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!


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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How Do Our Kids View Technology – Toy or Tool?

The thoughts below are my own; they are not intended to represent the views of HSE Schools.

A decade ago, when Facebook was new and my children were on the cusp of adolescence, my husband and I had decisions to make. These weren’t new decisions, merely the next phase of parenting conversations we’d had periodically over the years. Our essential question went something like this: What did we, as a family, believe about media and technology, and what would be the parameters of media use in our home? 

Thomas-FriendsIn 1989, when Eli made his appearance, ‘media’ meant time spent watching Sesame Street, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Reading Rainbow on PBS. In Eli’s preschool years, he adored Thomas the Train; but there was never a danger of media overload…Thomas was only broadcast for one half hour a day. Digital parenting was easy.

Several years passed. Media options were exploding, and our now three children seemed to gravitate toward any and every screen in eyeball range. We 97749_frontWhere_in_Time_is_Carmen_Sandiego-_1997_Coverresisted cable television, choosing instead to spend our media time playing Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? and Reader Rabbit on the desktop. My husband and I did have to set computer time limits, but screen time still had a clear definition (time watching media or playing digital games) and it was still easy for us, as parents, to maintain parameters.

Navigating the digital world  is not so easy for parents in 2016.  In the years since my children were young, digital tools have become woven so intricately into modern society, and into our personal and professional lives, that the concept of screen time as my children experienced it is now obsolete. It is no longer wise – or even possible – to assent to one hour of media time, head for the  kitchen, and call it good. If we leave our children to experience media without us, we risk a host of bad things. But the flipside is also true, if we leave our children to experience media without us, we miss great potential for family togetherness and relationship-building. We miss out on the amazing things that digital access has to offer.

Current technology brings the potential to create, connect and learn deeply as never before. Via broadband access, we can video chat with Grandma who lives far away. We can research the type of dog that we hope to adopt, and we can make a digital scrapbook of our family camping trip.  Web applications allow us to observe the tiniest of microscopic processes and glimpse the breadth of outer space.

Perhaps in 2016 a new approach to screen time is in order. Instead of asking, How much screen time is ‘safe’ for my children?,   we should ask,  How will we as a family use media and technology to deepen our relationships and learn together? This new approach shifts the focus of technology from media minutes to quality of content, and it will foster our children’s understanding that digital devices are tools, not toys. An iPad shouldn’t be thought of as an entertainment device or a reward for good behavior; all connected devices – smart phones, tablets, laptops, and whatever is to come – should be seen as powerful productivity, learning, and creation tools.

If our children are to grow up with wise media and technology habits, shouldn’t we, their parents and teachers, be the ones to teach and guide them in this arena?