Friday, December 19, 2014

Podcast: Pitch Day and the Evolution of School

In this episode, we talk about Pitch Day, the kids' ideas and how schools must evolve or perish.  Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Photos from Pitch Day 2014-15

The kids were nervous and excited but they did beautifully. Most of the kids dressed up, and all of the kids delivered on their pitch. The committee was impressed with the variety of ideas for the upcoming projects and the thought that was put into this set of project ideas.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Podcast: Hour of Code and Pitch Prep

In this episode, we talk about the Hour of Code and practicing for Pitch Day. Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

The Coding Revolution

Yesterday our kids participated in the Hour of Code. We joined six of our very talented colleagues (Sheri Wells, Sherri Rachal, Rob Rambach, Patrick Dempsey, Ashley Coffman and Jason Heisel) in planning seven different coding sessions that the kids could choose to attend. The sessions ranged from a Google Hangout with a high school coding class to robotics to coding sites ( and These kinds of opportunities only come around once in a while, so we jumped on this one with no hesitation. We found that the kids, for the most part, love the variety of sessions and latched on to at least one of them.

Some of our team kiddos have now decided to change their 20% Time projects to ones that involved coding in one way or another. Many of the kids seem to have found their niche in school now that they have been exposed to coding. Kids who were doing work, but not excited about it, are now coming to school early or staying late to code. They are also collaborating on different coding events and sharing all of their learning. These kiddos are more excited about what they are building with code than we have seen them about anything else so far this year. The beautiful thing is that, almost accidentally, we have been able to provide kids with an opportunity to learn about something that they really want to do. Here are some photos from yesterday's Hour of Code.

Pitch Perfect Preparation

One of the things we wish we would have done differently last year during 20% Time is help the kids prepare for their pitch presentation a bit more. This year, we tweaked the process a little by tapping the expertise of Carin Gado, our Chorus teacher at Hixson. Carin has a great deal of experience with public speaking, being on-stage, and selling an idea to an audience. To that end, the kids worked with Carin on pubic speaking, cadence, projecting and stage presence in a small environment. Here are some of the photos from the kids' experience today.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Podcast: Pitch Prep

In this episode, we talk about the preparations for Pitch Day, the videos that kids are making for their Pitch Presentation and the Hour of Code.  Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

Thursday, December 4, 2014

What's the Big Idea?

With Pitch Day quickly approaching, kids are firming up their ideas and creating their Pitch Videos. The videos are important because they serve as a commercial for the idea. Each student/group will show the commercial to the Pitch Committee and then speak about the idea for a few minutes afterwards. The video is the first impression that the committee has regarding the kids' ideas. It is important that each video represents a "best foot forward" for the kiddos. Therefore, they are hard at work. Most are using Animoto but some are going with WeVideo or Wideo. Regardless of what product they are using, they are creating.

One recent development is that some of the kids who were having trouble coming up with an idea, have, almost by accident, turned to coding. We had been talking about the Hour of Code (we are participating) and some kids have played around with it, become addicted to it, and decided that their 20% Time project will focus on learning code and creating something with it, bet it a game, app, site, etc. A few of the kids have even been coming to school early so they can work on coding tutorials before school.

While last year we had some great projects, there were also some that were lacking. This year, maybe because we put more time into thinking about ideas, all of the projects seem more solid. The more we hear about the project ideas, the more we are impressed with them. Most of the projects revolve around creating something new, transforming something that already exists, service projects, or long-term personal projects like writing a novel. We are very excited to see the work that occurs during the next week as kids finalize their pitches and prepare for their presentation. We will have lots to share after Pitch Day.

Monday, November 24, 2014

That Sounds Like Fun

Generating ideas for 20% Time projects is always tricky. Many times kids just grab onto the first idea they come up with and don't put much thought into how they will sustain it all year long. That's why we have put a lot of time into idea generation this year. We want the kids to work through the first impulse ideas and move on to something they can really sink their teeth into. Most kids have been really successful in coming up with ideas and all of them are based on their natural curiosity and interests. Jimmy was having trouble coming up with an idea and, when asked, he said, "I'm having anxiety about it."

"If you didn't have to come to school, what would you do all day?" I asked.

"Lay on the couch and sleep," he replied.

"That gets old after a while. What would you do after a few days of that?" I asked.

"Play hockey with my friend," Jimmy said.

"I know you're into sports. Is hockey the sport you're into the most?" I pressed.

"No, football. Well, and baseball. Football first, then baseball," he said.

"So if your project could deal with some aspect of football and baseball, you'd be into that?" I asked.

Jimmy went on to talk about Fantasy Football, how he spends hours pouring over players and stats to assemble his team. He pulled out his phone and read off his roster to me. It was pretty impressive. I asked if he was thinking of doing anything like that. He said that he'd love to be a General Manager of an NFL team. I introduced him to the old Street and Smith magazines (the sports yearbooks), explained the concepts of those magazines to him, and asked if he's like to do something like that. The concept of those magazines is to write analyses of each NFL team, critiquing the offense, defense and special teams of each team, predicting finishes for the year and suggesting personnel moves. He said, "That doesn't sound like work. That sounds like fun." What Jimmy, and most kids, don't understand, is that the most rewarding work always seems like fun. Those of us who find themselves in the most rewarding jobs always think of them as "fun" and not drudgery.

For his project, Jimmy will put together, based on his evaluation of each NFL and National League baseball team, a "magazine" site analyzing each team's strengths, weaknesses and personnel needs. I am eager to see how he approaches this project and carries it out. He is excited about it, and I am excited to see what he does with it. - Don

Monday, November 17, 2014

Podcast: Blogging and Pitch Day

In this episode, we talk about blogging, Pitch Day, and the power of the student voice. Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Learning Goes On and On

Last year, Steve's 20% Time project was to develop a line of fishing lures. He had a lot of successes and failures along the way and his learning was amazing. He blogged the entire story at Later, he created a web store so that he could sell his lures online. That site is up and running here

Earlier in the day, Steve's eighth grade science teacher, Patrick Dempsy, sent a message to me with a picture attached. The picture depicted a mold of a new lure that Steve created and printed on the school's 3D printer. The learning with these kids never ends.  - Don

Building the Blogs

After editing blog posts, it was time to post them on the student 20% Time blogs for all the world to see. Kids were hustling all period to make their final edits and upload. When they were done uploading the post, they busied themselves by critiquing the design elements of the blog itself, deciding which gadgets they needed and wanted, and getting some peer feedback on their blog design.

"What if we don't even have our idea yet?" a student asked.

"You still have to blog. You have to tell the story of the decision-making process. What ideas do you have? Are they good? Plausible? Do you feel passionate about an idea?" I asked.

And so, whether or not each student had an idea for their 20% Time project, they still all blogged their journey to come up with an idea about which they feel passionate. "You can change the title of your blog later once you have your idea but people want to read about the thinking that went into arriving at that decision," I told the class.

The kids worked. Some kids struggled, both with their idea and the technology. After all, Blogger is a new tool for them. All in all, it was a busy day. - Don

Saturday, November 8, 2014

We Have Missed the Point

It is Saturday night and as I am sitting watching a movie with my kiddos, a thought for a blog post came to me.  So here I go.....

I know I am luckier than most in my job situation.  Though I didn't choose to go into education right away in college; I declared pretty early on in my college career.  I have always known that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others and knew in education I could do that.  Now at first, I thought it was going to be like the movies, "Dangerous Minds" or "The Ron Clark Story" and I was going to go into a school and inspire kids unlike anyone else before me.  I, obviously, had my rose-colored glasses on, thinking I was going to change the life of every student I would come to teach.  I still have the desire but I realize that even if I only make a difference in just one of my students' lives, my career was successful.  I love my job, every minute of it, and don't regret becoming a teacher at any moment, but I do not agree with the current school structure, educational process, etc. 

My current philosophy is way outside the box for a lot of people (I am definitely thankful for my partner in crime, Don Eckert) but I feel like I have to speak out even if I am constantly feel like we are constantly being disagreed with, looked down upon or dismissed about the way we teach in our classrooms.  How are we meeting the learning goals?  How do we relate 20% Time to the standards?  Can you really give up one day a week to something that is not curricular?  How do you convince your principal this is worth doing? What, you don't give the district assessments? In Don's infamous words to any of these questions, "You are missing the point". That's what I feel like is happening in education, "We have missed the point."  We aren't thinking about what is best for kids. We might think we are, but we have missed the point.  The educational system as we know it, is not preparing our current students for a world in which they are growing up.  We are not equipping them with the skill sets they need to be successful.  The skill set has changed for kids even from 10 - 15 years ago. We have to look at what our students need in order to thrive as adults and grow into educated, motivated, life-long learners.  I just don't believe this is happening within schools because, you guessed it, they have "missed the point".  This is not to say there are not some teachers who are doing awesome, amazing things but I would argue that most are struggling with letting go of a traditional style they have always known and used. 

So, because of this (I am happy to sit down and talk more philosophy!) I feel so passionate about problem-based learning and 20% Time.  I love seeing my students grow, problem solve, and get excited when they finally realize that after all of their hard work, they got the answer right.  I love seeing the intrinsic motivators that get students excited about their learning.  Do they struggle with this type of teaching?  Absolutely. Do they get frustrated and annoyed with the process? Yep.  But they understand that when you are growing as a learner, sometimes it hurts, even hurts to think because that means we are working our brains.  The passion and excitement I get to see when they feel successful, lets me know everyday that I chose the right profession and the right teaching method.  My passion continues to grow from year to year, as I continually change lesson plans, projects and even whole units because I know that I can just make them better.  I feel that in my 9th year, I have finally hit my stride and sometimes always regret that my first five years of teaching were so blah, dare I say, awful!  Now that is probably harsh, but I was finding my way, doing everything by thebook. Now I know the way I am teaching is what is best for students even if I am currently in the minority.  I believe that the skills I am teaching will set my students up for continual success as they travel the path of their educational journey.  We want to ignite the intrinsic spark for learning within each of our students and help build their drive for knowledge, and to do this, we have to quit "missing the point".  -Melissa 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Podcast: Harmonized Learning 25

In this episode, Don and Melissa talk about blogging and the challenges of getting the kids to tell the story behind their 20% Time project.  Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

It's Bloggerific!

One of the responsibilities of 20% Time for the kids is to keep a blog. The students need to tell the story of their 20% Time project, from the genesis of their ideas to the completion of their projects. Today we worked on blogging about the initial journey. Do the kids have ideas? How did they come up with those ideas? Are they still deciding on an idea? Researching in order to finalize an idea? These are some of the questions that we are asking the kids to write about. 

One thing that we stress to the kids about the blogs is that each entry should help tell a story. Readers want the narrative about the project, from the idea generation to the student TED Talk experience. We stress to kids that not only do readers want the "what" about the project, but also the "why" about the project. Many of the kids are on the right track. Hopefully we will see some great blogs again this year.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Podcast: Harmonized Learning 24

In this episode, we podcast from the MOREnet conference in Columbia, MO where we are presenting our 20% Time program. We talk about the conference, keynote speaker Dave Burgess (Teach Like a Pirate), MOREnet and what comes next in our classrooms. Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bad Idea Factory: Kickoff to Brainstorming

We started off our brainstorming with the "Bad Idea Factory" again.  We believe that this is such a great way to break the current mold of how students think about brainstorming and coming up with ideas. Kids have been so trained to think and do things the "teacher way".

The idea is that the students put up ANY idea they come up with: the good, the bad and the ugly!  We want them to realize that brainstorming is a messy process and sometimes it is just about putting ideas out there and seeing what sticks.  We want them to feel comfortable sharing any and all ideas, realizing that even good or great ideas come from bad ideas.  This is just the brainstorming process and nothing, we say, NOTHING, should be perfect about this process. It should be messy, creative, organic, even inspiring.  We want kids to put up every idea that comes to mind without fear of judgement.  You never know what idea will take off or even inspire another student to come up an idea of their own.

We use this lesson to help our students break down the current paradigm of the traditional school model where teachers tell students what to do, they do it (all in the exact same way) and turn it in.  We want to see our students' creativity, thoughts and aspirations.  Our favorite phrase:  It is amazing what kids can accomplish if we just get out their way.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Podcast: The Big Kick-Off!

In this episode, we talk about the preparation that went in to the big kickoff and how things went with the kids. We speak to kids and creativity, the change in learning and the "hacking" of school.  Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

It's Here! 20% Time 2014-15 Kick-Off!

Today we gathered our entire team of kids into one of our classrooms in order to kick off 20% Time for the year. We make it a point to present not only the "how" we'll be doing the project, but also the "why". We feel it is essential for kids to know that traditional schooling will not be enough to educate them for their futures and that the autonomy we give them on team this year will nurture their ingenuity, creativity, problem-solving and passion. Kids finding their talents and passions is what this project is all about.

During our presentation, we scanned the room. Only a few kids were not paying attention. For the most part, we could see the excitement on the kids' faces. They know that they will be able to create something based on their own interests, whether it is related to school or not. We talked about how traditional schools train all kids in the same way, learning the same material and at roughly the same pace. We told them that all of that was now out the window!

Some of the kids will not be equipped to handle this much freedom right off the bat. There is a different skill set that we must teach them but it is one that they pick up on very quickly. The danger is that once the kids experience this way of learning, it will make it so much harder to go back to the old way.

Here is the presentation, 20% Time Kick-Off Presentation, that we used in order to kick off the project. We used each slide as a talking point.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Lifelong Learning

Last year, many of our students created great projects. They built, they made, they researched, they served others and they all learned. The learning didn't end when the school year ended. Some of our kids took their learning to a whole new level, even after the TED Talks, our culminating event to demonstrate learning, occurred. Steve, whose project was SNB Bass Baits, continued his learning by perfecting his lures and baits. Then he designed a web store and got it up and running. Now this eighth grader has an online business for his authentic, unique bass baits. All of this happened because Steve learned what Steve wanted to learn. Now this (Steve's blog):

Has become this (Steve's business):

We feel very strongly that we must personalize learning for our students and, when we do, their learning will take off and change lives. We know it did with several of our kiddos. We want out kids to know that if they can think it, they can achieve it!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Podcast: Planning the 20% Time Kick-Off!

In this episode, we talk about planning the 20% Time project for the year, the Bad Idea Factory and some tweaks to the project expectations based on last year's learning. Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Podcast: Chromebooks, 1:1 and a Tech Environment

In this episode, we talk about Chromebooks, 1:1 Classrooms and the Tech Environment on team. Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

Friday, September 12, 2014

Chromebook Rollout!

This year our seventh grade is moving to a Chromebook 1:1 program. Each student will have their own laptop to use at school and take home to use. Today, we get our Chromebooks on team! We see this kind of technology expansion as a great equalizer in student learning. It also allows teachers to be even more creative by flipping lessons, creating and using more video, and structuring learning so that kids are CREATING.

The Chromebooks are essential to 20% Time as we run it. We rely a lot on the intrinsic motivation of each student to research, learn and create knowledge about their project topic. Having access to a cart of Chromebooks last year proved invaluable, but this year, in a 1:1 environment, the access to learning should be even better.

The kids are excited and so are we. We are shifting our subject content so that we can conduct a Technology Boot Camp. Within a week, we want our kiddos to have a good working knowledge of the digital tools that we will be using this year. Today we will introduce and begin using Google Classroom, get kids signed up for 3DGameLab and give the kids a quick tutorial on the laptop they will be using this year. Next week, the learning continues with more digital apps we'll be using in class! These are exciting times on Team Harmony!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Podcast: Open House, PBL and 20% Time

In this episode, we talk about Open House at Hixson, PBL and the beginning of 20% Time. Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

Friday, August 8, 2014

Podcast: Harmonized Learning 19

In this episode, we talk about summer learning, district professional development, changes for 20% Time this year and a different emphasis in their regular classes which will focus more on PBL. Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How Schools Kill Creativity

This talk by Sir Ken Robinson sums up a lot of our feelings about why 20% Time is important for kids and why schools should be changing in order to help identify and develop students' talents and creativity.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Podcast: End of Year Reflection

In this episode, we wrap up the year featuring student comments from their reflections and some parent comments as well. We also reflect on the role of technology in today's classroom. Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

Monday, May 26, 2014

Students Reflect

As part of our project wrap-up, we asked kids to write a reflection of their 20% Time work this year. We believe they were completely honest because they noted the things they liked about the project in general and their projects in particular. They also noted things that could go better next year and where teachers could have helped more this year. Like we've said all along, this has been a learning experience for all of us, students and teachers alike. Here are some of the students' comments:

I really liked this 20% Time project because we were able to choose something that we were interested in and I hope we can do something like this next year.

When I was trying to use cheap molds and plastic sometimes it would have been easier to just quit rather than continuing and figuring out how to fix it.  Once I did get past these hurdles I finally got some final product that I am happy with.

The TED Talks were not something I was looking forward to.  Even though I didn’t want to do the TED Talk I thought it was good for me to get up and talk in front of people about something I am passionate about.

I liked 20% time.  The fact that we could choose anything we wanted was awesome but was also complicated.  There were so many possibilities that I was overwhelmed.  That was also a good thing though.  The fact that there were no limitations was good because we got to come up with things that we were really passionate about, and were really motivated to work on.

I learned how to make a website, how to blog well, how to manage my time, and how to get a project that needed to do a lot at home done.  This was a great learning experience and it should be used more in schools.

I did not like the fact that we had to use a blog.  I was not very good at keeping up with it and I often got behind on it.  It  was a good way to keep people updated but it was not something I was good at constantly doing.

I think that this whole 20% project idea is a good idea for learning, it helps kids think more about the things they love to learn about.

If I had worked by myself, I would have come up with something in which I was more passionate and would not have had to rely on others  to do their part.  It was a good lesson learned.  I realized that I am more comfortable relying on myself than others and that not everyone has the same level of determination as me.

I thought it was very interesting and fun because I got to learn about whatever I wanted to. Of course in the end my idea didn’t really work but it was nice to have my imagination run rather than make a project off of something you guys taught us or take a test over a subject.

My 20% time was a pretty good project I think. What caused its downfall was me. I was too confident and arrogant and I think I’ve learned to not do that.

Starting in December was difficult for most projects, especially clubs, because you are starting the middle of the semester. I felt that for some of our projects, we needed more time to get the project started.

There were a lot of things we did great in. For example we learned a lot about music. There was one song where we had to conduct 12/8 time which means there are twelve eighth notes per measure. We had never done this in class before so we had to learn it.

So I guess you could call that susailing, which isn’t a real word but it means failing and succeeding at the same time, but it’s something us Modern Music kids like to say.

We went on youtube and found how to make a DYS (do it yourself) hovercraft. When we followed the instructions exactly the hovercraft didn’t fly. And at that is when me, Alex, Spike, and parents decided that it was time for improvements.

I felt good about my own learning experience with this. I felt like I learned alot.  It was new and something I’d never had the chance to try before.  I liked it. I liked the freedom to choose what I did during that time and I’m proud of what I did.

For me, I have found that I want to continue helping others and work in social sevices when I’m older. Using 20% time for our project Pictures For Africa was also an amazing learning experience. I have learned that when you put your energy into something you are passionate about, you will achieve the goals you set for yourself.

Overall this has been an amazing learning experience. I have realized that if you put your mind to something and make time to do it you can achieve great things.  

I thought that the 20% Time Project was a good opportunity to challenge myself and to try to fulfill a dream I’ve had for a long long time. I think I may have contributed a little more to the project than my partner. Although he is a good person and fun to be around I do wish he had helped me more. I think my project succeeded and failed at the same time.

When you and Mrs. Hellwig first started telling us about Twenty Percent Time Projects, honestly, I was super excited. Never in any grade had I been allowed to work on any project I desired.

I think we could've been more productive with our time in school than we were throughout the year. When the project was done and over with we had accomplished a full functional Go-Kart with an mp3 sound system.

I didn’t like this project is because I don’t know how to work independently on my own without having some type of schedule or something to me keep on track. The next reason I didn’t like this project is because I feel that it holds nothing that's worthy of learning. It takes time out of a regular school week to learn the important things in life that we will never use.

It’s no secret, this project didn’t really work for me. With my inconsistency to stay with a project, I never actually got that much done. It put me through a lot of stress to have to constantly change projects, and I feel now that I will have more self discipline and motivation to get things done. I learned a lot from this project, even though I really didn’t like it.

The TED Talk was stressful to say the least. First we were way ahead of schedule and my mom was freaking out and then the mike broke. That’s not even including the stage fright and tech problems. But according to my mom I was, “Calm and collected.” Maybe I’ll go into poker if that’s what I looked like.

I’m still debating whether I liked 20% time or not, it was……….. interesting.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Podcast: Student TED Talks!

In this episode, we talk about student TED Talks and getting feedback from students and parents about the 20% Time Projects this year. Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

TED Talk - The Veteran Project

Jake describes his efforts to learn about prosthetics and match veterans who need prosthetics to organizations who can help them get the limbs.

TED Talk - Modern Music Club

Nessa, Olivia and Lily talk about the club they started at school. Their club was for kids who wanted to play modern music in a band setting.

TED Talk - Eric's Hovercrafting

Eric talks about his experience learning about and trying to build a hovercraft.

TED Talk - Gym Program

Andrew talks about his idea for revamping the school physical education program.

TED Talk - Handle Board

Carson, Justin and Camden talk about the idea behind their invention - the Handle Board.

TED Talk - Creativity

Ricky talks about creativity and how video games are not harmful for kids.

TED Talk - Tobey

Tobey describes why he did not have a 20% Time Project this semester and why he prefers pencil and paper tasks.

TED Talk - Quarters for Quarter Horses

Camille and Grace talk about their experience trying to help organizations that aid retired or injured horses.

TED Talk - GSA

Audrey talks about her experience trying to raise awareness for school GSAs and her efforts to get other schools to start clubs.

TED Talk - A Brick by Brick Society

Theodor describes the experiential Lego game he created during which players learn many skills.

Friday, May 16, 2014

TED Talk - Go-Kart Sound

John, Louis and Ben set out to build a go-kart and install a sound system in the kart. They worked with mentors in their free time and planned it out at school. This is the impressive result.

TED Talk - Steger 2 Hixson

Isaac, Elijah and Matthew talk about their missteps starting at Hixson Middle School and their desire to design a blog to help incoming seventh graders navigate the school better.

TED Talk - Special Shoes for the Blind

Chris investigates how to create shoes that will send vibrations or impulses to the brain so that a blind person's immediate surroundings are mapped out for them, giving them "vision".

TED Talk - Suber Music

Edward researched how music affects kids' thinking. He began some experiments to see the effect of music on kids' work.

TED Talk - Helping Hands

Jolene, Karissa and Izzy started a club in order to help others in the community who are less fortunate. They spent weeks collecting donations and making sure that those donations got to those in need.

TED Talk - Spotlight Lip Balm

Gold and Natalia explored the market of lip balms and decided to design and test their own. Their ultimate goal is to patent and sell their creation.

TED Talk - Into Auto Audio

Nick and Theo learn about how car audio systems work. They learn how to dissect the inner workings of a car audio system and how to deal with the octopus of wires.

TED Talk - Operation Beautiful Hixson

Allyson describes her ideas to help others at Hixson. From positive comments to locker bombing, Allyson has positively affected many kids at Hixson Middle School.

TED Talk - Hope for Honduras

Kelly, Cielo and Julia worked to relieve the financial stress of a family whose daughter was terminally ill. Their TED Talk speaks to the ups and downs of that project.

TED Talk - Can You Be Fearless?

Nivi's 20% Time project was born from the pages of Divergent by Veronica Roth. The "Fear Landscape" intrigued her and she investigated to see whether or not fear is genetic or learned.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

TED Talk: SNB Bass Baits

Today our students gave TED Talks in the auditorium, for a real-life audience, outlining what they learned during their 20% Time project this year. This is Steve's project, SNB Bass Baits.

TED Talk - Pictures for Africa

The "Pictures for Africa" group gave their TED Talk, outlining their learning during the project and talking about the future goals.

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

In fifteen minutes, our student TED Talks begin in the auditorium. One group, Go-Kart Sound, needed access to the auditorium early in order to set up their presentation. By looking at the picture, you can see why. This presentation will be a wonderful beginning to a day filled with learning conversations and exhibits!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

And Now Presenting...

Today we received notice that a proposal we submitted, "Harmonized Learning: A 20% Time Classroom", was accepted for presentation at the MOREnet Annual Conference in Columbia, MO in October. We see this as further validation that there is an audience out there that wants to learn more about how to undertake a 20% Time program and see some of the results of those efforts.

Those who follow the blog and podcast know that we are creating as we go forward. We can usually sense when we need to formally check in with groups, see a product along the way or give a longer leash to some groups to explore or change topics. So much of the learning that takes place in a 20% Time environment is alien to the typical school regimen and often we depend on reading our students to see where we should take the project next. That is not to say that we don't prepare. We probably over-prepare. We realize, though, that we have to make changes, often on the fly, for the experience to be as rewarding and relevant as possible to the kiddos. We have a lot of discussions about what the next move should be, why it should be that way, and how we are going to make that next move.

Our 20% Time experience has been an incredible learning experience for us and our kids. We are looking forward to sharing that experience with anyone who wants to listen and having another rewarding experience next year with our new group of kids. We are convinced that this is the way schools should be moving and will champion that cause wherever we can! - Don

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Drumroll Please...

With TED Talks only two days away, kids are making last minute preparations. Some are very excited, some are very anxious and some are both. This is an exciting time for Harmony Team students. The culmination of their semester of 20% Time work occurs this week. For all of the hours they have spent researching, writing, building, testing, revamping, rethinking, revising, and publishing, they will finally get a chance to showcase their learning to an authentic audience.

Our TED Talks are open to school classes, district teachers and administrators, parents and community members. The talks will take place in our auditorium, on stage, with a projected visual (if the students choose to have one) and a microphone. Our talks should be very much like the TED Talks we have all seen online. We plan to videotape and publish all of the TED Talks right here on our blog. All of the groups will publish their own TED Talk videos on their student blogs as well.

As the teachers, our part of the TED Talk preparation was to make sure that all groups had their project ready to go, secure the auditorium, develop a schedule, link visuals to the schedule, and publicize it to the community and district. WE ARE READY! This is one of the real-life applications of the students' work and they are realizing that their learning does apply to their  immediate domain and the larger world around them. The audience could range anywhere from 50 (the number of students on our team) to 450 (the number of people the auditorium holds). We don't know what to expect as far as audience size, but it doesn't matter; the students will be discussing their learning with a REAL audience. This is not a project for school, this is a project for the world. 

All year we have tried to tie all of the kids' learning to the world around them. We have made connections with things in their lives, their community and their world. We believe that the best education is one that prepares them for the world in which they will live. The 20% Time projects are the most organized attempt at this real-world connection that we have made this year, but we have made these connections in their regular classes as well. These kiddos will remember these TED Talks for the rest of their lives. How many other classroom activities can we say that about? Not many. Not only did these projects teach them about the content they explored, it also taught them about how they learn, how they work with others, how to prioritize, how to persevere, and how to work in the world. While the kids may not think so right now, we think this will be life-changing learning for them.  - Don

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Video: Hovercrafting 101

The Hovercrafting 101 group has been playing with designs, propulsion and materials. They are trying to get the lift band and skirt to work in concert in order to keep the vehicle off the ground for a long period of time. Here is a video that shows some of that effort.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Podcast: Ted Talk Prep and Looking Ahead

In this episode, we talk about Ted Talk preparations, scheduling and student performance. We also reflect on how things have gone overall and some tweaks for next year. Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

Student Blog Spotlight: Operation Beautiful Hixson

Allyson has been spreading good cheer at Hixson all semester as part of her 20% Time project, Operation Beautiful Hixson. She has piggy-backed on the school-wide program, Rachael's Challenge, and included many other students in her project. This is a wonderful, student-directed learning project. - Don

Friday, April 25, 2014

Go-Kart Test Drive!

Podcast: Shifting Our Paradigm

In this episode, we talk about the upcoming Ted Talks and how the students had to shift their paradigm of learning in order to do their 20% Time projects.  Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

The Stuff of Learning

"We don't know what to do next on our project," said a student.
"What do you think the next step would be?" I replied.
"Well, we could do (lists three things to do)," she said.
"That sounds great. Do those!" I said.

A few days later, the same student came to me and said, "Okay, we finished those three things. We're done."

This exchange exemplifies the battle we have been waging this year. Students are still dependent on teacher direction even when the project is their own. They want to know what the teacher wants them to do, complete those tasks, and be finished with it. This is NOT the stuff of learning.

The message we are trying to get through to the kids is that learning is never-ending. It rejuvenates our minds and our souls. People are most excited when they are learning something new or about to learn something new. Learning is the constant exposure to new things, some of which we didn't even know existed before. Learning is not fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice. It is Learner's Choice! We choose what we learn and we choose how we learn it. Even when students are in classrooms from the past, fact-based or multiple choice classrooms, they still choose what and how to learn. Much of the time students choose not to learn the material or figure out ways to avoid the tasks altogether. Even that is learning, just not the learning desired by the teacher.

Many of our kids are "getting it". They are racing further ahead than we could have imagined. They are not only learning a boatload of content but also the skills of learning: how to create, how to search and retrieve information, how to think critically, how to problem-solve, how to curate material, how to communicate their ideas and how to deal with the world outside our school walls. This IS the stuff of learning. - Don

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Want a Ride?

The Go-Kart Sound group is in the testing stages of its project. The boys are taking the go-kart to a place this weekend where they can drive it around, troubleshoot any problems and figure out some solutions. It looks like their project is coming to an AMAZING conclusion. - Don

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Podcast: Good Failure vs. Bad Failure

In this episode, Don and Melissa talk about both types of failure: good and bad. The projects are reflecting which groups are still going strong and the challenges of some of the groups.  Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

Monday, April 7, 2014

They Got Their Idea Off the Ground!

Our Hovercrafting 101 group is making great progress.  Over the weekend, they completed a first test of their prototype. Using everyday items, they have learned enough to get their idea off the ground...literally!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Podcast: Ted Talks and Twitter

In this episode, Don and Melissa talk about end-of-project Ted Talks and the value of building a Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter.  Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

It Only Takes a Spark to Ignite a Flame.

I know we usually talk about our students and how their 20% Time Projects are going for them, the struggles we have encountered or successes we have celebrated. However, today I want to talk about the motivation, both personal and professional motivation associated with the undertaking of this project and the unforeseen positives that have come from the 20% Project.

This year has been personally and professionally motivating and encouraging. I started off this year feeling discouraged, wanting to change my classroom parameters, but I didn't know how or what to do.  I stumbled upon this idea of 20% Time, Genius Hour, FedEx Day in a Google Community and one thing led to another.  I spent hours watching Ted Talks (particularly Daniel Pink's talk here), reading blogs (check this one out) and chatting in Google Communities.  I was inspired by the idea of students taking control of their own learning and choosing their own learning paths. In this model, they get to pursue a passion or interest that they have always had but maybe never had the means or opportunity to pursue.  20% Time was going to help get kids to love learning again!!! Motivate them! Ignite that inner flame of motivation that could follow them through the rest of their lives, creating a life-long learner.

We have been so amazed by what some of our kids are doing with their projects: raising money for cancer patients, building a go-kart, or starting an environmentally-friendly fishing lure business. More importantly, I have satisfied my own inner motivation personally and professionally.  Don and I have always taught this way but always behind closed doors, only collaborating with each other for fear of someone wanting to stop us in the type of teaching that we truly believed in. We knew that some people said that we "never did or taught anything" just because our students enjoyed being on our team or in our classrooms.  For me personally, that was always hard to hear. Those comments never threw Don and me from our path and we kept trudging along.

Education is changing and it is time for teachers to start jumping on the bandwagon.  Our students, more than ever, are growing up in the Information Age, where every answer is at their fingertips.  When we can answer a question with the click of the mouse, why are we making that content the basis of our curriculum?  I understand there was a need when access to that type of information was limited but that is no longer.  Curriculum needs to be changing with the needs of our students.  As teachers, we need to sit down and truly look at what is most important and what is good to know.  This is a hard step for any great teacher because we learned, when we were students in school, the traditional way to teach. When we went to college we learned the traditional way to teach, and so when we entered our career most of us clung to the traditional way to teach.  It is hard to let go of what you know and what you are comfotable with. It is scary to try something new in a classroom where you might fail or it might not work, especially if you aren't in a school culture where you are encouraged to try new things.  There was a time and place for traditional teaching (and there still is at times!) but as the world is changing, schools must change to do justice for our students.  We need to prepare our students for 20 years in the future, for jobs that haven't even yet been created.

I feel motivated now more that ever that the way I am currently teaching (I have changed what I was doing even from just a year ago!) is the correct path for my students.  Our students need skills like problem-solving, perseverance, critical thinking, social media skills, computer (or device) research skills, etc.  Is content awesome to know? Absolutely! But does our whole curriculum have to based upon the content anymore? I would have to say "No".  For example, this past week a student asked me in science, "What is the reason our hands or feet 'fall asleep'?"  I told them I didn't know the answer but asked if he had his device.  He did and I told him to find the answer for us.  What an awesome feeling this was and it was liberating as a teacher!

The role of the teacher has changed to "facilitator of learning" from "teacher-led learning".  We need create a culture of passion, love, and interest for our subjects while also allowing students a place to feel safe to "fail" and try again.  What this project has brought into me professionally could have never been foreseen.  It was the spark that ignited the flame for me in my teaching.  I encourage every teacher to be the spark for your school.  Get your peers to jump on your bandwagon because what you are doing for your students will have long-term effects on their learning.  If you believe what you are doing for kids, keep doing it.  It is hard to be the outlier but eventually you will be in the majority. - Melissa

Monday, March 31, 2014

They Never Cease To Amaze Us!

As we look at some of the projects, we see some amazing learning experiences. Here are a few photos from some of the projects.

John, Louis and Ben (Go-Kart Sound) are making extraordinary progress on their go-kart!

Meanwhile, Allyson has made a Facebook page for her Operation Beautiful Hixson project. Nice!

Steve (SNB Bass Baits) has done an amazing job with his fishing lures and now, with his potential grant funding, may change the focus of his lures to biodegradable, environmentally-friendly lures. What an awesome idea.


Jonah, Spike and Alex (Hovercrafting 101) are making great progress on their hovercraft as well. Their hard work shows in the progress they've made so far!  - Don

Friday, March 28, 2014

Podcast: The Intensity of Winding Down

In this episode, we talk about the Checkpoint Assignment, kids writing grants for their projects, the philosophical evolution of 20% Time and the remaining weeks of intense project work. Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

Accidental Focus

The two groups we thought about for the Pollination Project grants, Pictures for Africa and SNB Bass Baits, started filling out grant applications today. Steve (SNB Bass Baits) finished and sent it in. They are all very excited about the opportunity. One unintended consequence of applying for the grant is that Steve's project focus may have changed slightly because of the grant criteria. The grant asks for applicants to demonstrate how their project will have a positive impact on humanity or the environment. Steve came up with the idea of shifting his lure materials from regular plastic to a biodegradable components so as to cut down on pollution and waste in lakes and rivers. Genius! The biodegradable material is more expensive so he will need the grant money in order to buy supplies but if he gets the grant, he will be able to pursue this new avenue.

This shift is a great example of how the journey can take a sudden turn, leading to a better idea than the original one. Environmentally sensitive, biodegradable bass lures is a brilliant idea and there does not seem to be anything like it on the market. Imagine if this one seventh grade kiddo were able to change the entire fishing lure market with his idea and the influence of some grant criteria. He is so excited about this new development that gave him, almost by accident, a slightly different project focus. - Don

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Games, Grants and Authentic Audiences

As the kids make progress on their projects, we ask them to share as much as possible about the process and the product.  Theodor, who is creating "A Brick by Brick Society", is inventing a Leggo-based game. His blog outlines the rules, the theory behind the game and the purpose of the game. Nothing comes close to getting authentic feedback though. Yesterday in class, Theodor tried out his game with some of his peers. He set up the game on one of our round tables, got four of his buddies together, explained the rules, and they were off. Instantly they were immersed in the game. While Melissa and I didn't quite understand what was going on when we checked in, the kids certainly bought into it wholeheartedly. Melissa asked one of the boys, "How did you know the rules of the game?" to which one replied, "Oh, he explained them before we played." Simple enough! Theodor got great feedback about what worked, what needed polishing and how successful the game can be.

We love the fact that others are looking out for our kids and their projects. Yesterday, Dr. McGee, one of the dignitaries on our Pitch Committees, forwarded an e-mail about the Pollination Project.  It is an organization that gives grants to individuals or groups who create projects in one of the following areas: compassion towards all life, environmental sustainability, justice in all of its forms, community health and wellness, putting consciousness into action and social change-oriented arts and culture. Several of our community-themed projects meet the criteria for grant application and we are encouraging them to apply. Steve, whose project is SNB Bass Baits, is stoked about applying.  Other projects that come to mind as good fits for the grant are Pictures for Africa and Racism Can't Become US. We will be helping these kids apply for those grants. This is another example of real-world results and authentic learning. - Don

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Podcast: Checking In

In this episode, we check in with student projects, talk more about the philosophy behind a 20% Time classroom, speak to the motivation of the kids and look at upcoming events on team.  Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.  Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee