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 He also created a cool logo for his podcast on 

Creating a logo on

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 account, upload his podcast file and publish it.

Uploading the sound file to

As soon as he published his podcast on, 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 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 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?