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!


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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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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First Grade Photographers: Solving the “iPads on Study Trips” Dilemma

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-4-02-35-pmPersonal digital tools have opened up a plethora of creative possibilities for HSE’s youngest learners this year. Among them is the ability to document discoveries on class study trips (aka, field trips). Instead of just telling mom or granddad what we learned at the farm, we can now take photos, record audio, and research our wonderings on the spot – then share everything we learned with friends and relatives! And yet…for six-year-olds, some study trips just don’t lend easily themselves to carrying iPads around all day. What’s a 21st-century educator to do?

Mrs. Vogel, first grade teacher Sand Creek Elementary, has come up with a splendid idea for these hike-intensive adventures: Study Trip Photographers! SCE’s first grade team had two study trips planned this fall, both of which would [and did] require lots of walking. In fact,  last week’s trip to Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve involved hiking through muddy and swampy woods – not the place to drop an iPad (even one in a protective case)! Instead of having every student carry their iPad on the two fall study trips, though, Mrs. Vogel had designated trip ‘photographers’ – five students who brought their iPads and were responsible for documenting the day’s learning with media. Each study trip had different photographers; by year’s end each student in Mrs. Vogel’s class will have had the opportunity to play this role.

Once back at school, trip photographers worked together in a small group (with adult assistance) to combine their images and produce one class movie of the adventure. Both fall trip flicks have been shared online and have been a catalyst for continued learning. The Ritchey Woods study trip production is shared below.

Note:  Yes, Mrs. Vogel did hang onto the iPads through the swamp – but instead of 28, she only had to carry 5!

Reinventing School Libraries – Makerspace!

Makerspaces are a natural evolution for libraries. We need to make the resources available to our students that will help guide their inquiry and exploration. Who can predict what our students will create when given the space and tools necessary?

– Phil Goerner in School Library Journal

What is a makerspace? Essentially, a makerspace is a physical area, often in a library, that is set aside and laden with diverse materials for student exploration. Students are encouraged to create,  design, imagine and problem solve as they choose. Makerspaces provide a natural environment where creativity and critical thinking happen naturally.

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Many HSE school media centers are developing makerspaces. At Fishers Elementary, media specialist Cristie Ondrejack has designed a makerspace around three verbs: Create. Solve. Design.

In the Create area, students use a variety of art supplies to create whatever they can imagine. Solve challenges students to use their critical thinking skills to tackle puzzles, riddles, and logic problems. Perseverance is a goal here! Design encourages students to explore with Legos, K’Nex, Magnetix, Marble Maze and other building supplies. Students collaborate as they envision, plan and build.

Later in the year, HSE21 Shorts will bring you stories of makerspaces at other building levels in the district. Who knows what future inventions or discoveries will be found to have originated in an HSE makerspace!


A New Beat in Music Class

fcemusicThanks to FCE Music Teacher Marcia Abraham for sharing the innovation taking place in her Music classes at Fall Creek Elementary this fall! Mrs. Abraham is one of 23 elementary teacher ‘pioneers’ this year. As part of the Elementary Design Team, these teachers – from across the district – are discovering how iPads can support inquiry and problem-based learning in their classrooms. Click here to be taken to the FCE Music Blog. You’ll learn more about this new beat in music class, as well as hear some samples of student-created music.

Animal Adaptations

Thank you to Riverside Intermediate science teacher Liz Bradley for sharing the engaging way that her students applied their new knowledge of physical and behavioral adaptations in the animal kingdom! This assignment gave students choice and allowed for their own creativity as they demonstrated their understanding of concepts learned. 

“For this assignment we were studying behavioral adaptations and physical adaptations in science.  The children were asked to download the app Puppet Pals 2 and I let them play around with the app for about 5 minutes the day before we started the project.  I did this so they were comfortable with the app.  On the day that we made the videos, I had the children search for an animal of their choice and screen shot the picture.  Then they were able to upload the picture from their photos into Puppet Pals as their background.  I told the children that they needed to use the puppets to point out one physical and one behavioral adaptation.  The children then uploaded their videos to our class YouTube account.”

Check out this example!

And click this link for a second example!

Sphero – From Club to Classroom

Yesterday HSE21 Shorts featured a new club at Fall Creek Intermediate School: Club Sphero. Club Sphero is essentially a computer coding experience where, as sponsor Brad Lowell puts it, “the learning is disguised within the fun”! 

What’s especially exciting to those of us who’ve followed Hour of Code (and realized what an essential skill coding can be), is the possibilities Sphero brings to the classroom. I asked Mr. Lowell how he and his colleagues plan to integrate Spheros and coding into their curriculum in the future.

Have you used the Spheros in class as well? Or just during the after school club?

We are planning on using Spheros much more next year in the classroom. Here are just some ideas we have brainstormed, based on our particular academic standards:

  • Ecosystems: Sphero tag to demonstrate predator prey relationships, classification, or invasive species
  • Space: Coding moon phases; coding or creating orbits of planets; demonstrating the process of nuclear fusion in the sun where the Spheros are coded as atoms or photons; coding rotation vs. revolution and/or elliptical orbits.
  • Matter: Spheros representing the particles in states of matter. I’m going to try this, see the attached picture.phase changes…using Spheros to represent subatomic particles when given an element.there’s got to be something we could do with physical and chemical changes.
  • Technology: Engineering lunar rovers (Sphero powered) to navigate the moon’s surface (in sand); engineering boat/barges to transport mass over a distance; engineering Indy 500 racers to compete in a race in May; engineering Sphero semi-chariots to carry mass; coding obstacle course.
  • Social Studies: Sphero racing to states and capitals on our outdoor recess concrete map.
  • Math: Coordinate graph racing (race to a given set of ordered pairs) coding regular and irregular figures.

And one final question for Mr. Lowell:

What, from a teacher’s perspective, has been the best thing about this endeavor?

The kids are picking up coding quickly and are really enjoying engineering around the Sphero.  I love seeing them get excited about their learning.  They like having the power to control their own designing and learning.


To learn more about computer coding as a 21st century skill, check out the website of Code.org.

For more details on how objects like Sphero can help develop coding skills, visit the Sphero website.