Jim Hemig: Students and sushi and robots, oh my!
January 22, 2016
"Want to see something cool?" Holly Hermansen, Nevada County Superintendent of Schools, asked me during lunch at Kane's Family Restaurant last week.
Since I'm always game to learn more about our community, I agreed to a morning of school visits to see what our youth are learning these days.
So on a rainy Thursday morning we drove around western Nevada County and dropped in to several classrooms to see what was cool.
The tour started at Lyman Gilmore Middle School with Principal Chris Roberts and the culinary arts class. Seventh and eighth graders were making sushi. Yes, sushi. The classroom had eight kitchens with stovetops, ovens, sinks, etc. The kids were hustling around making and eating their rolls.
Since I’m always game to learn more about our community I agreed to a morning of school visits to see what our youth are learning these days.
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This was up my alley. I like food. Who doesn't? But when I was this age I could only make a bowl of cereal, and cooking classes were for girls. Yeah, I just said that. I apologize to all the feminists out there. But that's what happened back then. Boys didn't take home-ec.
Today, though, I love to cook. Time in the kitchen is creative and relaxing. These kids are learning valuable life skills and will be way ahead of me as adults. And they appeared to enjoy themselves.
When I asked one young chef, he said, "We get to try so many things and I get to eat stuff."
The daily lessons include planning as well as cooking. And, of course, eating. I want to take this class.
Principal Roberts then showed me the Gilmore News Network studio. This classroom was decked out with video cameras, computers with video editing software and a team of students preparing the next broadcast of the GNN.
I was impressed with the kids' knowledge of the video editing software, but even more impressed with their focus on the tasks at hand. They were on deadline. Each Friday they broadcast a partially live and recorded news show for both parents and students. Take a look at their work at http://gilmore.gvsd.us.
Back in 1939 it took a team of adults months to colorize The Wizard of Oz. Now kids are shooting, editing and broadcasting videos weekly. Again, they are having fun.
"It's fun to explore what you can do, and it's fun to share with the school," one budding news anchor told me.
After Lyman Gilmore, Superintendent Hermansen and I stopped at Deer Creek Elementary School where we picked up Principal Monica Daugherty on the way to check out an "Oops Lab."
Russ Osman-Bravard, a 24-year veteran teacher whom the kids affectionately call Mr. O.B., was guiding small teams of third graders through an engineering exercise. Each team of three or four students was challenged to pick up items that, as the lesson goes, fell from their pockets and, oops, ended up in the sand down below the boardwalk. Each team, armed with string, ruler, small plastic cup, magnet and some other small items, was tasked with trying to retrieve the partially buried items from about 6 feet above the sand.
My first impression? That I couldn't do this. No easy task for third graders.
When I inquired about the complexity, Principal Daugherty said, "Kids are learning early on to think outside the box."
Watching the engineers-in-training at work, I noticed a couple of items were easy to pick up. But the majority were nearly impossible. Mr. O.B. tipped me off on the purpose: to develop conflict resolution and problem solving skills.
This lesson isn't only aimed at teaching engineering. It is designed to teach the kids to deal with failure and difficult situations – as a group. Not everything in life has an easy answer or a ready solution. I want to bring this lesson to my staff at The Union.
Even with this complexity, the students were all smiles and working hard on the task at hand.
When I talked to these kids, I got the same enthusiasm. One said, "It's fun. Our teacher is nice. The students are nice."
Superintendent Hermansen then whisked me off to Ghidotti Early College High School. Principal Noah Levinson introduced me to a couple of the bright Ghidotti pupils. I have experience with Ghidotti. The Union hosted an intern from there last year. These kids are smart.
Elyssa Kohnke will end up with three AA degrees by the end of her senior year of high school.
She told me, "I like taking college classes and learning at a faster pace."
That must be working because 100 percent of Ghidotti students met or exceeded standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics, based on test scores from last spring's California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, the first assessments to test Common Core standards.
Now that's cool.
However, the last stop was the coolest. Superintendent Hermansen and I dropped in to the robot class at Union Hill School. We found a large group of incredibly focused students with robots and laptops.
The three-student teams had to assemble a Lego robot with wheels, motors, sensors and structural pieces and had to code the movements to operate the little 'bot through an obstacle course without crashing. Each of the three team members needed to fulfill the separate engineer, programmer and project manager roles. The object of the assignment wasn't entirely robot-focused. Again, the goal was team, project-based problem solving, an objective that teacher Dan Dummett told me employers are asking for these days.
All this effort reminded me of the Mars Rovers, which started rolling around Mars in the late 1990s. Today, our local students are performing very similar tasks. They are programing a remote vehicle to maneuver around obstacles in their classrooms.
Much has been written about Common Core, even here in the pages of The Union. Whether you're a supporter or not, I'm impressed with the focus and direction I witnessed at our local schools.
My overall impression and takeaway from the morning's outing was how happy and engaged the kids were. Smiles were everywhere. Interest was high. In each classroom I wandered around and randomly asked students, "What do you like about this?" and they all told me "Because it's fun."
Heck, when I was in school I don't think I ever used the word "fun" to describe learning. I didn't do much group project work either. But I recall reading, writing and submitting my project, paper or test. I usually just tried to hide and not get too involved.
What I witnessed was the opposite. Kids are getting to use their imagination and learning team building skills these days.
The Thursday morning school tour was full of cool.
To contact Publisher Jim Hemig, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4299.