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Lifelong Learning

Horizon Middle School campus embraces innovation this year

June 7, 2018

An interdisciplinary project involving the book “Wonder,” hydroponics tower gardening, one-to-one technology, and e-Folios are just some innovations found throughout the Horizon Middle School campus this year. Horizon principals shared highlights of the year of innovation with Moorhead School Board members May 29.

According to Carla Smith, principal at Horizon Middle School West Campus, they encouraged teachers to take risks by allowing students to make choices in their learning.

“It can be scary to allow students to have choice, because as educators, we feel like we need to carefully plan everything,” Smith said. “Because teachers let students take the lead on some projects, students were able to pursue areas of interest that they were passionate about with the support and guidance of our teachers.”

At Horizon West, students working in teams led an interdisciplinary project to bring all students and staff to see the movie “Wonder.” Students planned the event, led fund-raising and counted donations. Many classrooms read the book “Wonder.”

“It’s an interdisciplinary project they will remember,” Smith said. “It was completely led by our students.”

Innovative art teachers exposed students to a variety of mediums. All 1,060 Horizon West grades 5-6 students drew selfies, which then formed the Spud M when placed together. A pair of wings hanging in the cafeteria was designed with a spot for students to stand to take their photo. Each feather on the wings contains a wish or dream, Smith said.

In the new makerspace labs, sixth-graders studied the engineering process and created marble runs. Fifth-graders built simple machines.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg that we’re highlighting,” Smith said.

Another sixth-grade group explored variables in science by comparing hydroponic tower gardening to traditional gardening. The students grew edibles, including basil, lettuce and more. They ended the highly engaging unit with a food fest, including salad and pesto made from the plants they had grown, Smith said.

Smith explained that students who were part of the furniture pilot are now at Horizon East and West. Students and teachers helped select furniture for Horizon West. Students use the standing desks and sit forward and backwards on the green chairs, which are designed to be used both ways.

“The genius bars and movable furniture in the common areas and labs promote using furniture to fit the needs of instruction, whether it is whole group, small group or hands-on learning,” Smith said.

Smith said the media center is an open, inviting space where kids can collaborate and use common shared screens to work on projects.

Next year, Horizon West will continue the use of the Chromebooks as a part of the one-to-one technology implementation. Emphasis will be on creative learning and collaboration. They will also look at extracurricular opportunities that allow students to explore topics that interest them.

Additionally, they will look at professional development for staff around mindfulness and self-regulation, using a variety of methods and tools such as Yoga Calm and mindfulness kits to help teach social and emotional skills.

Grades 7-8 students at Horizon Middle School East Campus began the year with a modified schedule to better meet student needs during the school day. Additionally, Horizon East’s year of innovation included several pilots: a grade 8 cross-curricular offering, a grades 7-8 combination house designed as an Innovation Academy, and a grade-less pilot in one house.

Dr. Jeremy Larson, principal at Horizon East, explained that efforts this year all tied to one of the main goals of the school’s instructional plan: literacy-infused instruction, high engagement and high accountability. The vision is to engage, excite and empower student learning.

“Our portrait of a learner identified what attributes we wanted eighth-graders to have when they went to high school,” Larson said.

Themes are empathy/tolerance, self-advocacy/self-awareness, learning to fail/willing to take risks, inquiry/critical thinking, and citizenship/sense of community.

Although the revamped schedule took time for staff and students to learn, it added Response to Intervention (RtI) time and expanded physical education and music time, Larson said. Three days a week are a six-period day; Tuesday and Thursday are eight-period days.

The advisory or RtI time for students was added to the eight-period day schedule. Every student has a class period for enrichment or support interventions, or houses could schedule that class period for shared learning opportunities. With the eight-period day, students have their music and physical education classes plus their core and exploratory classes, all for a shorter class period.

According to Larson, the RtI/advisory period was used for genius hour projects in which students could explore topics of interest, team-building activities, and in-house interventions when teachers could re-teach material and work with smaller groups. Once a month, students worked on social and emotional skills using the MindUp curriculum.

As part of character education, Horizon has done school-wide projects for the past few years. This year’s emphasis was on choosing kindness, tied to the “Wonder” movie.

Other innovative pilots at Horizon East include the grades 7-8 combination house that emphasized interdisciplinary, project-based learning. In the grade 8 co-taught language arts/social studies course, students learned language arts through social studies topics. A grade 7 house used similar collaborative planning, Larson said. Horizon East also began a student help desk this year where students learn how to assist with technology.

Additionally, one house focused on not using traditional letter grades, but instead used reflection and feedback.

“If you did poorly on one test, you’re not digging yourself out all semester,” Larson said. “Sometimes a single score could cause students to fall behind or give up trying.”

The grade-less pilot emphasized growth and the learning process, including student ownership and reflection in their learning and increased goal setting. The five teachers in the grade-less pilot used an e-Folio process.

Next year, Larson said they will look at holding book studies with the Horizon East staff and see how to expand e-Folios to all students. The media center will add Raspberry Pi programming stations and makerspace tubs for teachers to check out for project-based learning.

“This was the first year getting used to the schedule,” Larson said. “We are looking forward to adding another house next year, and we want to continue to add innovative practices across all our teams.”

Photo: Horizon East House 7/8D students present their solutions to challenges facing the world to conclude their project-based learning.

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