School Spotlight: West Morris Regional &
the Christmas Tree Phenomenon [Q&A]

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The Backstory

In November 2014, Lisa Gizas and her AP Biology students won a $5000 grant from BASF Corporation to do a research project they call the “Christmas Tree Phenomenon.” Gizas teaches in the West Morris Regional High School District, which serves approximately 2800 students in northern New Jersey. We recently sat down with Gizas and asked her about this exciting opportunity for her, her students, and the local community.

Q. What is the Christmas Tree Phenomenon experiment?

A. We’re trying to figure out if there’s mold on Christmas trees. At first, the trees are outside in the cold, so the mold is dormant. But when you cut down a tree, bring it inside, and decorate it for Christmas—it germinates. So, people who have asthma or [something similar] are getting sick, and they don’t know why they’re getting sick in December.

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Q. Where did the idea for the experiment come from?

A. The idea actually came from my sister who has two boys who are asthmatic. She said "I think they’re allergic to the Christmas tree.” And I said “That’s ridiculous! They can’t be allergic to the tree!” But now I think it might be because there’s an increased amount of mold.

Q. Who is involved with the experiment?

A. It’s awesome, we’re involving about 100 members of our community. All of Mrs. Liggett’s (her colleague in the Science department) classes, my classes, and the students’ parents. The whole community is participating.

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Q. How does the experiment work?

A. [The participants] bring home a petri dish, and they’re testing the air quality in their house right now. I provided detailed instructions and pictures from my own house on how to do it. I put my petri dishes on a high shelf because I have dogs (see picture below).

The first dishes went home before any decorations went up, and the second dishes went home one week after decorations went up. Our participants are divided into three groups:

  • those with live trees
  • those with artificial trees
  • those with no tree.

After the petri dishes are collected, they incubate in my classroom, in the new incubator purchased from the BASF grant money, for one week. The students are counting the number of mold colonies on each petri dish.

The class will have to use advanced statistical analyses to determine whether there is a true difference in the amount of mold among the three groups. Finally, we are asking participants if anyone in the household experiences increased respiratory symptoms, such as those related to asthma, when either the first dish or the second dish was out. Again, we'll do statistical analysis and try to determine if there is a difference among the groups.

(Detailed instructions, written by the students, can be found here.

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Q. How are you using Haiku Learning for the experiment?

A. I created a site in Haiku for all the participants, and I've directed everyone to it. I have step-by-step instructions for the people at home. So, they get their instruction sheet if they lose it and the permission slips that we did. I also posted a photo of my class that won the grant. We were interviewed by a couple of local papers, so links to those interviews are here too. I can put more stuff up here as we go on. So, it’s kind of like a community resource.

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Q. Do you have any future plans to expand the project?

A. This year we're only doing it for Washington Township (one of the district’s sending towns). But maybe next year we’ll go global!

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Increased Bandwidth for K-12’s
Most Usable Learning Platform

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We develop Haiku Learning to be the most usable learning platform in the K12 market. We’ve certainly heard our customers say it a lot. And lately they’ve been really showing it!

Usage has been impressively high across many of our schools. We love to see that! It’s a testament to Haiku Learning being so easy and user friendly.

Where there’s high usage, there’s (usually) high bandwidth

However, many of the classroom’s most popular web technologies, such as live video and audio streaming, can soak up a tremendous amount of bandwidth for our customers, many of whom take part in Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and 1:1 device programs, where ubiquitous access to such technologies is paramount.

Plus, the number of educational applications that use high bandwidth technologies grows rapidly from year to year, giving our customers even more choices. After all, they tend to be more interactive and engaging, and that’s important in this age of 30-second attention spans.

So we’re giving you more!

Just as schools are using data combined with sound observations to make more informed decisions, so are we at Haiku Learning. By analyzing our customers’ usage statistics and observing the trends in our market, we’ve decided it’s time to update our own product offering.

As of December 1, 2014, we now offer:

  • 4x more bandwidth for customers using our standard School Edition plan! You’ve gone from 154MB to 512MB per licensed user per month (Yes, each user has half a gig now!)

  • Unlimited bandwidth and storage for customers using an enhanced storage and bandwidth plan. You’ve been upgraded to our unlimited plan!

No action is needed and there are no additional fees! (And, if you’re considering Haiku Learning, this news applies to you, too!)

Now go use, create, and share some really cool stuff—and let us know what you’re up to!

What are you going to do with all that extra bandwidth? We can’t wait to see. Tweet it, post it, and include a screenshot or two.

And don’t forget to #haikulearning so we can keep up!

‘Tis the season of gift giving

This is only the first of a few surprises we have in store this month. Subscribe to the Haiku Learning blog to keep up on all the exciting news!

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Lessons in Blended Learning:
Authentic Learning Drives Creation of Medical Academy

Author Anne Pasco
By Anne Pasco, Blended Learning/Ed Tech Dept. Chair, Huntley High School, District 158, Huntley, IL.

In this new monthly blog, Anne Pasco will focus on one subject and discuss how blended learning has transformed the learning environment in that subject at Huntley High School. Every post will include a link to a sample lesson from the class.

The times they are a-changin'

Blended learning. Another education buzz phrase that seems to be everywhere. Why? What’s so great about it? Yes, the world is changing. Yes, we use technology more. And yes, there’s a greater push to have it in our high schools. But really, who cares? Lots of us went to high school—it can’t be that different now, right?

There’s the rub. It is. Now, more and more students are doing college curriculum (Advanced Placement) in high school, pushing their athletic and leadership limits for scholarships, and working part-time jobs outside of school. Plus, they need to be prepared for jobs they (nor we) can’t really describe, yet we need to train and prepare them for those jobs!

Four years of lessons in blended learning

At Huntley High School, we’re in our fourth year implementation of blended learning classes, where students learn the skills they need for this new world—self-advocacy, utilization of resources, innovation, understanding of learning needs—as they learn the content required at each grade level.

Come along on this journey with me while I introduce you to the transformative nature of blended learning for our Huntley High community. Every month, I’ll focus on a different class and how we leveraged Haiku Learning to meet the needs of our students, the lessons we learned, and how we enjoyed it all along the way!

A cranial nerve testing project in Haiku Learning's platform

The need for authentic learning

Renae St. Clair is a former Math teacher who saw a specific need: students need to be authentically exposed to the medical community. She, along with district support, created the Medical Academy.

When students enter the real world, especially if they go into a health or medical occupation, they need practical, hands-on application knowledge that cannot be conceptualized on a multiple-choice test. Students may know the information and even produce the right answers on a test, but when it comes to applying all that information in person, they become nervous and their mind starts to go blank.

Unfortunately, authentic learning opportunities—like cranial nerve testing and vitals testing—did not fit into our traditional “factory model” of school. Even in today’s world, high school education can still be very paper and pencil driven.

Lesson 1: Authentic assessments provide deeper learning

Before, when looking at cranial nerve testing, St. Clair would have focused on the content and not considered how it impacts the students and how are they able to do it.

“I cared about my students’ comprehension of the material not about the process of learning and doing the material. I cared about what they knew and what they didn’t know, not what they went through to get there” said St. Clair.

Using Haiku’s digital learning platform has allowed St. Clair to provide an authentic environment for student application learning while still having students immersed in the content knowledge. By building “application assessments” into the curriculum using Haiku, students now get to experience and apply those skills before taking their certification exams to become professionals.

“Blended makes me focus on the students and not on the curriculum,” said St. Clair.

By teaching them how to learn, she said they now understand more deeply than if the focus was just on learning the content.

“In essence, the end result is the same but the process changes.” She likens it to a line from the Miley Cyrus song “The Climb” (a favorite of her students) that says it “ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side. It’s the climb.”

Lesson 2: Blended learning minimizes time constrictions

Blended learning through Haiku also solved some other constrictions as well. Before blended, these assessments were given either before or after school. This was cumbersome at best. Students needed rides, had to reschedule work, or be late to athletic events.

In other words—school didn’t fit into our everyday life!

With the blended format, students sign up for a specific time during their blended class days to take their assessment. Since other students are free to work on other material, be in other areas of the building or even outside of the building, the teacher and student can concentrate collaboratively on that single assessment.

Lesson 3: Don't underestimate the importance of usability and flexibility

What good is a learning platform if your teachers don’t like using it? Or your students have trouble navigating it? With Haiku Learning, that hasn’t been a problem for St. Clair.

“Since Haiku allows an easy drag and drop, cut and paste type of environment, I don’t have to spend a lot of time figuring out how to ‘do Haiku’ ” said St. Clair. “It’s easy to set up a framework and then students are able to go in and do what they need to and find what they need to.”

She especially likes the features that enable student editing, such as the wiki projects feature. “Wiki projects is a phenomenal tool that had not existed for me in the past,” said St. Clair. “It’s very easy for me to create things that students can provide input with.”

Overall, it came down to usability and flexibility for St. Clair.

“Haiku is extremely user friendly,” she said. “Haiku gives us a little bit of structure but then gives the teacher and the student the flexibility to adapt the structure to fit their needs.”

Sample lessons from the Medical Academy

I hope you learned a little from our own experiences. Would you like to see more examples of what we've done in our Medical Academy? Check out a sampling of lessons and projects.

And join me next month, when I will share lessons learned from one of Huntley High’s English classes.

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New Google Drive Tool Saves Teachers Time in Haiku Learning

While your schools have been abuzz with new students, schedules, and (probably) lots of meetings, our Product Team has been abuzz preparing a new, exciting feature for you.

Meet the Google Drive Picker!

We told you it was coming! You can work more efficiently with the new Google Drive Picker. It’s an easier, faster, one-stop shop for “picking” and adding all kinds of files:

  1. Google Docs: The new interface looks like a window into your google drive, providing a familiar view of your folders and files from which to choose. Even better—use the search box at the top to let Google find the exact file for you.

    New Google Drive Picker feature

  2. Google Maps: NEW! Get any map you need in seconds. Simply type a location. Then click “select” and the picker automatically embeds the map.

  3. Google Videos (aka YouTube): Stop scrolling to find the embed code and then copying and pasting it. Just use the search box to find a video and choose Select.

Feel free to read more about this new time-saving tool. Better yet—log in to your class and take it for a "drive" yourself!

You can also read about our other site updates in our version 9.4.0 notes. As always let us know what you think!

New from Haiku: A New Look, a New School Year, and Google Apps Changes are on the Way!

For most of us, August brings with it falling leaves and the start of school. For those of us at Haiku Learning, the summer simply flew by! We’ve been hard at work with several start-of-school projects and are excited to welcome you back to enjoy the fruits of labor.

A Shiny New Look!

If you haven’t already checked out the new design refresh, when you login you will see that Haiku Learning has a new look. From Haiku Learning’s first day, balancing a streamlined feature set with good looks has always been top of mind. Now with our third major refresh, we are pleased to show off our most recent, mobile-inspired interface. For a complete list of what has been changed and updated during the refresh, take a look at our summer release notes for versions 9.0, 9.1, and 9.1.1.

Ready for the New School Year...All Systems Go!

Over the past year, we have been working on eliminating single points of failure in our server architecture. We are pleased to be kicking off the school year with a High Availability system fully operational, which allows us unprecedented redundancy in the face of critical server issues. To test our readiness, last week we commenced Operation Chaos Panda, simulating system failures to test just how redundant we are. We are pleased to say that our new system held up to the challenge.

Google Apps Changes Are on the Way!

In just a few weeks, those of you using Haiku’s Google Apps integration will see a few changes. We will be replacing Haiku Learning’s custom document selector with the Google Drive picker, which, when creating content, will be like having a mini Google Drive embedded in your Haiku Learning class. From the new picker, you’ll be able to see folders, an expanded list of file types, and even embed maps and videos! We will be in touch with our Google Apps schools with further details about these changes this week.

For more information on other changes and fixes that went out this weekend, check out our Version 9.2 release notes from this Friday’s launch.

Welcome back!