suleman have found creative ways to extend the classroom, reaching students–and parents–with music class content, musical skills, and engaging musical activities for families to enjoy. #HSE21

Modeling Positive Social Media Use With Twitter

In yesterday’s post, HSE21 Shorts highlighted ways elementary teachers are using Twitter to share classroom happenings with parents ‘in the moment’. Today we turn to high school, to see how teachers of our district’s teens are using this digital communication platform to their advantage as well. The biggest difference–instead of  a target audience of parents, high school teachers’ tweets are often aimed at the students themselves! With 59% of U.S. teens on Twitter (possibly more in the Fishers community), the social media mega-site is an excellent way for teachers to get their messages out.

What types of messages do teachers communicate through Twitter?

Some tweets contain study tips:
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Some have links to assignment details: 
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And many are just downright encouraging!
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In an era in which oversharing and meanness can be rampant online, high school teachers are finding ways to model respectable and worthwhile social media use.

#digitalcitizenship #rolemodels

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Twitter in the Classroom?!

When my children were young, reading class newsletters was always a highlight. These newsletters were my window into the learning activities my children had been experiencing throughout a given week. Weekly newsletters prompted great interaction at home, because I then had ideas of questions to ask my children about their learning! But I had to wait until Friday.

Today’s digital tools, however, have changed the communication game. Through social media, communication happens simply and quickly–even ‘in the moment’. Some of HSE’s elementary teachers are making the most of new digital communication venues to give parents glimpses into their children’s learning in nearly real-time.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 2.34.03 PMTwitter has become the preferred venue for real-time classroom communication. With a quick camera click, a short typed phrase, and an ‘upload’, a teacher can give his/her students’ families a window into learning that day. Instead of dinner conversation like this:

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 2.31.41 PMMom: “What did you do in school today, Jimmy?”

Jimmy: “I dunno. Stuff. It was fun.”

Conversation suddenly becomes much richer:

Mom: Jimmy! I heard that your class Skyped Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 2.28.18 PMwith a third-grade class in Alaska today. Was that fun?”

Jimmy: “Yeah! Their class had 28 people and they get to wear snow shoes to school sometimes and once they had a moose on their playground and…”

You get the idea. Using digital tools to deepen the home-school connection. Another aspect Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 2.29.46 PMof HSE21.

A Peek Into the Socratic Seminar


The Socratic Seminar is often thought of as a discussion tool–a way to foster student dialogue around important topics–much like its namesake, Socrates, instigated  thought and dialogue around the issues of his day. While true, this statement leaves much unsaid. In reality, the classroom Socratic Seminar, when well-planned and executed, fosters important reading and comprehension skills, helps students build and communicate evidence-based arguments, all in addition to helping students deeply consider the complexities of the topic at hand.

IMG_0238Karl Knerr, sixth grade language arts teacher at Fall Creek Intermediate School, describes how the process unfolds in his class: “Students read articles closely, identify and underline the author’s claim/central idea of the text, highlight textual evidence that supports the claim, and mark the text.  Next, they create 2-3 good interpretive questions that they will use during the discussion (these should also be supported with textual evidence).”

IMG_0225When discussion day arrives, students have already digested the articles and formed questions  that will guide discussion. . They have a basic understanding of the broad issue/topic addressed (albeit still from only their own perspective). By this time in the school year, Mr. Knerr’s students know what is expected of them during a Socratic Seminar. They’ve learned about sensitivity to other points of view, about the importance of listening as well as speaking, and about giving evidence to support their claims. IMG_0216In observing a recent Socratic Seminar in Mr. Knerr’s class, HSE21 Shorts was amazed at the natural ebb and flow of the conversation amongst these eleven- and twelve-year-olds, and at how politely and intently they listened to their peers, even to the point of purposefully creating space in the conversation for the quieter students to be heard.

“What I’ve seen from our Socratic discussions,” remarked Mr. Knerr,  “is a deeper understanding about ideas and values in the text through different points-of-view. Students question and examine issues related to what they’ve read, and connect to the Indiana Academic standards we are currently studying.  We constantly analyze, interpret, listen, and participate with our peers to gain knowledge.  Students think out loud and share ideas openly while exploring deeper issues in the text.  They often make great connections between the texts as well.”