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!

Those HSE21 Shoes!

IMG_1721In traditional classrooms, character trait study likely consisted of a teacher lesson (read: lecture) to explain the term ‘character trait’, followed by individual seat work. Students would sit quietly at their desks, read a story alone, and then write a paragraph about the story’s characters and their traits. Students’ written work would be graded and sent home in a folder. The end.

Take a peek into HSE21 classrooms, though, and what you’ll see is completely different! HSE21 means that character study – indeed all academic content – is presented in active, student-centered ways that lead to deeper learning. What does does HSE21 look like in the classroom? Consider this recent HSE21 example of character trait study:

At Thorpe Creek Elementary, third grade teacher Mrs. Muegge introduced character traits to her students through  an HSE21 lens. Following her interactive mini-lesson, Muegge asked student pairs to choose books for their own character studies. Partners considered the characters in their stories and, with Muegge’s guidance and help, decided on traits that best exemplified each. Students then created, shared, and discussed presentations and what they’d learned. Here’s a final product, created and shared by Aariyah and Gabrielle:

While staying true to the academic standards, HSE21 teaching and learning turns the traditional quiet classroom into a vibrant learning lab.

  • Student Choice – Which book would you like to use for this project?
  • Collaboration – Let’s work with partners to analyze the characters; we can learn from each other!
  • Engagement and Creativity – Design a presentation to teach us what you learned!
  • Extension of Learning – We’ll post our presentations and share our learning with each other and those beyond our classroom walls!

In which type of classroom would you rather learn?


School Start Time Question = Project-Based Learning Opportunity

Students in Mr. Hamm’s Language Arts classroom at Riverside Intermediate were learning about non-fiction reading strategies when a Problem Based Learning (PBL) opportunity presented itself following the reading of one specific text.  An article about the benefits of adjusting school start times for teenage students sparked a discussion on why Hamilton Southeastern Schools is fighting mother-nature.  The discussion led to a PBL experience for the students entitled School Start Times in HSE.

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Students were put into collaborative groups tasked with the problem, “How do we better serve the students of HSE based on scientific research regarding school start times?”  After a few weeks of working, students were required to present their research and solution to their peers.  While all groups did a fantastic job, two specific groups stood out and were allowed to collaborate toward a final presentation that was made to the HSE School Board in May 2015.  The students used their digital tools to develop a presentation that impressed the school board members.  While there is no guarantee that times will be changing for the students in HSE, the process students used were focused on the goals of HSE21.

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

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

GES: A Marketplace of Learning

Geist Elementary School students and faculty have come together this spring to impact their community! As a school-wide project-based learning experience, classroom pairs have collaborated on products for the GES Marketplace, set to take place on March 31st. Watch this clip to learn more!




Shark Tank…with Heart

IMG_0771This week’s Shark Tank at HSE High School was not a literal pool of Great Whites, but a lecture hall filled with peers and several sharks, community members who volunteered their time to listen to students pitch Genius Hour projects-in-development. Teachers Kelsey Habig and Jill McGrath have spent the last several months helping their eleventh-grade English students design and conduct research for individual projects based on each student’s individual interests and passions.

IMG_0791The next step in this learning process has been for students to offer up their plans to an authentic audience for comments and suggestions. School board members, business owners, and others have made up the HSEHS Shark Tank. Unlike ABC’s Shark Tank, though, these Sharks weren’t invited to invest in entrepreneur wannabes. The local Sharks were in the audience to listen–to ask probing questions and to provide helpful feedback: “Have you thought about what might happen if you…?” “What about contacting ___? Their office might have some resources to get you started.” “I love your energy and passion–now what might your action steps be?”

IMG_0803By the time most students reach high school, they are used to being called upon to answer questions in class and to present projects to classmates. To stand on a stage before an audience of peers and adults, however, in order to present individual work based on personal interests and passions–this is very new. Students shared from their hearts, backing up their project designs with data and research. Whether a project sprung out of a need connected to a personal past time, an issue observed in the school community, or a cultural concern with global ramifications, students revealed their ability to analyze and come up with creative solutions to real-world problems. HSE21 Shorts can’t wait to see the follow-through!

The 21st Century Research Project: Literacy Instruction on Steroids

As an education major in the 20th century, I was schooled in four components of literacy instruction: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. These were foundational. They still are. In today’s world, though, additional literacies, sort-of ‘sub-category’ literacies, are vital as well. Depending on your source, there’s visual literacy, media literacy, and multimedia literacy. Add digital literacy, technological literacy, and (my favorite) information literacy. Clearly, these overlap; but the implication is obvious: today’s teachers have a lot of ground to cover in preparing their students to be fully-literate adults!

Sixth-grader Samie argues that smoking be banned in public places. Her great preparation and depth of research earned her a perfect score on the project!

Sixth-grader Samie argues that smoking be banned in public places. Her great preparation and depth of research earned her a perfect score on the project!

In the traditional or ‘old school’ research project, students read and write. They choose a topic, find information (remember the 100 notecards?), organize that information, and write a paper. The best research projects today, however, require students to practice both traditional and 21st century literacies–so much so that I call these projects literacy-instruction-on-steroids!  Great teachers are adept at designing projects through which students get to delve into every named aspect of literacy, and more.

Mr. Gutwein used the topic of pizza to demonstrate the mapping app Popplet for his students.

Mr. Gutwein used the topic of pizza to demonstrate the mapping app Popplet for his students.

Here’s an example: In their recent unit on persuasion, Aaron Gutwein’s sixth-graders at Riverside Intermediate first chose their own topics (all were current issues). They conferenced one-on-one with Gutwein, who guided each student to formulate a ‘big idea’ and direction for research. Students did lots of deep thinking as they sought information, mapped out arguments, gathered feedback, tweaked their plans, again sought information—over and over in a recursive process of multi-layered literacy instruction. Students used digital tools to access and organize information, and to build creative presentations. They shared their findings with peers.

Some key results of the project:

  • A deeper understanding of current issues, along with their nuances and complexities.
  • An understanding of how and where to find valid information, and what it means to make evidenced-based claims.
  • And, of course, practice in literacy skills, both the old and the new.

Student Choice Makes Learning Meaningful

Riverside Intermediate fifth graders in Jenny Nance’s Humanities class have just finished a unit studying Native American regions. In planning the lessons and activities, Mrs. Nance was committed to offering options to engage all of her students–to tap the various interests, talents, and abilities of her young learners. Nance’s overarching goal: for every student to engage with and understand Native American history and culture in an enduring way.

Nance1The resulting project combined research, teamwork, creativity, presentation and choice, and was a smash hit with the fifth graders! Following mini-lesson introductions to the unit’s topics, student teams were formed. Through research and discovery, each team became the class experts on one native american region. Students were given choice in how they’d present their learning to the class–dramatic presentations, Minecraft creations, artworks and life-sized displays were all used to convey important facts and concepts to classmates. Throughout the presentations, Mrs. Nance served as Guide, helping to weave essential elements of all regions into a unified whole.

Active, student-driven learning – that’s HSE21!

Day 58 – The 2014 World’s Fair, HSE Style

GehlarWorldsFairWho invented the traffic light? And…how do today’s high-tech traffic systems differ from those first simple signals? When did household mechanical appliances appear on the domestic scene? How did they become mainstream, and how have they changed with the times? The Gilded Age saw the patenting of many new products and the birth of corporations. But how did Americans and consumers worldwide find out about the newest and grandest innovations? One way was through World’s Fairs.

Especially between the 1870s and 1930s, multiple World’s Fairs and Expositions showcased inventions of the modern world, both useful and trendy, and predicted innovations of the future (not always very accurately!). At Hamilton Southeastern High School, Mrs. Gelhar-Bruce’s U.S. History classes recently recreated a World’s Fair as part of their study of this historical era. Students, working individually or in pairs, investigated the birth and development of an innovation that was meaningful to them. During the project culmination, the Gelhar-Bruce World Exposition, students presented their products and inventions to classmates. Each student or group chose their topic and presentation mode, keys to fostering student engagement. The Gelhar-Bruce World’s Fair saw ‘in person’ marketing plugs, commercials, graphic representations, and even 3-D then-and-now recreations of inventions. Active, personalized learning that connects the past with students’ present experience. That’s HSE21 learning!