Tuesday, February 11, 2014

SEM: Is It Really Worth It?

The Schoolwide Enrichment Model: E-Time, enrichment clusters, strength based learning, student driven, interest based experiences.  If you have been following this blog for very long, you know that SEM is something I am quite passionate about.  And why not?  It's all about kids!  It's all about figuring out who they are, what they love, and what they want to do with the passion that lies within them.   More importantly, it's about helping them figure out those things for themselves...and understanding why it matters.

At Austin Elementary, we are becoming pretty well known for asking our learners some interesting questions:
  • What are you interested in?  
  • What do you love to do?  
  • What are you good at?  
  • What are you passionate about? 
  • How can you use that passion to make a difference?
Pretty cool questions, don't you think?  I mean really...as an educator, I can't think of many things more valuable to the success of my learners than my willingness...and ability...to get to know them.  To see them as unique and valuable.  To see them as individuals who have as much to offer me as I do to offer them. 

So, if that's the case, why don't we ask these questions more often?  Why isn't EVERYONE asking these questions?  Why isn't SEM an integral part of every school in the country?  Why are we one of only six elementary schools in Texas actively participating in the Schoolwide Enrichment Model?  Well, one possible answer is simply this...it's hard...and scary...and well...a little bit different. 

 Oh c'mon!  How hard can it be?

Well, let's see...
  • E-Time requires every educator to design student driven, interest based learning  experiences...in addition to his/her regular lesson planning...every Friday.
  • And not only that...it's expected that the tenets of SEM are embedded not only into E-Time every Friday morning, but also into every aspect of campus life.
  • Preparing for E-Time  requires materials and skills that are very often, not found in a traditional classroom.
  • The learners get so excited...calming them down when E-Time is over can sometimes be...well...a challenge.
  • Implementing the Schoolwide Enrichment Model at Austin has been expensive.  Confratute, E-Time and enrichment cluster supplies, professional learning expenses...all these things cost money...lots of money.
  • The Schoolwide Enrichment Model requires educators...and learners...and yes, parents...to think differently about what education, and more importantly, what learning is all about.

And scary...seriously?  What's so scary about a bunch of kids getting super excited about learning?  

Well let's see...
  • No lesson plans for E-Time?  Nope!
  • I may not be an expert in the E-Time topic I am facilitating?  Nope!
  • The learners drive the learning?  Yep! Imagine that!
  • Learners become educators?  Yep! (...and they're pretty good at it too!)
  • I will have visitors in my classroom...again?  Yep!

And different?  So what?  Different is good!  Right?

Well, let's see...
  • Did you hear me say no lesson plans...whaaaattt???
  • Strength based instruction...seriously?   What about remediation?  We need to find out what these kids can't do...and make them do it!  Over...and over...and over...again!
  • Student driven?  Are you kidding me?  What about the standards?  What about the TEKS?  What about The Test?
  • And really...some might question the value of "losing" an hour of instruction every Friday so that learners can "explore their interests."
So...when you consider all the obstacles...when you look at the challenges and yes, the setbacks...is it all worth it?  The time, the money, the frustrations, the tears...are they worth it?   The endless effort, the late nights, the tough conversations...are they worth it?

Well, let's see...

Last week...

Kindergarten learners began "mini-clusters," a 4 week journey of exploration based on their own unique interests, passions, and strengths. 

A  group of 3rd graders had the opportunity to explore
the world of coding!

A fifth grade learner discovered the finer points of stop motion animation.

Click here to see his final creation...

5th Grader - Stop Motion Creation

Fifth grade learners designed a plan for mentoring some younger learners.

Another group of fifth graders worked with a local police officer to create a plan to raise awareness of bullying.

A young learner discovered the joy of creating her own unique piece of art!

The work of C.O.P. Academy, one of our 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade enrichment clusters was featured on the cable broadcast of Coppell Police Department's "Coppell Blue."


Coming This Week:

1st and 2nd grade learners will be starting their enrichment cluster journey.  The facilitators (including two community members!) are ready to go and the kiddos are oh so excited!  They will be exploring an incredible variety of topics over the next nine weeks, and I can't wait to see where this journey leads them!  Click on the link below to get a preview of what's to come.

Our very first "Brown Bag Lunch" event will be happening on Thursday morning for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade learners!  Thirty learners who are interested in learning more about alternative energy solutions will be gathering in the library to enjoy their lunch and hear from Alicia Berdan from "Be-Wind'" an organization that manufactures wind turbines for urban areas.  The presentation will also be live streamed and recorded for future use.

Fifth grade learners will be selected to act as facilitator assistants for their younger peers in the 1st and 2nd grade enrichment clusters. 

So, back to my original question...the impetus behind this  long...maybe too long...blog post.

SEM: Is it really worth it?  

Well, let's see...

Is it hard...yes, sometimes.

Can it be scary...yes, sometimes.  Change is always scary.

Is it different?  Definitely! (But sometimes, that's a good thing...) 

But really, is it worth it?

Kids are working with community members, exploring their interests, learning about careers, discovering their talents...all while having a great time and learning that they have the power to do amazing things!

So, I guess the real question is..."Kids: Are They Really Worth It?"  You bet they are!

Works for me!  How about you???

Monday, February 3, 2014

Enrichment Clusters: Learners Making an Impact

Recently, our 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade learners had the opportunity to spend nine weeks exploring in depth, an area of passion or interest that they wanted to learn more about.  Forensic science, photography, hot air balloons, stop motion animation, quilting...the list goes on and on.  In December, we spent a day celebrating these young learners as they showcased their passions and shared with the community the impact their learning had on them and on the world around them.   It was an amazing day full of wonder, celebration, and accomplishment!  Following the showcase, I asked each facilitator to share a few of the highlights of the cluster experience, including the ways in which their learners were able to make a difference in the community of Coppell or around the world.  Keep reading to see what these facilitators had to say about their learners' accomplishments.

Painting With a Purpose

Facilitated by Teresa Raney, Literacy Specialist

Our journey began with lots of great discussions on how we could use our creative art work to help or encourage others. We did lots of brainstorming on the purpose of our art. We researched some positive quotes, talked about making art for those that are sick, making a gift for teachers on our campus, or simply a gift to brighten someone’s day. The students watched some informative videos on the process of painting on ceramic plates. We used paper plates to practice, then moved on to working on ceramic surfaces. We discovered how to transfer a computer graphic onto a white ceramic plate or tile using: carbon paper and special paint. It took several weeks to complete the process which included designing the artwork, using fonts and graphics that could easily be traced and transferred, and then carefully painting the images. Some of the students created a “how to video” to share with other students on how to do this unique type of art work. During the showcase the students were so excited to display and explain about their creative designs. Many created personalized coasters as gifts for some of the teachers and plates with positive quotes to deliver to others that might need some encouragement.

Ocean Helpers Unite!

Facilitated by Lisa Ricciardelli, Art Educator

Ocean Helpers Unite! Students changed the cluster name once they discovered they were more than 'explorers'. They learned that many human actions put the Earth's oceans at risk and therefore they wanted to take action to help make positive change. Learners in this cluster researched, learned that everything you read online may not always be true so finding good/reputable sources is key. They also learned about the importance of recycling on a deeper level. They raised awareness through creativity: created a website, made a stop motion video about shark fin poaching, created posters, and finally, they spearheaded Ocean Day (Jan. 23, 2014) to raise awareness in our school community!

 Wildlife Conservation

Facilitated by Jan McBride, Counselor

Wildlife Conservation cluster was intrigued by the local and gloabal issues facing our animals and natural resources. Students not only became experts on thier animal and habitat but also aquired knowledge of the threats and laws that protect some of the animals. Students felt they were able to assist in the wareness by providing local initatives that the individuals and the community could participate in.

 The Crafters' Guild

Facilitated by Jodie McConnell, Media Specialist

The Crafter's Guild was my favorite cluster to facilitate so far! The learners were so engaged in exploring mixed media and became passionate about their work being donated for senior citizens to enjoy. This journey led us through different kinds of mediums and ways to work with them. I loved how eager the learners were to attempt new methods and share their creations. One of my goals was for learners to be able to recreate mixed media at home independently using the skills learned in our cluster. A parent validated this to me just this week, telling me how all her daughter did over the break was mixed media, creating project after project for others.

 Treasure Island

Facilitated by Mrs Dobecka, P.E. Educator

The Pirate Cluster researched historical and modern day pirates. The students took different aspects of a pirate life; why become a pirate, comparisons of historical/modern treasures, differences in historical/modern ships, and other influences. The students decided to have a contest between classes with the winner receiving a treasure hunt. The money raised would be donated to the Jacob Logan Foundation. The students decided this would help educate people so they would not have to resort to unlawful activities to feed their families. The students then had to investigate how to prepare treasure maps and come up with the treasure.

 Moving and Grooving

Facilitated by Ashley Rhodes, 5th Grade Educator

In the Moving and Grooving cluster, group members immediately came to a decision that a music video was the product they wanted to make. Learners brainstormed popular songs that they all enjoyed listening to, voted on options, and determined which song would be their performance piece. Once they decided upon "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons, and prior to beginning the recording process, they tried to pull in deeper content then simply singing and dancing. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) was mentioned, the learners researched what exactly the EPA was, and then decided that they could pull in the radioactive focus from the EPA and connect it with an underlying purpose of their music video. They wanted to educate the public on radioactive components of the world around us. The learners practiced their song, created choreography, researched the EPA, experienced a guest speaker from the EPA, and created a video which includes information they learned about radioactive material (which is virtually everywhere!). You can view the music video at www.tinyurl.com/cluster2013 After the video was created the learners reflected on the experience, and wished that they would have recorded the video with a different light setting (they recorded the video with black lights and glow sticks, so it it difficult to see the choreography they worked on).

 Linking Through Language

Facilitated by Lindsay Harris, 4th Grade Educator

Unfortunately, I didn't get to see the finished product, but many of the kids in the cluster were very excited to tell me about the showcase and the fun they had during the entire experience. In the time I was there, I saw many of my cluster learners getting excited about the endeavor of learning new languages. I had a few who were very enthusiastic about their plan to learn a new language because it provided them with a connection to a relative who had spoken that language. I could see that they were starting to make connections about the importance of language and how it connects us across so many different cultures.

Show of Hands

Facilitated by Caitlin Burton, 5th Grade Educator

Show of Hands decided our best service would be to add to the collection of "signed books". We chose Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle. We spent time compiling and practicing the signs, learned about the similarities between signed English and American Sign Language, and practiced making something a question with something as simple as changing the way our eyebrows were.

We also emailed the publisher of Brown Bear (Holt Publishing) to ask their permission to make the video public. This was a process of research, writing a professional request, and waiting for a response.

The intended opportunity for our final product is deaf children, adults, and families. There is quite a collection of books with sign language included, and Brown Bear would be a classic for all children to enjoy, no matter their method of "hearing" the story.

 Part With Your Art

Facilitated by Nathan Harvey, 5th Grade Educator

Part With Your Art began by learning the MANY different forms that art can take. It can be drawing, painting, coloring, and shading. Those are the standards, but it can also be dance, soap carving, abstract forms of art, and more. The students in this cluster got to test drive the parts of art that interested them the most before deciding upon where they would stay for the creation portion of the cluster. Early on in the cluster we talked about doing art for the benefit of others, not ourselves, and finding joy and happiness through that process. Our cluster did just that as we created various works of art to pass along to a local hospital. Bracelets were made with the rainbow loom, pastels were used to create gorgeous scenes, soap was carved to make a winter wonderland, and we even brought out a blow dryer and made a small mess with some very creative crayon art! By the end of the cluster, our learners had discovered there is joy found int he process of creating art, not just in completing it for our own satisfaction, and the joy that can bring someone else can be far greater than we realize.

Mystery, Mystery!

Facilitated by Angela Cabello, 4th Grade Educator

Mystery, Mystery was a cluster that focused on forensic science. Students became very interested in the JFK assassination. During this cluster we had several guest speakers: two police officers (one that did forensic work in her previous role with Dallas PD), a forensic scientist, and an FBI agent. Students made a model of the JFK assassination crime scene after they learned from the guest speakers what crime scenes include. They also used supplies to show how the forensic scientists solved the crime scene. This was demonstrated in their model. Students learned how to extract DNA from strawberries. During the showcase, students taught visitors how to extract DNA from strawberries, showed the model of the JFK assassination, and shared their learning using a display board.

 Creative Card Making

Facilitated by Paige Schulz, 4th Grade Educator

First, the students wanted to let the faculty and staff know how much they're appreciated so they created and delivered handmade cards to each employee. Then, they wanted to make cards thanking our visiting Veterans for serving our country and coming to our assembly. They found some patriotic designs on Pinterest and hand delivered them to our visitors as they welcomed and escorted them into the gym. As a final project, they chose to make holiday cards for patients at Scottish Rite Hospital. They were particularly interested in this hospital because one of our members receives services from SRH. We had the head pharmicist come out to explain all the different services provided by the hospital. She also informed us of many of the career options available to them at Scottish Rite.

World of Wood

Facilitated by David Barnette, Music Educator

The kids did awesome. The learned how to use drills, saws, band saw. They stuck with the plan to build benches for the garden.

Cartoon Studio

Facilitated by Shelly Munoz, 3rd Grade Educator 
and Linka Behn, Community Member

The cluster that I facilitated was called "Cartoon Studio". I had no idea where this group was going to take it. On the first day, I was nervous and excited about leading these kids in this area, but I knew it would be a lot of fun.

There was so much interest in cartooning, that we ended up breaking into two groups. On day one, we met together as one large group. We learned from Mrs. Behn that cartooning means all sorts of things. Cartooning can be drawing, commercials, cartoons, comic strips, animation, etc. I let my learners focus in on two areas. They chose to work on animation and comic strips.

For comic strips, I had some learners who explored online comic strip makers like http://www.makebeliefscomix.com/Comix/ and http://www.lego.com/en-us/city/comic-builder/my-comics. I had one student who loved making these comics so much, this is what she did the whole time! Her comics always had a great story to tell!

The other cartooning method that learners wanted to explore was animation. I have to admit that this made me very nervous because I didn't have any experience with animation. So, I opened it up to the kids and asked them what their ideas were. One fourth grader said, "We can make animation movies using the Lego Movie Maker App. I make these movies all of the time at home. Can I bring my iPad next week and show everyone?" Wow. This made me nervous too because I had never used the app and I wondered what the kids would think if I was the teacher and didn't know anything about what they were learning. Turns out, this student was an excellent teacher! He brought his iPad the next week and showed the others how to use the animation app. It was really easy and I learned how to use it myself and made a couple of movies of my own at home.
The class ran with this idea. They divided themselves up into groups and started making stop-motion movies! One student made how-to videos and taught the viewer how to fold paper airplanes. Others used legos and props to tell a story.

They learned many skills like story-telling, the importance of holding the camera still, communication, teamwork, creativity, and lots of patience! I had one group who spent five hours making a one and a half minute video. It was fantastic!

Other projects included making a stop-motion movie using a marker and dry erase board as well as using an online animation webiste called http://www.abcya.com/animate.htm.

This cluster was truly a joy to be a part of. Honestly, I didn't do very much. The kids really took the lead on this one and I stepped back and enjoyed the show! It was a fantastic experience!

 Wrap It Up

Facilitated by May Voltz, 5th Grade Educator

Our cluster learned several techniques for gift wrapping such as the Japanese Kimono and Japanese pleating style. Students collected and wrapped gifts that were taken to a local hospital for children at Christmas time.

This is our website: https://sites.google.com/a/g.coppellisd.com/let-s-wrap-it-up/

 Do Sharks Get Toothaches

Facilitated by John Pearson, 4th Grade Educator

The learners researched ocean life and prepared a power point presentation on several selected types of creatures that live in the ocean. The authentic audience was anyone interested in ocean life.
Most of the kids were very interested in several examples of ocean life, especially the (now extinct) megaladon shark and a very ugly, unique fish called the sheephead fish, which has human teeth. Kids formed groups to research on the internet using Google and YouTube, and another group took on the task of preparing the power point slide show. At the end, the whole team worked on creating the project board for the backdrop.

Through the Lens

Facilitated by Natalie Paraliticci, 3rd Grade Educator

In this cluster my learner were able to use photography to serve a varity of purposes. Those who wanted to learn the basic, learn through hands on paractice as well as a few videos for beginners. Others in my group created a smore for the teachers and learners at Austin. A group of boys in my group used photos that they took and an app, to create a football how-to video for other students. They sat down and wrote a skript together before carrying this idea out. Another group in my cluser leared how to modpodge a photo to a canvas.

Overall it was a successful cluser and the learners seemed to enjoy learning through a different lens.

 Chronicles of Yarnia

Facilitated by Beth Cook, 3rd Grade Educator

This story of yarn began with Mrs. Manning coming in and sharing how wool could be spun into yarn. Each learner was given some wool and using a drop spindle learners spun the wool into yarn and created their own unique bracelet. Next students learned how to crochet. They decided that they would like to create a scarf to be raffled off to our student body. Any monies raised would be used to buy food for our campus food bank. By the end of the cluster the learners had created three unique scarves. During our Grade 3-5 Showcase, the scarves were displayed and raffled tickets were sold. At the end of the day, three happy students went home with a hand made scarf. They raised $74 which will go towards groceries for our campus food bank!!

 C.O.P. Academy

Facilitated by Brittney Krommenhoek, 5th Grade Educator

The C.O.P. Academy Cluster (Children On Patrol) included students that are passionate about police work! The students wanted to find out why criminals are criminals. They researched and gathered information on the effects that education and drug use have on crime. We had two police officers, Officer Cochran and Officer Peter, come speak with us. The students combined all their information into a website, and we sent the website to surrounding police departments. Three police departments shared the website on their twitter page (Irving Police Department, Carrollton Police Department, and the Coppell Police Department). Officer Peter reconnected with the C.O.P. Academy Cluster after seeing that the website gained a lot of interest. He came back to visit us on January 17th to film for the show Coppell Blue! The students were excited to share their message with the community.

 The Young Austin Quilters' Guild

Facilitated by Lauren Holcombe, 4th Grade Educator

The Young Austin Quilters' Guild included a group of young ladies who showed interest in fabrics, colors, patterns, story telling, and quilting. We were also ecstatic to welcome a parent, Karen Moore, who faithfully came each Friday morning sewing machine in hand and willing to share her knowledge of quilting and sewing with the group. The members of the Quilters' Guild spent time researching the history of quilts and different types of quilts. The guild then moved onto selecting pieces of material for their own quilt. The students worked in groups to design a theme for the quilt by using colors or patterns. Cutting fabric for the quilts proved to be one of the most time consuming and difficult parts of our journey. The girls spent lots of time measuring and squaring up their quilt blocks. We took a break from our quilts to welcome a guest speaker, Kellene Villalobos. Mrs. Villalobos spoke about her experience as a quilter and brought in some of her favorite quilts to share. She even stayed to offer tips on sewing and quilt design! Once the quilts were ready to be pieced together the girls worked with hand stitching and sewing machines to piece the quilts. We had a wonderful learning adventure together!

Rockin' Robos 

Facilitated by Jennifer Matthews, 3rd Grade Educator

Rockin' Robos consisted of creating Mindstorm Lego robots that where programmed to move left, right, slow and super fast, as my learners would say;). They created a flyer, also known as a s'more, to organize their thoughts and communicate with robots organization about how robots are our future and are becoming more and more a part of our daily lives. The learners decided to create a "protoype" robot for our school that would help with the noise level in the hallways here at Austin. What a success it was! We used an APP called Too Loud that could be easily understood by all grade levels. We were lucky enough to also have alittle help from some local CHS students who are currently taking robotic/engineering classes. The learners were able to ask questions and they did! They rocked it!!!

 Germs and Other Gross Stuff

Facilitated by Sally Wiethoff, Parent of Austin Elementary Learner

Facilitating the Germs and Other Gross Stuff cluster was a great chance to meet and work with some very intelligent and creative students at Austin. While they were not able to finish their product, the students planned to create a comic book that featured a germ-fighting hero (a white blood cell) saving the city from a team of evil bacteria. We planned to give it to local pharmacies and clinics to keep in their waiting rooms.

Flying High

Facilitated by Kathleen Trueblood, 3rd Grade Educator

The Flying High cluster discussed and researched hot air balloons. The learners discovered many facts about the huge, beautiful balloons that we have seen in pictures and balloon festivals. We contacted a guest speaker who owned and had flown his own balloon. We had an aeronautical engineer come speak and work with the learners as they built their individual balloons. As each learner was creating, he would ask him/ her look at his/ her design and see what was working and what could be done to improve his/ her model. After trying many different supplies: 3 different sizes/ thickness of plastic bags, balsa wood, wire, paper cups, string, 3 different sizes of candles, straw and foil... The learners worked and put together the right combination of supplies and created a great hot air balloon... It filled with hot air but did not rise... The class collaborated and decided it was too heavy. They removed some of the tape and added one more candle and we had SUCCESS...lift off!!!!! It was exciting. At one time, we had four balloons floating across the classroom! We captured this on tape- and the group made an awesome video for all to see! Another group of boys created a science lesson power point for first graders. They are looking forward to going in the classroom and teaching about how hot air rises and fun facts about hot air balloons. We plan on recording the lesson so that we can share with other schools. This cluster soared beyond what we ever imagined!

If You Build It, They Will Come!

Facilitated by Debbie Dragone, Community Volunteer

In this cluster, learners had the opportunity to explore the world of small business and entrepreneurship.  They created their own small business, Super Sports, complete with CEO, VP of Marketing and Advertisement, and Chief Financial Officer.  They developed a product line and grabbed their target audience's attention with a unique brand and logo!  Their excitement and enthusiasm was absolutely contagious as they prepared prepared for their grand opening!

Our learners did amazing things, but they are not done yet.  In just a few short weeks, our first and second graders will begin their enrichment cluster journey.  They too have talents and passions they want to share with the world.  Click on the link below to get a preview of what these young learners will be doing!

I know these young learners will be doing great things, and I cannot wait to see how their journey impacts our school, our community, and our world.  Plan now to attend the 1st and 2nd grade Enrichment Cluster Showcase on April 25, 2014.  Click on the link below for details!