Another big year for Salk students at Minnesota History Day

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APRIL 30, 2018—ELK RIVER, MN—The History Day program at Salk Middle School celebrated its tenth year this year, and once again, more than 500 students successfully completed an extensive research project on a topic of their choice and presentation of their choice.

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Felicia Schall and Margaret Krueger outside Williams Arena after Minnesota History Day wearing their medals and thinking about how to prepare their project for nationals.

For the fifth year in a row, at least one of those projects will be advancing to the National History Day competition in Washington, D.C. For the first time ever, two projects are advancing–one from junior division and one senior division.

Junior Division honors go to Margaret Krueger and Felicia Schall, a team of 8th graders who researched, wrote and produced a documentary called The Love Canal: A Toxic Love Story. The film told the story of a massive environmental pollution disaster that took place in a residential neighborhood in the state of New York in the late 1970s. One result of the disaster was the creation of the federal Superfund program aimed at identifying and cleaning up industrial pollution.

Schall and Krueger conducted extensive research for their project including an interview with one of the lead advocates of the clean-up effort and Minnesota’s coordinator of Superfund projects from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

“They are a great team and we are really proud of how well they worked together to create an awesome documentary,” said their teacher Nikki Tripp. “It will be exciting to see how well they do at the national contest but the skills they learned and put to use already are the biggest accomplishment,” she added.

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The Minnesota Historical Society and University of Minnesota are co-sponsors of Minnesota History Day

All of their work, from conducting research, to writing the script for their documentary, was completed on their school Chromebook as part of the new 1:1 initiative at all district middle schools. They also used a cloud-based video editing program called WeVideo. A total of 64 students at Salk completed documentaries this year utilizing these newly acquired resources–more than ever in years past.

Advancing to the national contest is extremely tough because only two from each category are permitted to advance. Across Minnesota a total of 27,000 students participated in History Day this year and a record 1,300 advanced to the state contest, held Saturday, April 28 at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. Schall and Krueger’s achievement puts them in a group that consists of the top one-quarter of one percent in the state.

They were part of Salk’s second largest team ever at state. “We bring all the students to the campus in January to conduct research, so it’s always neat for them to come back again in the spring as competitors,” Tripp said. This year’s theme was “Conflict and Compromise in History.”

Elk River High School Sophomore Advances in Senior Division

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Isabella Krueger waiting to meet with the judges at MN History Day, held at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Isabella Krueger is a sophomore at Elk River High School who competed in the senior division of National History Day once again. All four years she has participated in History Day she has advanced to the final round at state for writing an academic paper. For the third time, she is advancing to the National competition.

“She joins a very elite cadre of students from Minnesota who have advanced that many times throughout the 38 years of History Day in Minnesota,” said Ron Hustvedt, Salk History Day coordinator and her History Day coach. This year her paper was titled The Conflict of Unwed Motherhood in the Post War Era: Utilizing Maternity Homes as a Compromise to Convert Women Back Into Feminine Roles.

She said she plans on participating in the contest once again as a Junior because of the scholarship opportunities offered by the University of Minnesota at the state level, and to have a chance at a four-year college scholarship offered at the national level. “History day has allowed me the opportunity to teach myself analytical, research, and writing skills I would never have developed in a traditional history or English class. It has also allowed me to discover my passion not only for history, but defending human rights,” she said.

Four Salk students take home $800 in prize awards

Brian Berg received an Honorable Mention along with a special prize for his documentary titled The Secret War in Laos: Uncovered. Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) awarded Berg their “Remembering the Vietnam War” prize as part of their yearlong commemoration of the Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War and to recognize the next generation of scholars and storytellers.

Berg conducted extensive research including interviews with several prominent Hmong professors from across the state. The prize brings Berg a $500 check for his hard work along with the potential for additional opportunities with TPT.

Kayla Vang received an Honorable Mention and a special prize for the one-woman performance she wrote and starred in called Hmong in Minnesota. The University of Minnesota’s Friends of the Immigration History Research Center and Archives (IHRC/A) selected Vang’s performance for their “History of Immigration” prize and awarded her $100 for her research and creativity.

Jack Flahaven also received a “History of Immigration” prize and $100 from the IHRC/A for his documentary titled The Independence of Croatia. This is the second year in a row that Flahaven has earned money for his documentary creating skills.

The fourth special prize winner from Salk was Sarah Minke. Her documentary titled Raphael Lemkin’s Fight Against Genocide was awarded the “Holocaust History” prize and $100 from The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Additional honorable mention winners include: Catie Cramer for her exhibit titled Blood Diamonds of Sierra Leone; Madi Tveit for her exhibit titled Mental Asylums Exposed; Lilly Lassek and Addy Soukup for their website titled Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989; Olivia Ek for her documentary titled Dr. Walton Lillehei and his Compromise with Open Heart Surgery; Abby Kotila for her performance titled Henrietta LAcks and HeLa Cells; and, Benjamin Stout for his performance titled The Marshall Plan.

 

Salk’s History Day program among best in Minnesota

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Most of the students from this year’s Salk NHD team!

With 46 students competing at the state level, Salk had the second largest number ofstudents competing of all schools across the state and was among the most awarded at the contest. What the school’s Social Studies teachers are most proud of, however, is the fact that the project is delivered to all 7th and 8th grade students. Teachers on that team include Tripp, Ron Hustvedt, Scott Glew, Starrsha Wolff and Maranda Cameron.

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Salk History Day teachers (l to r) Scott Glew, Nikki Tripp, Starrsha Wolff and Ron Hustvedt

“The emphasis is on the learning and the utilization of valuable skills they will use in high school, college and life,” Tripp said. “Sure there’s a contest with the project, but we believe all students are capable of this work and are proud that almost all of the students who begin a project, successfully complete it and get to present it to the community,” she added.

“These students are truly inspiring,” said NHD Executive Director Dr. Cathy Gorn. “National History Day challenges students to analyze and interpret historical primary and secondary sources, draw a conclusion about the significance of their topic, and then be able to present their findings and answer unprepared questions related to the subject. It shows how powerful this program is for students.”

For more information about Salk’s History Day program, including details on how you can help support the program next year as a volunteer judge  please visit my website www.RonHustvedt.com or contact Ron Hustvedt by email ronald.hustvedt@isd728.org.

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Margaret and Felicia (row two far left) are among the crew that will be Team Minnesota 2018 at National History Day, held at the University of Maryland College Park near Washington, D.C.

The scary, fun, uncertain need for change: Inspiration and collaboration drive the evolving nature of magnet schools

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Salk’s updated themes and essential questions were created by a committee of teachers and approved/embraced by the entire staff 

If you’ve been living in the real world for any number of years you can probably rip off a bunch of different cliches about the need for change, embracing it, how it’s an opportunity for growth and so on and so forth. Change is scary and often those cliches are tossed at us by people who are about to impose it upon us as they see fit.

That’s not how it has to be, however, and Gandhi dished out the best advice when he told us to “Be the change you want to see in the world.” My hope is that your magnet program has the staff, leadership and structure to be able to make this a reality.

It’s not a simple process, but it’s certainly a necessary one and while it’s messy, with many heads and hands involved it can turn out quite elegantly in the end. The STEM magnet school where I teach at in Elk River, Minnesota (suburb northwest of Minneapolis) recently went through a significant change with our school themes because we felt it was time to do so and necessary to reinvigorate our program.

This change comes not at a low point in our overall school performance but a high point. Our school was recently recognized as a top performer in the state and we have seen powerful growth in statewide assessment measures. Our commitment to having a diverse student body continues and our school population of students of color is double the district average with ongoing recruitment efforts showing further growth.

The 140-characters-or-less story of our program is this: a decade ago our magnet program began as a school within a school. I joined the program in year two and we changed our themes. Eight years later the magnet expanded to encompass the entire school and our themes remain the same.

Okay, that was longer than 140 characters, but it’s a pretty good summary of the last decade. Those themes that served us well for four years of being a small program, and through the process of going all-school magnet, were due for a change because so many of the conditions they were created in changed.

Going to an all-school magnet program was the first big change. It was championed by the small number who were part of the original magnet. It was accepted by a good portion of the staff and tolerated by the rest. While there weren’t any who actively opposed the transition, it took a few years to get the vast majority in the “accepted” category.

The number of staff who championed the magnet program grew over time, and new hires into the magnet program didn’t know any different. Ongoing professional development of our STEM themes was extremely helpful in bringing everybody into the “accepted” category and creating champions, but it was glaringly obvious to those of us with the most experience that a Salk STEM version 2.0 was necessary. Making change can be tough when it seems that everything is going just fine, but one could argue that anytime you see the need for change that’s when you should make it. Don’t wait for things to get better or worse, be the change you wish to see.

Changing our themes
Our original themes, that existed for only the first year, were very specific to various interdisciplinary units. In the second year of our magnet program (my first year there), we began changing them to broader themes that encompassed all subject areas. Those STEM themes were as follows: Technology Applications; Scientific Communications; the Nature of Science and Engineering; and, STEM in Society.

Those themes were used very effectively with four years worth of students in the school-within-a-school program and because the subject area magnet teachers taught those students for two to three years of their middle school experience, we highlighted each theme for a quarter and integrated them into our instruction.

Those themes were easily interwoven into the entire school culture with the expansion to all-school magnet but those of us in the small program felt the dilution of the themes. This transition was led by our curriculum coordinator, Teri Ann Flatland who worked diligently with subject area professional learning communities (PLC’s) and helped them connect the themes to their existing curriculum maps. She used the existing magnet program model as a template, and allowed PLC’s to make adjustments as needed.

That drove us to help boost the concentration and understanding of the themes for students and staff alike and it was effective. Still the problem remained, and those of us in it felt it the most, should we engage in a process to change the themes? Flatland, myself, and our school principal Julie Athman, who opened the magnet program, had the same overarching concern: If we change the themes do we run the risk of losing the momentum gained with the existing ones? We wondered if staff merely embraced the existing themes at a superficial level or believed in them strongly enough to go on that soul-searching journey of creating new ones.

Change for the sake of change is never effective. Change for the sake of improvement and a better understanding of self is essential. Adapting to changing conditions is the key to survival, but getting others to embrace and live that process together is complicated.

Sending a group of staff members to the Magnet Schools of America conference in 2014 and again in 2016 turned out to ignite conversations that sparked in 2014 and ignited in 2016. When you have a staff who only know your program from within, either because they had it superimposed upon them or were hired into it, they likely don’t know what else is out there. “New teachers to our school don’t understand the bonus they get when being hired to a school with so many opportunities for students,” said Tasha Goudy, a Salk special education teacher who was hired a few years after the all-school transition. Goudy attended the MSA conference in Miami and said the school tours were the most powerful part of her experience, “I was able to bring back lots of ideas and realize that just because I teach a smaller population of students, I still have the capacity to give these students a quality STEM experience that connects with the larger mission of our school.”

The school tours, workshops, speakers, and opportunities for networking at MSA’s national conferences were crucial to electrifying the light bulb of new ideas and understanding of the power of magnet schools. Themes that looked good on paper, and were superficially understood in the classroom, became glaringly in need of adjustment by these folks new to the STEM magnet program. “There were so many great ideas that we garnered from the conference that are starting to show up and trickle into the classrooms and program as a whole,” said science teacher and theme team member Megan Heitkamp.

Those of us who knew it from the start were not in a position to ignite the change. We could facilitate it, we could harness it, we could work with it, but we alone could not drive it. Flatland created a “theme team” that existed for several years before our recent overhaul. That team needed time to analyze the existing themes and develop their own desire for change .”It took lots of staff input and seeing how students connected with the themes–that power of common language–to get more staff understanding the need for change.”

Something else was happening at the same time that posed a threat to the old themes. Teachers were innovating their instruction because that’s what good teachers do, but these innovations were not always tied to the magnet themes. When that happens, it’s time to make a change. “The conference helped me identify how our magnet program is unique and illustrated the point that we cannot allow the program to become stagnant even as our practice is improving, those must all be part of the same process for the sake of our students,” Heitkamp said.

Making the change
The theme team engaged in a brainstorming process in the spring of 2016 and then met over the summer to try and develop updated themes. One decision that was made was to ditch the quarterly thematic approach and allow the themes to exist all year. The power of quarterly themes is that emphasis can be placed on each one schoolwide, allowing students to see the theme through a multitude of lenses. The drawback of that is the theme doesn’t always fit best with each subject area during any given quarter.

Through all those discussions we developed updated themes to present to the staff, parents and select students for feedback at the beginning of the school year. “The journey we were on to update our program is an important one because the world is shifting around us,” Heitkamp said. “Our learners become more diverse and dynamic so our goals need modification to ensure that they meet student needs and push success at higher levels.”

By December the theme team had ditched the four quarterly themes for three annual themes: Technology Integration; Innovative Thinking and Problem Solving; and, Evidence Based Communication. The response was very favorable from staff, parents and students and what was especially appreciated has been the essential question of each theme:

  • Technology Integration: How can I appropriately utilize technology as a tool for learning and communicating?
  • Innovative Thinking and Problem Solving: How do I use innovative and creative thinking to solve problems as citizens of our community?
  • Evidence Based Communication: How do I apply the inquiry process to show evidence of learning?

“I believe that these latest themes and essential questions are better intertwined with the work that we are engaging our students in and the future curriculum pieces that we are envisioning. The essential questions are better geared to the cornerstone projects that already take place and better involve all the content areas to demonstrate that each teacher, no matter the subject area, is a magnet teacher,” Heitkamp said.

Evolving and celebrating
AScreen Shot 2017-03-21 at 11.40.07 PMs the students and staff of the Salk STEM magnet program stride into 2017 we do so with an updated mission. Posters of the new themes adorn classroom walls and the hallway. Discussions at several staff meetings and PLC’s have folded the updated themes into every classroom at ever-expanding levels.

Our theme team has created a theme alignment board in the staff workroom and teachers across all subject areas are sharing the work they complete that aligns to each of the themes. This listing of lessons and units will be used to further integrate the themes into all classrooms and further discover alignment across the disciplines.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 11.42.08 PM.pngIn a celebration of our updated themes and staff-wide re-commitment to an aligned focus, we recently donned our finest formal wear, rolled out the red carpet, and hosted the first of what we hope will become our annual “STEMmie Awards.” Check out  on Twitter if you dare!

Each of the content areas were recognized for their commitment to the themes and this has been a great official launch into the next phase of our ongoing growth. Creating a welcoming school for all of our students, engaging them in active learning that compels them to ask questions and dig into the possible solutions, and honoring the processes of learning, is what this is all about and student feedback is very positive.

As we enter our second decade of existence as a magnet school, we are inspired to continue collaborating together for our students and being the drivers of the evolving nature of our STEM magnet school program.