Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Did we hit the target?!

Spirit Lake High School students and teachers just celebrated the completion of January LIVE 2012, an immersive Project Based Learning experience for every student and every teacher. Over one thousand community members attended Presentation Night on January 30th, 2012 at the SAMI Center. Students highlighted their January learning projects, sharing their stories of classroom work, service-learning, expeditionary travel and upcoming competitions in the region including National History Day and Rube Goldberg.

Spirit Lake’s first January LIVE resulted from the countless hours of preparation and tireless support that every teacher invested in the creation and implementation of new our Project Based classes. The work began last year, as teachers considered the Iowa Core Curriculum, and carefully crafted “Driving Questions” which would engage our students at the highest level of academic rigor. Many courses were interdisciplinary, and all courses were designed to allow students to solve real-world, relevant challenges using 21st century digital technologies, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving.

The Spirit Lake Community School District 
would like to publically acknowledge, 
and sincerely thank 
each of the staff members
 for their tremendous work 
on behalf of our students
....you hit a bullseye!

 This past month has been a truly remarkable example of the exceptional professionalism and quality of our high school educators. We simply could not have imagined the way that our staff and students would work together to advance this initiative well beyond our wildest expectations for student engagement and achievement. Well done, Spirit Lake High School!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

BHAG: Jan LIVE is Built to Last

Last year when January LIVE was first proposed, it was clearly a BHAG--a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. The idea was just crazy enough to capture our imaginations, compelling enough to tug at our hearts and challenging enough to require every ounce of our professional expertise. The BHAG of January LIVE was that every student and every teacher in our medium sized rural high school would simultaneously engage in a fully Project Based Learning environment. We would work at the top of Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning, we would break out of the traditional paradigms that group kids by age and ability, and we would put our students at the center of the learning experience.

January LIVE certainly fits the description of a BHAG,

"A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as a unifying focal point of effort…It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal. It is tangible, energizing, highly focused. People get it right away; it takes little or no explanation."
Jim Collins, Jerry Porras 1994 bestseller Built To Last

Like the best of BHAGs, January LIVE required the collective effort of every player on the team. Every one joined in the pursuit of the BHAG and everyone "got it".

You are invited to celebrate the culminating event of the January LIVE BHAG. Celebrate reaching for a Big Hairy Audacious Goal and be there to catch the excitement of every student presenting their learning.
January 30th, from 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM at the SAMI Center and Spirit Lake High School.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

January LIVE lives on...

Spirit Lake High School is finding a new equilibrium. For many of us, it is hard to go back to the traditional classrooms, the 52 minute periods, study halls and worksheets. I am happy to report that some of us are still living in LIVE!

As I walked through the hallways, I noticed that some classrooms have NOT returned the desks to rows--kids are still working in teams, collaborating, and finding their places as members of a learning community. One teacher stopped me in the hallway to brainstorm on a Driving Question for his class--the kids voted yesterday in favor of PBL over textbooks and activities. A third teacher told me that he found some fabulous new software that would make the "flipped classroom" a growing reality. He plans to put to make the lectures the homework, and save the class time for engaged learning.

So, now we all know. We know what school can look like when students are really at the center of the learning process. We know that kids can be focused, creative, interactive, analytical and responsible. We all know.

Let's stay LIVE!!!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fresh Snow and New Trails

For pretty much the first time ever, I heard students complain about having a snow day. When Day 14 of January LIVE was covered in a fresh blanket of 6 to 8 inches of snow, SuptSmith sent the Twitter message to cancel. Shortly after, kids starting calling the High School office to ask if they could come in to work on their projects anyway. I actually heard myself saying, "No, it just isn't safe. Get out your computer, and work from home."

I am starting to believe that virtual snow days could really be a viable possibility in a 1:1 school like ours. Meanwhile, let's keep on blazing NEW TRAILS in Project Based Learning for Spirit Lake High School.

Environmental Psychology

One of my favorite aspects of January LIVE is learning along with the students. Before we began this adventure, I had only a general idea about the definition of Environmental Psychology. Now, I am eager to see the results of the qualitative and quantitative research that students in this class are gathering as Jan LIVE concludes. These students began by observing the transactions that humans make with their environment, including voluntary and involuntary attention, perception and cognitive mapping, restoration and creation of preferred environments, and common environmental stressors including noise or stimulus overload.

When students were ready to begin their own research, they formulated hypotheses to predict human behavior according to specific criteria associated with the place of business they were investigating. The researchers hit the field, and collected data at a wide variety of marketplace environments in Spirit Lake. For more photos, click Week Three.

If you are curious about the findings that will emerge as a result of their investigations, be sure to attend Presentation Night on January 30th. I figure we'll be in for a few surprises!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

This New House

When January LIVE began, the housing development south of the school was still just vacant lots and freshly excavated dirt. After three weeks of innovation, creativity and some geometric and scalar calculations, the students in This New House have envisioned an entire neighborhood!

The process began two weeks ago, as the students selected lots in the housing development according to the city engineering diagrams. Two dimensional paper and pencil drawings then became virtual, 3-D images using Google Sketch Up.
Now the project is entering its final phase, as students begin the process of creating a scalar model of the homes that they have each individually designed.  The "moment of truth" arrived this afternoon when the "lots" were pieced together. As the students assembled the housing development, every measurement counted. Were the angles correctly calculated? Did the scale conversions remain consistent? Would the puzzle pieces meld together to create a seamless whole?

And the answer is, "YES!!!". The remaining few days of January LIVE will be spent bringing the project together. Student differentiation, choice and real-world applicability are certainly a highlight of this January LIVE class. One day at a time, the dream is built as students combine their creative ingenuity with their mathematical skills.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A smile says it all...

This was the big moment: the sculpture is ready to transport into the great outdoors! The combined efforts of these students and teachers has begun to emerge: an amazing metallic campfire! This epic Project Based Learning class is going to leave its footprint on the Lakes Area for decades to come. January LIVE will last, and last, and last....

Don't Worry...it isn't real blood!

The students in Crime Stories have their work cut out for them....a mystery to solve! Don't worry--this isn't the "real life" connection for the class! Students are gathering clues at a mock crime scene, which they will bring to the bio lab for analysis. 

Each team assembled their own forensic kit, requesting supplies to gather blood samples, hair, DNA, and finger prints. These students received personal visits from some of Iowa's leading investigative experts from the state crime lab. Today, the class visited the jail!

This class represents a unique teacher partnership: English Language Arts and Biology. The IA Core in ELA is beautifully represented in this class--primary documents and rigorous reading in the content area are essential skills that our students need to have to unlock the mysteries of their unsolved crime stories. Well done, students!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

¡Pura Vida! Costa Rica

January LIVE is international.

"What can I learn about Costa Rica which will

benefit the community of Spirit Lake?
How will my travel to Costa Rica change the way
that I view my own country and culture?"

January LIVE is teaching us that learning can and should happen outside of the classroom. Whether in Costa Rica or Spirit Lake, action learning engages the whole person, makes a long-lasting memory and, ultimately, will shape a life. Project Based Learning captures our imaginations while making meaningful connections to experiences, emotions, and senses. ¡Pura Vida!

Read the class blog: ¡Pura Vida! Costa Rica

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Environmental Stewardship

January LIVE is off campus......way off campus!!!

From Iowa to alligators, the learning continues for a group of students studying Environmental Stewardship. These students began their January LIVE experience at Iowa Lakeside Lab, studying winter ecology. Student projects ranged from an in-depth exploration of weather patterns, ecosystems, cultural diversity and even city planning and construction.
Most of the students on this trip will be experiencing a tropical environment for the very first time--and learning how to be good stewards of the world's natural resources. Read their amazing adventures first hand at the classroom BLOG. Be sure click the links to the student learning journals---what an adventure!! Now, that is LIVE!

¡Luz! ¡Cámara! ¡Acción!

The Spanish Drama is beginning to unfold--as a murder mystery! Students in Mrs. Petty's class have translated a 1940's suspense play into Spanish. Now they are working to memorize find costumes, build a set, assemble the props, and-oh yes!--memorize lines in Spanish!!

We'll play a video of the student's performance on January 30th at Presentation Night. But if you want to see a LIVE January LIVE performance, come to the SAMI on Jan 18th at 5:30 PM

todas las personas están invitadas.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Service, Leadership and Learning

What makes a great leader? In our "upside down" school, some of our students are learning about an "upside down" way to look at leadership. The greatest leaders are those willing to lead the way in serving others. Students in this class will each develop a unique service learning projects--bringing their energy, idealism, enthusiasm AND their 21st Century Skills to the community.
You can see some of the ways that this class has already begun to embrace service learning by checking out their class on the January LIVE blog HERE.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

It all started with a STAR...

Last year, students from Spirit Lake High School, along with art teacher Mr. Brad Travis, created the SAMI Star. This year, Travis is teaming up with our vocational instructor, Mr. Bob Kirchner, to create a "larger-than-life-sized" sculpture which will be permanently displayed at Camp Foster.
This January LIVE class filled quickly, as students recognized an opportunity to be a part of something truly special. Travis and Kirchner enrolled in a welding class themselves this fall, in preparation for Jan LIVE.
Together, the two teachers bring years of experience and a passion for perfection to the art and craft of welding.

Welding demands highly skilled craftsmanship--which our January LIVE students are learning, day by day. Take a look at the video blog page to see the kids in action!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Peer Teaching

Need we say more?

Old Courthouse Museum

The students in Mrs. Toews’ J-Term class, Who Do You Think You Are?, recently visited the Sioux Falls Old Courthouse Museum to learn more about how to preserve memories through oral histories. The staff at the museum explained how they used letters, photos, and taped interviews to preserve the stories of some of the local Vietnam veterans. They connected this to how the students can preserve their own family memories through photos and interviews. Spirit Lake students were impressed with the individual attention, and professional expertise of the museum staff. Great trip!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Week One--WOW!!

What is happening in Spirit Lake High School??
Students and teachers are working side by side.
Together, we are learning, researching, measuring, thinking, dreaming,
building, innovating and creating.

Project Based Learning is happening everywhere. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Each and every student at Spirit Lake High School may now take advantage of ACT's Online Test Preparation program! SLHS has obtained a site license which allows our students to complete individualized training for the national ACT exam. The Online prep may be accessed by our students 24 hours a day, seven days a week! There will also be time built into the January Term schedule for ANY student who wishes to use this test prep option!

  • Practice tests with real ACT test questions
  • Practice essays for the new optional ACT Writing Test, with real-time scoring
  • Comprehensive content review for each of the ACT's four required tests—English, Math, Reading, and Science
  • Diagnostic test and personalized Study Path
  • Anywhere, anytime access via the Internet
The ACT exam is an important step in a student's pathway to future learning opportunities. Let's get serious about getting ready!
Stop into the Student Services office to get signed up for the ACT Online Prep course!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Adventure. Learning. Living. January, 2012

If you have not yet registered for January LIVE--it is time!
Click the link here: REGISTER NOW.
We have had an amazing student response to the first-ever schoolwide Project Based Learning adventure. The course descriptions will give you a good idea of the type of rigorous, real-world out-of-the-box learning that the whole school will explore from January 4th until January 24th, 2012. Still, to really understand how innovative these classes are, you need to talk with the teachers! Travis and Kirchner are buying plasma-cutters and signing up for extra training for their class, The Art of Welding! Toews is exchanging emails with the folks at Ancestory.com to allow our students free access to this powerful family-tree search engine. Reinking is working out the details of bringing teams to the state-wide Rube Goldberg contest. Speaking of contests, Friederich and Sierck fully expect to take the History Day team to the National Competition!

Our Internship Team is on the move! SLHS will deploy over fifty eager interns into the Spirit Lake community, bringing their talents, skills, and creativity to the marketplace.

The innovation continues. Stay tuned !

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

F.A.Q. Part I: What is January L.I.V.E.?

This year, Spirit Lake High School students will have an amazing opportunity for Project Based Learning, school-wide. For fifteen days in January, students and teachers will work on "real-world challenges" as they take on academic exploration in a wide variety of disciplines. The faculty at SLHS have created classes that will go "deep" in the pursuit of academic rigor and relevance. I have never looked forward to January with so much eagerness before!

Here are just a few of the topics being explored during the January L.I.V.E. (Locally Integrated, Virtually Enhanced) classes:
  • "The Art of Welding" -- Larger than Life Metallic Sculpting
  • C.S.I. at SLHS
  • The Rube Goldberg Challenge
  • Revolution, Reaction, and Reform in History
  • Winter Ecology--Aquatic and Terrestrial Life under the Ice
  • Project Runway -- Textiles for the 21st Century
  • Saving the Planet -- the Science of Superheroes
  • The Psychology of Marketing
One of the most exciting aspects of January L.I.V.E. will be the Senior Internships. On the brink of graduation, our seniors will be able to partner with local professionals or others in the workforce to explore their own career choices. We foresee that this opportunity will become the capstone experience for Spirit Lake seniors, helping them to embark successfully on their lifetime journey of learning, living and working to make a difference in the world around them.

Many more details about January L.I.V.E. will be made available as school begins this Fall--can't wait!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Jan L.I.V.E.: Part II--WHO??

Question: Who is the January Term for??
Answer: All of us!!

The January Term is an inclusive opportunity for every teacher and every learner to experience Project Based Learning in a highly supported environment, for three weeks in January. Starting on January 4th, every learner will be enrolled in one Project Based Learning class, meeting for either 180 minutes per day (2 blocks) or 270 minutes (3 blocks) per day.
Upon first glance, the January Term schedule may look like a block schedule. It isn't!! The day is divided into four long segments to accommodate students and teachers who have unique scheduling needs (AP or Dual Credit or music classes, "shared" staff, etc.)

The January Term Project Based Learning classes are the main focus of every learner and every teacher. Teachers will teach only one PBL class and students will take only one PBL class during the January Term.


Every Learner and Every Teacher

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Jan L.I.V.E. Part III--WHERE??

Question: Where will the January Term classes be held?
Answer: Mostly here, some here and there, and a few--Everywhere!

There is already one EPIC J-Term class being planned by the Spanish Department: Costa Rica! The Spanish team has been considering a trip to a Spanish speaking destination for a long while--and the January Term has provided an excellent window of opportunity for them. When you consider the Project Based Learning opportunities for a trip such as this, it is clearly an ideal "fit" for the January Term objectives. I will be eager to see our students gain a global perspective as they prepare for this educational journey!

We hope that the January Term will also provide an opportunity for some of our Senior students to participate in an Internship experience. Students with mentors will be able to gain real world career experience as they partner with area business people, educators, health-care professionals and many others.

Of course, most of the January Term courses will be housed on the campus of SLHS--but that doesn't mean that they will be confined to the four walls of the traditional classroom! The extended contact time with students will make the ever-popular "field trip" much easier to manage, finance, and plan. It is easier to travel with 20 students than 120. A creative use of time and space will allow our learning to be as mobile as possible.

The J-Term WHERE?

Here, there, and everywhere.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Jan L.I.V.E. Part IV: "When?"

Question: "When is January Term?"
Answer: "January!?!"
I like easy questions. But, since I am a teacher, I can give a long and complicated answer to even the simplest question! The Fall Semester, 2011 will conclude before Winter Break. December 20th is the last day of first semester.
January Term will begin on January 3rd.
As I write, we have 143 days left to get ready, according to the very cool "countdown" gadget that I added to the blog. I wonder how many days it took England to get ready for the Royal Wedding? We should be able to swing J-Term in less time, since there will be no crowds of cheering Brits, no Royal carriages and, unless Queen Elizabeth arrives, very few photographers.
That having been said, we will work AS IF we are putting together a Royal Wedding--no detail forgotten. And EVERYONE is invited (formal attire not required).

Friday, September 2, 2011

January L.I.V.E., Part Five: "Why?"

Why is “Why?” the last of the five “W”s? Because it’s the hard one, always. Why is the sun yellow? (Well, actually it is radiating white light, but the atmosphere scatters the photons, and our eyes “average” the electromagnetic energy) Why did the Tooth Fairy forget to come? (ask your Dad)

And, of course, “Why are we including a January Term into our academic schedule for next year?”

The simplest answer is “Why not? It gives every student and every teacher an opportunity to explore a creative, hands-on, real world opportunity for learning in the coldest, darkest, winteriest month of the year. Since January contains what is considered to be the most depressing day of the year, it stands to reason that anything we can do to add a little happiness to our lives during January is a very good idea, indeed.

That having been said, some other good reasons for the January Term include:

  1. Project Based Learning works best in an environment that supports collaborative, student driven projects. Extended learning time, small class sizes and a wide-open world of exploration will be a part of the January Term experience for our students.
  2. Why now? The 1:1 Tech initiative was an absolutely essential pre-cursor to the January Term idea. How could all teachers ask their students--at the same time--to design, investigate, create, collaborate and innovate without 24/7 access to the technology? Just about every possible Mac Application will naturally become a part of our student’s work. It will be a seamless integration of technology—not for the sake of technology, but for the sake of the learning!
  3. We owe it to ourselves to explore PBL as a part of our experience as educators. We all know that we can read every PBL article ever written, watch dozens of PBL videos and listen to PBL lectures—but until we actually jump in and give it a try, we won’t know how truly transformational it really is. Seriously, what are we waiting for?
Most importantly always in education is to check to see that any change, any initiative and any innovation can honestly be tied to student achievement and learning. I will be eager to study the data, both anecdotal and quantitative. January Term is a school-wide experiment. Googles are required at all times.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

What is Project Based Learning?

Question: What is Project Based Learning?
Answer: An extended process of inquiry designed to engage the 21st century learner in rigorous academic exploration resulting in an authentic, high quality product or presentation.

From the Buck Institute for Education, Project Based Learning features the following components:

  • PBL is organized around an open-ended Driving Question or Challenge. These focus students’ work and deepen their learning by centering on significant issues, debates, questions and/or problems.
  • PB L creates a need to know essential content and skills. Typical projects (and most instruction) begin by presenting students with knowledge and concepts and then, once learned, give them the opportunity to apply them. PBL begins with the vision of an end product or presentation which requires learning specific knowledge and concepts, thus creating a context and reason to learn and understand the information and concepts.
  • PBL requires inquiry to learn and/or create something new. Not all learning has to be based on inquiry, but some should. And this inquiry should lead students to construct something new – an idea, an interpretation, a new way of displaying what they have learned.
  • PBL requires critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication. Students need to do much more than remember information—they need to use higher-order thinking skills. They also have to learn to work as a team and contribute to a group effort. They must listen to others and make their own ideas clear when speaking, be able to read a variety of material, write or otherwise express themselves in various modes, and make effective presentations. These skills, competencies and habits of mind are often known as "21st Century Skills".
  • PBL allows some degree of student voice and choice. Students learn to work independently and take responsibility when they are asked to make choices. The opportunity to make choices, and to express their learning in their own voice, also helps to increase students’ educational engagement.
  • PBL incorporates feedback and revision. Students use peer critique to improve their work to create higher quality products.
  • PBL results in a publicly presented product or performance. What you know is demonstrated by what you do, and what you do must be open to public scrutiny and critique.
We will celebrate the Project Based Learning at SLHS with a January Term Presentation Event--designed to showcase the results of our January PBL adventures!