Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Pitch Day 2015

After all of the planning that went in to Pitch Day 2015, by us and the kids, it was finally time to pitch our ideas. Pitch Committee members began showing up at 8:15 and by 8:35, we had all of our judges in place. We divided them into groups of four judges and each of the three groups was located in a different room. Each committee would hear roughly fifteen pitches. Our first couple of students for each room readied themselves and the pitching began. The committees heard about ideas from coding to cooking, fashion design to water desalination gadgets. The committees heard it all.

Derrick and Bryce are READY for their Pitch Day Presentations!

Each presentation started with a one-minute video that functioned as a commercial for the student's idea. When our school wifi was working properly, the videos were actually one minute. Most of the time today, the wifi was glitchy and the kids were frustrated when their videos stalled out. All of the kids overcame the wifi problem, often talking instead of showing their video. The videos were to be followed by a two-minute description of what the project was, what the student was planning on learning, and the plans for the project beyond this year (if there were any). Lastly, we reserved two minutes for committee members to ask questions of the kids.

While debriefing with the committee members after the last pitch was done, we heard an array of comments. All of the members were impressed with the kids' presentations. Some raved about a particular student or thought that a certain idea could be a world-changer. Nearly all of the committee members talked about how excited the kids were about their ideas, how invested in the ideas they were and how meaningful the projects would be for the kids. This is the kind of learning that is exciting to see. Those committee members left our rooms with a sense of excitement about learning in general and 20% Time in particular. It is one of the reasons why we're convinced that 20% Time, PBL, Genius Hour and personlized learning is the future of education.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Pitch Day Logistics

The logistics behind pitch day are extensive. In October, we try to secure our Pitch Committee. We send out e-mails to several teachers, coordinators and administrators to gauge availability and interest. We have experienced great cooperation. Our superintendent, assistant superintendent, principal, assistant principal, curriculum coordinators, principals from other buildings and various teachers volunteer to be on the committee. This year, we need between 10-12 committee members.

During the week before Pitch Day, kids prepare their one-minute video commercial to help sell their idea to the committee. That video will kick off their presentation. After the video, they will talk for two minutes about their project and what they plan to learn and accomplish. Following the two-minute talk will be time for the judges to ask questions about the project idea. Those three elements round out each five-minute presentation.

We use three classrooms (in the past we have used two but this year we are tweaking things) for pitches. Four judges will be located in each of the three classrooms (for a total of 12 judges). We create a list for each classroom that we use. This year we will have Pitch Group A, Pitch Group B and Pitch Group C. Each pitch group will be in one of the three classrooms.

The morning of Pitch Day will be bustling with activity. Kids will be waiting in the cafeteria for their name to be called to go pitch. During their stay in the cafeteria, they can put finishing touches on their presentation, practice their talk or relax and catch up on school work. While the kids are housed in the cafeteria, we get the judges settled into the three classrooms that we are using. When the judges are ready, we call for the first presenter in each room. Presentations follow a list that we create for each room. As one student is presenting, the next student on the list is called from the cafeteria to be "on deck", waiting outside the appropriate classroom where they will present next. We expect about fifteen presentations in each classroom for a total of 45 presentations. We are planning on Pitch Day taking the first two class periods of the morning.

Pitch Day is a high-stakes day for the kids. We talk to them about how to enter the room, how to introduce themselves to the committee and how to begin their presentation. The judges have feedback sheets that include presentations skills as well as questions about the projects. The kids usually dress up, have their notes prepared and rock their presentations. We are both nervous and eager to see how Pitch Day this year will turn out. It is such a great day of experiential learning for the kids and we very much value it.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Podcast: Preparing for Pitch Day

In this episode, we talk about Pitch Day and the preparations that go into this event. Subscribe to this podcast on iTunes and follow us on Twitter @dayankee and @melissahellwig4

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Our Surprise Thanksgiving Feast

Every year, Melissa and I plan a huge surprise Thanksgiving breakfast buffet for the kids on the day before our break. We enlist the help of the kids' parents with a TOP SECRET e-mail at the beginning of November. Parents sign up for items they'll contribute and some make a commitment to come to school and help set up the event. There is a lot of coordination and planning in the few weeks before our feast but most of it is done through e-mail.

On the morning of our Thanksgiving feast, Melissa comes up with an excuse to be absent for the first couple of hours of classes. We get a substitute in her room while she is down in the library organizing parents, cooking and setting up the buffet. Soon, the smell of bacon wafts through the building. Kids are busily working like any other day, unbeknownst to the setup in the library. At the end of second hour, Melissa texts me that everything is ready. It's time for the big guns! Our principal, in a ruse, comes to our team and talks to them sternly about the improper use of cellphones and devices. She notes some statistics that make it clear that the kids are in trouble. She then tells them that we are going to do some emergency digital citizenship lessons in the library so everyone should line up to walk down to the LMC.

When the doors open and the kids wander in, they see many of their parents and tables of food, all prepared for them. They have no earthly clue what is happening. Even after the adults yell "Surprise!" the kids are befuddled. The looks on their faces are priceless. It is awesome! "Are we still in trouble?" "What's going on?" "Are our parents here to punish us about the cell phones?" the kids ask. When we make it clear to them that this is a holiday buffet and that the cell phone issue was just a way to get them to the library without them guessing the truth, they relax, start to laugh, and begin their celebration. "Wow! We really thought we were in trouble!" they say during conversation.

The parents are incredible. They pitch in and help make this an event that the kids will never forget. Year after year, we try our best to keep this event a secret and year after year, we succeed. This success is especially surprising because last year's team is in the eighth grade in our building. They keep mum, I think, because they want our current team to experience the surprise that they got to experience. Even the few kids whose siblings we had years before, keep quiet so that everyone else will be surprised. That is the climate of our team. We look out for each other, we take care of each other, we promote the accomplishments of each other and we always help each other. For that, we are so thankful.

Monday, November 23, 2015

EdCamp Harmony 2.0

Our first student edcamp was such a hit that we decided to do another one. Our kids are learning so many new things every week and edcamp provides a great platform to share that learning. Since our last edcamp, we have gotten a few new technology tools, kids have used new apps for their projects and all have polished skills that they wanted to share. What a great day of learning.

We used the same format as before. We scheduled three 25-minute sessions within the first two periods of our schedule. We were able to use five classrooms for our edcamp and things seemed to go off without a hitch. One thing that kids learned today is that because something is interesting to the presenters does not mean it will be interesting to other kiddos. We did have a few sessions that were unattended. We also think that a tweak for next time might be to shorten the sessions from 25 minutes to 20 minutes. We are always tweaking things to make for a better learning experience for the kids. All in all, today was another great student-led learning experience.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Podcast: IETC, EdCampSIL and Blogs

In this episode, we talk about IETC, EdCampSIL, blogging, idea generation, our upcoming Pitch Day and the ever-approaching EdCampSTL. You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and you can always follow us on Twitter, @dayankee and @melissahellwig4.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

EdCampSIL Collaborations

Yesterday, Melissa and I attended Edcamp Southern Illinois, EdCampSIL, in Belleville, IL. It was a small but passionate edcamp full of educators who wanted to collaborate, share and improve their practices. We presented a session on our 20% Time program and also attended a session on Genius Hour put on by another teacher. The conversations were rewarding and interesting. We know that by sharing our work, we also learn about others' work and the avenues for collaboration open up. Such was the case yesterday at EdCampSIL.

We met several teachers who were particularly interested in implementing or growing their own 20% Time programs but just needed a push from their PLN to help them find direction. One teacher, Nickie Pelch (@npelch), teaches at a small high school in Ste. Genevieve, MO. She is psyched about starting her own program and yesterday she took the plunge into blogging! It had been something that she'd wanted to do for a while and she thought that if she was going to require a reflective piece from her students during 20% Time, she should model that reflective piece herself. Her blog is here. While talking some more, we told her that we are doing a long-term PD program in our district for teachers who want to implement 20% Time programs in their classes. After a bit of brainstorming about ways she could be included, we decided that she could Google Hangout in from her school. This coming Wednesday, when we all gather for our first PD session, we will be including Nickie Pelch and anyone else who wants to GHO in. If you'd like to attend, please e-mail either Melissa or myself and we'll make it happen. Our contact information is under the Contact page at the top of this page. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Podcast: School for Today and Blogs!

In this episode, we talk about new ideas for the podcast, kids coming up with their project ideas, the School for Today initiative and student blogging. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and follow us on Twitter @dayankee and @melissahellwig4

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Discovering Passions

Today we took delivery of some gadgets for our little classroom MakerSpace. So far we have received a Raspberry Pi and a Makey Makey. Last week I showed short videos that demonstrated how each of the gadgets worked. Needless to say, the kids were excited to get their hands on them. We divided into three groups during class: one to explore the Makey Makey, one to explore the Raspberry Pi and one to explore the Google Cardboard viewfinders that we received last week. The learning was awesome!

Caleb and Trevor had some experience with the Raspberry Pi and want to use it for their 20% Time project, creating a video game app. Derrick also had some experience with the Raspberry Pi and so those three boys took charge of leading the group exploration of that technology. Meanwhile, Ian, Linsey, Taylor, Dylan and Andrew were busy working with the Makey Makey. In the hallway, Nicole, Hannah, Alexa, Steph and a few others were exploring the capabilities of the Google Cardboard.

This class period was the kind of learning we love to see. The kids were animated and fearless. They tried, failed and tried again. They saw each device as a puzzle to solve. They shared ideas, debated, experimented and finally solved some of the immediate problems like what apparatus is necessary for each device and how to properly hook up the boards. The Google Cardboard group was busy discovering an entire YouTube section devoted to Google Cardboard environments. Such cool stuff.

We hope that exposure and access to these devices will expand kids' thinking and help them come up with a 20% Time idea that will interest them for a long, long time. Already, Andrew wants to come in before school to rearrange the room so that we have a proper space for the Raspberry Pi station and Trevor and Caleb are working with our tech specialist to get the Raspberry Pi ready with all of the necessary peripherals. They have taken responsibility to create their own learning and learning space. Isn't this what we say we want? It sure is!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Podcast: Ideas and EdCamp

In this episode, we talk about idea generation, the kids' thoughts about the originality of their ideas, our very first student edcamp and our upcoming presentations and professional development dates. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes to get every episode and follow us on Twitter @dayankee and @melissahellwig4

Monday, October 12, 2015

EdCamp Harmony - That's a Wrap!

This morning, our student edcamp, EdCamp Harmony, took place. We planned this out pretty well last week, recruiting and encouraging students to conduct learning sessions and getting the schedule ready for today. To see more of the preparation, click this link. Late last week, one of our colleagues, Vinnie Raimondo (@coachraimondo), asked if his kids could also be involved. What? That was awesome! We shared our planning with him so he could present it to his kids and also shared the Google Hangout invitation with him so that his kids could also watch Hadley Ferguson (@hadleyjf), the executive director of the Edcamp Foundation, welcome the kids to the world of edcamps.

Hadley kicked things off beautifully. She talked to the kids about the edcamp movement, why it started and why people want to learn from each other. She also congratulated them on their own quest to learn from each other. After answering a few questions, she wished us well and we were on to our morning of learning.

Kids moved seamlessly to their first session. We had some great session choices and they were all well-attended.

Of course, the topics kids want to teach and learn about are a bit different from the topics that we present in class on a daily basis but that is what makes this learning so relevant. Not one student said, "Oh, I don't want to go to any of the sessions. They don't look very good." All of the kids were excited to go to some sessions and some were torn between two or more sessions at each time slot. Noah taught how to make a YouTube channel, Bryce taught some finer points of drawing while Emma taught kids about an App Store app that helps kids draw on an iPad or iPhone. RJ taught some kids about football and Mason had a session on HTML coding. Celia and Linsey held two sessions on how to use our 3D Printer and Colin showed kids how to work the 3D Doodle Pen. There were plenty of other sessions as well and the kids seemed very excited about this morning of learning. 

As Melissa, Vinnie and I roamed the rooms, we saw highly engaged students having fun with their learning. The kids were in those sessions because they wanted to be there, not because they had to be there. In the coming days, we will survey the kids to see what their thoughts were. In talking to the kids immediately after the sessions, it was clear that we would be repeating this event in the near future. The kids are hungry for this type of learning and sharing. Finally, some kids were given the platform to show others what really makes them tick. Here are some photos of our student edcamp.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Bad Idea Factory

We are off and running with 20% Time!  We introduced the "Bad Idea Factory" today and this is the best start so far!  I probably say this every year but I do feel like this was an AWESOME start.  I am so re-energized when we begin this journey every year, breaking down the wall (perception) of the idea generation process. The idea generation process is gross and messy..........but we have to throw all ideas out on the table and weed through the good, the bad and the ugly to narrow down to the best ideas.  Good ideas come from bad ideas!!!!!

Podcast - The Bad Idea Factory

In this episode, we talk about the Bad Idea Factory, brainstorming 20% Time project ideas and our experience at the MOREnet technology conference. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. Follow us on Twitter: Don (@dayankee) and Melissa (@melissahellwig4).

Friday, October 2, 2015

Podcast - Kickoff Day and Edcamp Harmony

In this episode, we talk about Kickoff Day, the day of the year that we introduce the concept of 20% Time and what the program will look like this year. We also talk about Edcamp Harmony, our first student edcamp. Follow us on iTunes (search Harmonized Learning) and follow us on Twitter, Don (@dayankee) and Melissa (@melissahellwig4).

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Revving Our Engines

This week we are putting some final touches on our planning for the 20% Time Kick-off Day. This Friday, we will introduce the kids to the concept of 20% Time and what the expectations for the year-long project are. We have been mentioning 20% Time here and there since school started and the kids' ears perk up every time that we do. Some of the kids have had siblings who participated in 20% Time and some have just heard about all of the cool projects that their predecessors have created. Even though they do not have a full understanding of what 20% Time is, they are eager to get started.

Friday promises to be a huge day for us. We love taking kids through the story of 20% Time, showing them the philosophy behind this kind of learning, relating it to what their work in real life will be and narrating a story of personalized learning that they will live this year. During our two-hour "meeting" about 20% Time, the kids' enthusiasm grows bigger and bigger. Their energy is boundless and, by the end of the meeting, they are ready to begin!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Podcast: We're Baaaaaaack!

In this episode, we talk about kicking off the new year of Harmonized Learning, the way students should learn in a modern classroom, tweaks to the program and other issues related to implementing a 20% Time program in class. Follow us on Twitter (Don - @dayankee, Melissa - @melissahellwig4). Subscribe to this podcast on iTunes. Just search "Harmonized Learning". 

Friday, May 29, 2015

In the News

This week, the Webster-Kirkwood Times wrote an article about our 20% Time program. We are so proud of our kiddos and their projects.

The link to the story is here: News Story.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cecily's Student TED Talk

Evan's Student TED Talk

Maurion and Adrian's Student TED Talk

Aireiona's Student TED Talk

Evan's Student TED Talk

Sam and Paul's Student TED Talk

Liam, Carter and Evan's Student TED Talk

Zoran's Student TED Talk

Ally's Student TED Talk

Fiona's Student TED Talk

Musa's Student TED Talk

Kellen's Student TED Talk

Alan's Student TED Talk

Christian's Student TED Talk

Claire's Student TED Talk

Henry's Student TED Talk

Natalie and Megan's Student TED Talk

Will's Student TED Talk

Dominic's Student TED Talk

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Jessica's Student TED Talk

Yensen's Student TED Talk

Kaiden's Student TED Talk

Jacob and Nick's Student TED Talk

Eli's Student TED Talk

Parker's Student TED Talk

Rosalie's Student TED Talk

Ben's Student TED Talk

Ethan's Student TED Talk

Owen's Student TED Talk

Jimmy's Student TED Talk

Ella's Student TED Talk

Friday, May 15, 2015

2015 Student TED Talk Photos

This morning, students gave TED Talks about their 20% Time learning projects. Projects ranged from building a solar golf cart to creating a new breakfast food. Below are some photos of the students giving their talks. The crowd ranged from 75-200 in the auditorium and several hundred more on our Google Hangouts on Air broadcast.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Track Day at Hixson Middle School

Yesterday was Track Day at Hixson Middle School. It is one of the highlights of the year, a time when the athletes among us get to show their talents in front of the entire school community. It is also a time for kiddos to show their team and school spirit. As you can see from the videos and pictures below, we have no shortage of team and school spirit. It's why we love these kiddos!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Podcast: Checkpoint and Twitter

In this episode, we talk about the second checkpoint assignment, our new district Twitter chat and the preparations for the upcoming student TED Talks. Subscribe to this podcast on iTunes and follow us on Twitter @dayankee (Don) and @melissahellwig (Melissa).

Monday, April 20, 2015

Happy Monday!!

Just a little happy for your Monday!  Embrace the "weirdness" of all your students.  This is our little shark attacking Eckert during our outdoor classroom. 

20% Time in the News

One of our kids brought this comic strip in about 20% time they saw in the newspaper.  Too funny!

Friday, April 17, 2015


Before school this morning, Fiona came in and asked to use the 3D Doodle Pen. She had an idea and she wanted to see how well she could execute a design. The design was traced out on paper and so she plugged in and went to work. Many of the kids have tried the pen this week and found out that it is tougher to use than they thought. It really does take the steady hand of an artist to create something cool. Well, Fiona nailed it this morning. Here is the execution of her design. She is very happy with the way it turned out.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Podcast: Student TED Talk Prep

In this episode, we talk about the preparations for student TED Talks and the new checkpoint assignment for the kiddos. You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. Follow us on Twitter @dayankee and @melissahellwig4

Thursday, April 2, 2015

EVERY Student Has Their Own Genius.

This was a video originally shared with us by our Assistant Superintendent, Dr. John Simpson.  The minute I saw it, I wanted to share it out.  What an amazing five minutes of truth! This supports our entire educational philosophy and why we are determined to help begin the movement for a much-needed change in education. Our kids are growing up in a different world than we did.  It is a world where standardized test scores do not begin to define a student or their "genius".  Every student has genius and we as teachers should be trying to find out every student's genius. What is their passion?  What do they love?  What makes them tick?  What makes them want to learn? What ignites their inner motivation? We cannot continue a one size fits all education and expect that all students will preform the same on tests, assignments or projects.  We can no longer ask students to memorize facts, regurgitate information or play the "school" game and expect students to go out into world and be successful.

Let's put students in the driver's seat of their own learning.  Let's help them ignite their flame of motivation and help them become self-motivated learners. When you can tap into a student's passion, you will tap into their genius.  You will unlock the intrinsic motivation that every child needs to become a life-long learner. School and education have become two different things and there needs has to to be a change if we want to prepare students for the world they are growing up in. Just listen and watch. I want every one of my students to say the words, "I am genius!"  How about you?

Blockhead Building Project

One of our student groups got turned on to coding when we participated in the Hour of Code a few months ago. Since then they have been coding and creating almost daily. At school, we have Chromebooks and they have been using those pretty well. Now, they believe they need a machine that can handle some more heavy-duty coding. The boys have put a grant on gofundme.com and are asking for any support possible. The details are below! To view their blog, click the link here Blockhead Building Blog.

Blockhead Building GoFundMe Project Page

Monday, March 30, 2015

Podcast: Twitter Chat and PBL

In this episode, we talk about our first ever district Twitter PD edchat, how 20% Time is bleeding over into our regular PBL classes and how crucial the climate of the classroom is for real learning. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes. Follow us on Twitter too! Don is @dayankee and Melissa is @melissahellwig4

An Update from the "Friendly CandEy" Student Blog

Check out this update from the student blog "Friendly CandEy" about an experiment he undertook this past weekend. All learning begins with a few failed attempts.

Friendly CandEy Blog

Friday, March 27, 2015

Once You Start, You Just Can't Stop!

Let us be the first to say, "Our classroom environments are not for everyone, but WE promise the learning is!" We are not the greatest rule or schedule followers (definitely one of our weak areas, no secret to anyone who knows us) but we believe we run a strong student-centered environment where every mostly every kid can find their own place, their own voice and discover who they are as learners.  We want to build our students into strong, confident boys and girls. When you walk into our crazy, chaotic classrooms, you will always see kids moving in all kinds of ways, engaging in student-centered and student-driven learning. You will also see students having fun and just being themselves.

When we started 20% Time, it was a tougher transition on me then it was for Don.  I had trouble with the freedom and autonomy that the kids needed during this project to be successful, which is crazy since this whole project was my idea!  As I started wrapping my head around the project and managing my own feelings of needing to be in charge of every part, it was as if a weight was lifted.  I was able to focus in on the students and their learning. I realized that I had been running a teacher-driven classroom where I needed to be the one who knew all the answers, stood in front of the class and always had all eyes on me.  I felt so selfish. I can say this is the moment that I knew that we were doing something special with learning and my current idea of education had been changed forever.

Student autonomy has become such an integral part of my classroom in all subjects, not just 20% Time.  I love it in my math and science classes too.  I don't even think I could have every single person in class create the same product to turn in anymore; it turns my stomach! Everything looking the exact same, with the exact same parameters, etc.? This isn't showing me who my student is or what they can do. I want to allow my students to meet the learning goals in the way they can best express themselves.  This can look different for every single student and you know what..........THAT IS OK!

I love watching students work through problem-based learning problems, truly being invested, finding solutions and making real world connections.  In math this week, while using scale factors (one of our math targets) students scaled Barbie's measurements to the height of a member in their group. At the end of this exercise, we ask that the students write a professional letter to Mattel stating their findings and their opinions.  We are finishing this lesson with some videos about a Barbie who has been scaled to a real-life person, sharing their findings and opinions and having a conversation about self-image.  It is an awesome lesson (that I took and adapted from someone else!) and it touches across all aspects.  I love watching these types of lessons come to life! After we are finished, I asked which students would like their letters mailed to Mattel and we sent them off!  Below are some of our students hard at work getting their Barbies drawn.

I know it looks awfully crazy but I can't imagine ever going back to my old teaching style.  Like I said, once you get a taste of what this kind of teaching can bring out in your students, you will never turn back.  The excitement it brings to your students, it will also bring to you.  So......take a step outside of your comfort zone, even if it is a baby step, and give it a try.  What do you have to lose?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Student's Service Project

One of our kiddos, Dominic, is collecting clothes for a homeless shelter as part of his 20% Time project. The clothes drive will be all next week. Here is the flier for the drive. He would love to have your support! Please click the link here (Clothes for the Homeless) to see the details.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Kids Creating Podcasts? Yep!

A few weeks ago, we launched TLR Radio, a student podcast about YA Lit. Each week, we gather five or six students together for about twenty minutes to talk about what they are reading. The conversation is easy and fluid. It is quite engaging. One of the boys who has appeared on the TLR Radio podcast is Jimmy, whose 20% Time project is the NFL Off-Season Guide. Last week, Jimmy decided that he wanted to do a podcast about the NFL off-season transactions. Today, he created his first podcast.

Jimmy and I took about fifteen minutes to go through the process of creating a podcast. We found a recorder that is compatible with Chromebooks, TwistedWave. Jimmy then created a free account on Podbean.com. He also created a cool logo for his podcast on LogoGarden.com. 

Creating a logo on LogoGarden.com

After creating the logo, he was ready to record. He opened TwistedWave, went to the hall, found a quiet space, and recorded his thoughts about the NFL off-season thus far. 

The TwistedWave interface, ready to record

Jimmy then saved the sound file to his Google Drive in MP3 format. Now he was ready to sign in to his Podbean.com account, upload his podcast file and publish it.

Uploading the sound file to Podbean.com

As soon as he published his podcast on Podbean.com, Jimmy was able to get the embed code, open an HTML gadget on his website, paste in the embed code, and he had a podcast gadget on his website. Now those who go to Jimmy's website (NFL Off-season Guide) can listen to his podcast. 

This process is another example of the kind of learning these kids are experiencing. They learn new technology tools everyday and use these tools wisely in order to express their learning. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Podcast: Harmonized Learning 35 - FedEx Day

In this episode, we talk about our first FedEx Day and how things went. We highlight some of the great ideas that came out of the projects during the last 24 hours. Please follow us here or on iTunes. Just search "Harmonized Learning" on iTunes and subscribe. Please follow us on Twitter (@dayankee is Don and @melissahellwig4 is Melissa).

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Our First FedEx Day

This week, we are introducing kids to our first FedEx Day. A FedEx Day is a 24 hour period where kids have to solve a real-life problem and present a viable solution within that 24 hour time frame. Like the FedEx slogan, "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight," the kids will have one day to problem-solve and present their solutions.

On Wednesday, we will introduce the problem that the kids will tackle. We will outline the assets they have to work with and the barriers they may face. The kids will then have time to group up and begin their work. They will do real-life research, analyze the opportunities they've discovered through their research and put together a plan that will solve the problem.

One of the things that we are looking forward to seeing is the urgency that the kids will demonstrate in order to solve a big problem in a short amount of time. Sometimes kids see their 20% Time project as long-term projects and there are ebbs and flows in their urgency. For our FedEx Day, there will be no time to relax; the time is too short. The day will be a good look into how the kids perform in a real-life situation that they will be facing countless times in their lives.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Podcast: RCET and FedEx Day

In this episode, we talk about our recent trip to present at the RCET Conference in Springfield, MO and our upcoming FedEx Day with the kids. As always, please follow us on Twitter. Don is @dayankee and Melissa is @melissahellwig4. You can also subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Are We Preparing Students for OUR Future or THEIR Future?

A while back, Don and I had the opportunity to tour the Innovation Center in midtown St. Louis as a part of the EdCamp STL planning committee.  All I can say is......WOW!  I was mesmerized by the building, office spaces, collaboration spaces, technology.......and then I started thinking.....in the current infrastructure of schools, how I am supposed to prepare them for this? This is a frightening question for me as an educator.  My job is to prepare my students for their life and educational journey. How am I to do that?

Here is a picture that I took, looking into a social media company that works out of the Innovation Center. All I could think about as I wandered around the building was, as teachers, we need to begin preparing our students for the world they are growing up in.......for THEIR futures.  Their futures look different than our own futures. They look different than the opportunities that were available even 10 years ago, shoot......5 years ago. The focus of schools needs a shift so that when students leave us, they feel prepared to embrace and take on the challenges and opportunities that await THEM.  What are we supposed to do? Could you imagine if classrooms looked like this?  If schools were truly set up to embrace this type of future?

I believe this begins with a shift in focus about what is important within a school's curriculum.  Content should not be the main focus of teachers but rather the processes that lie within teaching the content.  Use content to teach these processes such as problem solving, critical thinking, how to fail and move forward, perseverance, etc.  All of these are real world applications that will take them farther in their futures than knowing "the pathway that blood travels through the human heart" or "who the 5th Emperor of Rome is".

Another integral part has to be allowing students to experience technology in its fullest.  In a previous post, Don shared that we had a grant fulfilled for a 3D printer.  To watch students take their ideas and make them come to life is amazing!  Here is just one of the ideas printed by a student; it is a logo of her soon-to-be organic candy company.  (So much creativity shining through in just this one sentence, right?! And she is 13.)

Technology is our students' world and future.  Allowing them to experience through different media is only going to prepare them for the world they will be entering at 18, whether it is more schooling or the job market.  Don and I were unsure about what we would do with a 3D printer but we knew the kids would come up with ideas that didn't even cross our minds.  Since we didn't have a plan about how we were going to use it, does this mean we shouldn't have tried to get one? Absolutely not! You don't know what technology can do for you until you have it and try it.  Because we don't have a defined purpose doesn't mean we shouldn't get something. Don't be afraid to try it!

Don and I try to allow this type of thinking, creating, making, and tinkering with our 20% Time projects.  As I watch our students working, pushing through with their ideas, problem-solving, making appointments and phone calls, drawing, and making prototypes..........it makes me smile.  I love seeing who our kids are as learners and what they can do on their own. I love watching their creativity shine through and I mean REAL creativity, not PROGRAMMED creativity where teachers tell the kids what to do and how to do it.  Our kids can make and create in a way they feel is their strength and still meet the requirements of the project.  It is awesome to have kids all kids have a voice and not just any voice, but a real voice in their learning that describes who they are and how they learn.

I challenge you, as an educator, to think about your students' futures and the world in which they will grow up.  I challenge you to think about what you are doing to prepare them for this future.   Are you doing all you can? Are you doing what you should? Or are you doing what you have always done?  It is our job to always do what is best for our students.  Are you doing what is best for yours? Change is scary (no arguments here!)............but it is time for a change in education. Will you be that change?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Planning and Drafting

One of the things that Melissa and I notice is that the kids possess many talents that would remain hidden if we had not taken on 20% Time. Had we not begun this process, we would never know what computer geniuses Eli, Jacob, Evan and a few others are. We would not know the compassion of some of our kids like Quin, Cecily and Claire. We would not see the logic and inventiveness of Owen, Will and Christian. And we would not see the dreams of kids like Ethan, Yensen, Aireiona and Fiona. We certainly would not know what amazing artists Sam and Paul are unless we had allowed them the freedom to produce these drafts and plans. Wow!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Podcast: 3D Printer and 20% Time Progress

In this episode, we talk about our new 3D printer, the checkpoint activities for 20% Time projects, our PD presentations and preliminary planning for student TED Talks. 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

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Tough Pill to Swallow

Just as I began questioning if my new way to teach math (no textbooks, problem-based learning) was working, a student gave me a Christmas card with the following written in it:

This made my day!  Maybe my year! "Yes, I am SO happy you no longer HATE math!" I thought. To have a 7th grader write this to me, made me think realize that what I was doing was working.

This past summer, I got a chance to rewrite the math curriculum using only online resources, math videos that I created and current resources that I had.  I decided that I could create a better curriculum than the current math book we were using.  I was hopeful and fearful about what other teachers, parents and especially my students would think.  I like to think that I use a blended practice of current math practices and problem based learning.  This type of learning can be hard for students because they are used to the "kill and drill" method, not really having to think and maybe even failing a few times before they come to the correct answer.  Students were frustrated and mad, would shut down at times but I kept pushing.......I knew that this type of learning was better for understanding and retention.  I actually heard out of the mouths of some of my students......wait for it.............."This type of math was fun!" *GASP!* Yes, they really said it.

Robert Kaplinsky has great ideas about how to run a problem-based classroom and is a great resource to use.  He uses the element of surprise as the hook and kids love to see if they can get the right answer.  I was lucky enough to see him speak in person and I will tell you as, a math teacher, if you have the chance, you MUST go!  He really gets you motivated.

I am not saying that every student loves it or feels the same way as the one above but this is the motivation I needed to keep pushing my students and myself to try something new.  How can I ask my students to try something new if I am not willing?  How can any of us?  I need to be learning side by side with my students, showing them what lifelong learning looks like.  I can't be afraid to try new things or fail or be worried what people might say.  If these are the lessons I am trying to teach my students in middle school, I need to take and live my own advice.  It's a tough pill to swallow sometimes but I have to hand it to a student to bring it to my attention.


Friday, February 6, 2015

Podcast: Idea Showcase and EdCampSTL

In this episode, we talk about the Idea Showcase, our new 3D Printer and EdCampSTL. 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

Matching Tool To Task

Last week we wrote a grant on DonorsChoose.org for a 3D Printer. Within a couple of days, our students' families funded the grant so that we can use the printer to further the kids' learning. We have several students who are creating amazing projects who can use a 3D printer to advance their learning. This is the way things should be. The learning should drive the use of technology.

Too often we get technology and then try to find ways to use it. That is backwards. The way it should be is that the acquisition of technology should be a natural extension of the learning that is taking place. When we do things in that order, we are assured that the technology is relevant to the kids and their learning. As the school year evolves, we move in different directions depending on the interests and talents of our kids. Each group is different. In order to honor these differences, we plan our program according to the group of kids that we have. To that end, our technology needs vary from year to year. This year, one of our needs has been a 3D printer. We are ecstatic that we were able to get our grant funded and are eager to get the kids creating.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Idea Showcase Reflections

Today we opened up our 20% Time projects for public comment. In the school cafeteria, for two hours, students, teachers, parents and administrators came in to see the project ideas. We call this the Idea Showcase, a chance for kids to talk about their project ideas with an authentic audience and answer questions about the projects that they may not have thought about before. Over a hundred spectators browsed the projects over the two hour block of time.

The kids really rose to the occasion. Many were not ready when they woke up this morning, but worked hard to polish their presentations and materials in time to be effective advocates for their project ideas. Watching the kids interact with the adult visitors was especially interesting. Kids often have difficulty talking to adults about their work, but today the kids seemed to be engaged and verbose about their ideas. They were really able to enter into discussions about learning, and what they hoped to accomplish, on a deeper level than many would expect.

The projects represent a vast array of ideas. These are the ideas that the kids really wanted to pursue. A conversation with one parent went something like this:

"When you guys first started this, I wasn't sure what you were doing. There didn't seem to be much direction for the kids," the parent said.

"That's true. We encourage but try not to steer at the beginning. The kids have to come up with their own idea," I replied.

"Well, we ran into some real roadblocks during the last few months. I figured that those were things she (her daughter) would have to deal with. She solved the problems but she wasn't really sure how to at first," mom said.

"Yes, that's exactly it! It has to be real-life learning. We don't know the solutions to a lot of the problems we face and we have to figure them out as best we can," I said.

"Well, looking around at the projects, I get it now. This is amazing. All of these project were the kids' ideas," she said.

"Yep, they are. It's different from the way we normally think of school. If I give a kid a paper to fill out with answers that I know are supposed to be there, then that is MY work, not the kids' work. But here, all of these ideas, this clearly is the kids' work," I said.

"That is so true. I look around and I'm surprised by what these kids are doing," she replied.

"We are surprised every year when we start 20% Time," I said.

The level of thinking and problem-solving that these kids demonstrated so far is astonishing. Several have tweaked or changed their project idea because they really hadn't thought through their idea before and realized that they were not passionate about it. For those kids, they learned that the search is one of the most important parts of the project.

The Idea Showcase was validating for the kids and it's validating for us as teachers. What the visitors shared was that the kids were in command of their own learning and seemed excited to be pursuing learning about which they are passionate. The kids got to have positive interactions with adults who were both inquisitive and complementary. They came out of the showcase more confident and assured that their projects were worthwhile and valued. We, as teachers, again saw that kids can really do great things when we get out of their way.

Photos from the Idea Showcase

Friday, January 23, 2015

Podcast: Idea Showcase and Changing Projects

In this episode, we talk about preparation for Idea Showcase and students changing projects. We also touch on a few students who have changed projects to ideas about which they are passionate. 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, January 20, 2015

"But This is Fun Work!"

As we prepare for the Idea Showcase, students are busy at work (some are working harder than others, of course). Some of the kids get stalled and need some coaching and questioning to figure out what the next step of their project should be. Most have a good idea of what they need to accomplish but time-management is not their strength. The organization skills and learning construction skills are essential for everyone to master and 20% Time is an awesome way for the kids to learn those skills. They try, they flounder, they get a foothold, and they make progress.

The thing that we like to see is the kids' mood when they've forgotten that it's a 20% Time day and they figure it out upon entering the room. Today upon entering the room, Jimmy said, "Yay! It's 20% day! No work!" I reminded him that it is work and not a day off, to which he responded, "Yeah, but it's FUN work!" Cha-ching! This was an indication that the kids are getting the point. The work is theirs; they own it. They are responsible for learning what they WANT to learn. When kids are motivated by the work they want to do, they will achieve great things. We are in the midst of kids achieving great things again this year.

John works in a quiet corner

Some boys invade Don's space. Our space is their space.

Collaboration works

Working individually, together

Friday, January 9, 2015

Podcast: Idea Showcase Prep

In this episode, we talk about preparation for the Idea Showcase, presenting at EdCampWG and what is in store for EdCampSTL. 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