Innovation news from the Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation
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This second edition of “The Innovation Insider” is filled with thought-provoking articles about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – STEM. And, for those of you who prefer STEAM, our art teachers are already infusing the “A” into STEM and providing students with the opportunities to infuse creativity into the hard sciences! The Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation is our mission-critical partner in helping to advance all of these disciplines in our schools—providing our teachers with the needed support to help children concretely apply these disciplines to real-world contexts. I hope you are inspired by learning more about the innovations our teachers are leading with thanks to the support of business partners and the FHPS Foundation.

As we look at innovation in our classrooms, and ways in which we can bring innovation to life throughout our district, we want our families, staff, youth, and our entire community to join the conversation about how together we can bring innovation to Forest Hills Public Schools and ultimately transform an educational model that has been in existence for over a century. This is why I want to personally invite you to a special event. The FHPS board of education and I are hosting a community showing of a compelling documentary film titled “Most Likely to Succeed.” The film depicts our nation’s high schools, how they were intentionally designed 125 years ago, and how little they have changed. This inspiring film provides the audience with the opportunity to ponder a new model of the American high school.

Please join us for a free community showing of “Most Likely to Succeed,” Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, at the Forest Hills Fine Arts Center. The 90-minute documentary will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will be followed by a community dialogue. We will be joined by teachers, staff, and administrators as we consider how one school’s innovation journey might inspire our own here in Forest Hills.

 “Most Likely to Succeed,” has won numerous awards at multiple film festivals, including the prestigious 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and is being shown across the country prompting new conversations about education. I encourage everyone to attend this event, on Wednesday, Feb. 17. The film contains content that is appropriate for all ages. Although the documentary particularly speaks to middle and high school students and their families, there are “take aways” that can be applied to all levels of learning. This event is definitely something you won’t want to miss!

Our community viewing of “Most Likely to Succeed” holds the unique ability to focus a large group of people on the both the challenges and the promise of reimagining and remaking fundamental aspects of our schools, and the way in which we ask students to construct knowledge, develop skills, and make meaning of our increasingly complex world. Please come and spend some time with your neighbors, youth, educators, and our community as we watch and discuss this thought-provoking film.
Most Likely to Succeed
A 90-minute documentary film
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Forest Hills Fine Arts Center
6:30 p.m.
To watch a trailer of the movie and learn more, please click here.

As always, I am deeply grateful to our Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation and its supporters for supporting innovation and all areas of academic excellence in our schools! I look forward to seeing you Wednesday, Feb. 17!
From our Chief Innovation Officer
by Judy Walton, chief innovation officer
Over the last eight or so years, the field of STEM education has come to the forefront of both K-12 and post-secondary institutions. This is largely due to economic predictions that there would be a shortage of STEM workers or people with STEM skills. In fact, in late 2009, President Obama launched the Educate to Innovate initiative to boost science and math achievement among American students by 2020.
As we inch closer to 2020, we see that the work goes beyond a strict focus on content competencies. As noted by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, “[i]nnovation and technology change have led to demand for STEM competencies beyond traditional STEM occupations. Previously, STEM work had been concentrated among an elite few workers. Today, competencies necessary for innovation are scattered across a wider swath of the economy.”
Hyewon Jang (John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University) has been examining the U.S. Department of Labor database to determine the most valuable workplace STEM competencies. The article, Identifying 21st Century STEM Competencies Using Workplace Data, has recently been accepted for publication in the Journal of Science Education and Technology. Within the article, five categories of competencies are identified: higher-order thinking skills, literacy skills, problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills, and self-management skills. Breaking them down, we have a framework for cultivating them in our students:
  • Higher-order thinking skills (critical thinking, complex problem-solving, judgment and decision-making) -- the ability to use logic and reasoning to identify the strength and weaknesses of alternative solutions.
  • Literacy skills (reading comprehension, active listening, speaking, writing) -- the ability to understand the written and spoken word in work-related documents and presentations, and to communicate effectively for the needs of the target audience.
  • Problem-solving skills (monitoring, systems analysis, system evaluation) -- the ability to identify measures of system performance, and determine actions needed to improve or correct performance relative to the goals of the system.
  • Interpersonal skills (collaboration, coordination, social perceptiveness, instruction) -- the ability to adjust one’s actions in relation to others’ actions and reactions, and to be able to teach others how to do something.
  • Self-management skills (time management, learning strategies) -- the ability to manage one’s own time and the time of others. Also, the ability to select and use appropriate instructional methods whether one is learning or teaching others.
Our continuing opportunity is to infuse these skills throughout the great teaching and learning happening in our district, and to continue to partner with our community so that every learner can achieve individual potential.
How the New Michigan Science Standards Will Change Science Teaching and Learning

By Jim Nicolette, Associate Director, Van Andel Education Institute

Science is the study of the natural world. It is exciting, stimulating, and feeds the innate curiosity common to all human beings as natural learners. As an enterprise, science actively engages participants in a systematic process of constructing new knowledge through research. For most students, learning “about” science has become the mind-numbing exercise of memorizing and regurgitating a long list of terms and facts that are quickly discarded from memory once a grade is assigned. The result: stagnant or falling scores on various measures of student proficiency and preparedness in science; jobs requiring science, engineering, and technical training and skills go unfilled; the U.S. losing its position as the global leader in science and technology and the corresponding economic threats associated with this demise. 
In response to this dilemma, the National Research Council (NRC) called for a national effort to reform science education in its report, A Framework for K – 12 Science Education, published in July, 2011.  The Council asserted as early as 1996 that “Learning science is something that students do, not something that is done to them.”
A key recommendation in the report is for schools to implement sweeping curricular changes that define a limited number of core concepts delivered in a way that will integrate students’ knowledge with the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design.  Subsequent development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in 2013 has advanced this initiative toward implementation throughout large portions of the country. Michigan science education leaders played a significant role in shaping the new standards, and the Michigan State Board of Education recently adopted a Michigan specific version of the standards.  All school districts in the state are expected to implement the new standards over the next several years. 
The NGSS/Michigan Standards create a new vision for teaching and learning science focused on:
  • Teachers shifting their emphasis from covering content to a focus on the development of explanatory ideas that build throughout the K – 12 experience.
  • Teaching students to develop key explanatory models through investigation with application of new learning to solve real world problems.
  • Creating learners who build ideas across time and between disciplines.
The intended changes will only be realized through a concerted effort on the part of each teacher to change the culture in his or her classroom.  This cultural shift is driven by standards designed to measure student performance rather than memorization of facts and information.  Teachers must engage students in the practices of science to construct knowledge and a deep understanding of science concepts, which can then be applied to solve real world problems using engineering design practices.
So, what are the practices and what will science teaching and learning look like with implementation of the new standards?  NGSS identifies eight science and engineering practices that become the backbone of science instruction in an NGSS classroom.  The practices are:
  1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
These practices become part of an integrated instructional approach through which students construct knowledge and understanding of science content and cross-cutting concepts by “doing” the work of a scientist.  The framework refers to this as a “three-dimensional” approach to science teaching.  The practices, content, and concepts do not stand alone.  They are interdependent and require holistic thinking and planning on the part of the teacher for successful implementation.  
When fully implemented, the NGSS classroom will engage students in seeking answers to questions.   Students will design and conduct investigations to collect and analyze data leading to the development of claims (the answers to their questions) supported by evidence and sound reasoning.  Students will communicate their findings, engage in scientific discourse, and work together to develop scientific models that can be used to explain observed phenomenon.  They will test and refine their models over time, and use them to develop creative solutions to real world problems.  Students will integrate science content across disciplines (physics, chemistry, biology, earth and space science) by applying cross-cutting concepts such as: looking for patterns; identifying cause and effect relationships; applying scale, proportion, and quantity; developing using and refining systems and system models; understanding energy and matter: its flows, cycles, and conservation; using the fundamentals of structure and function; learning and applying the ideas of stability and change.  Students will become informed consumers of science information and understand its potential to improve our world when applied through engineering design. 
The NRC Framework and corresponding Michigan Science Standards create a bold vision for science teaching and learning.  This vision shifts the focus from students learning “about” science to actively engaging in “doing” science.  It requires teachers to employ a three-dimensional approach to science teaching that supports the learning of science content and cross-cutting concepts through engagement in the science and engineering practices.  The standards are designed to help teachers integrate and connect student learning across scientific disciplines, and to apply newly constructed knowledge and understanding to find solutions to real-world problems.  When fully realized, this vision will return our state and nation to its preeminent position as a world leader in science, engineering, and technology.

For more information about the Next Generation Science Standards/Michigan Science Standards, visit the following websites:   or,4615,7-140-28753_38684_28760---,00.html
For information about the work of Van Andel Education Institute Science Academy in supporting transformation of science instruction visit or the Van Andel Institute website at and click on Education Institute.
Full STEAM Ahead in Kindergarten

In the past, science instruction in kindergarten often looked like an art project that illustrated a concept we wanted our students to understand.  For example, we may have created a collage of things we tasted and then graphed our favorites as we learned about the five senses. STEAM instruction has morphed how we approach science in kindergarten in a completely different way.  STEAM involves prosing science as problems for our students to investigate and answer.  Our students are learning to create claims about these questions, collect data and evidence, and make conclusions…in a developmentally appropriate way.  We are able to incorporate technology, such as iPads and chromebooks, to record our students’ thinking as they reason their ideas, thinking, and conclusions. 
This year when we were learning about the sense of taste, our students were presented with a problem regarding two containers.  The labels had fallen off.  One contained salt and the other sugar.  They needed to figure out how they would determine which container was which.  The connection with science and real life made it more meaningful.  Our students don’t only understand what the 5 sense are this year; they understand how the 5 senses help you discover and explore the world around you.  It is a deeper understanding.
Armed with developmentally appropriate and engaging STEAM materials provided by Foundation funding, our students are creating structures, and then wiring them with lights and moving parts through a deeper understanding of circuits. They are reading classic fairy tales, and then using critical thinking and problem solving skills with hands on manipulatives, bringing these beloved stories to life in the classroom. Our students are now part of the solution by physically creating many chair prototypes for the three bears, bridge configurations to get the three billy goats over the troll, and a house strong enough to keep the three little pigs safe from the wolf.
STEAM has made learning fun!  Our students are excited to engage in the inquiry process and take risks with engineering designs.  They are collaborating with each other and explaining their thinking.  The grant for engineering materials we received through our partnership with the Foundation has provided us with additional resources we can use as we design.  Having these materials enables us to go deeper and encourage our students to take more risks as they create, plan, collaborate, build, explain, and rethink.  These are life long skills that will help them become better students and adults when they enter the workplace.  We have found that we are guiding the instruction, but these 5 & 6 year olds are now the ones doing all of the thinking!
Kindergarteners are natural engineers, and it is never too early to foster this interest and passion for innovation. In Kindergarten we are defining problems, brainstorming ideas, developing plans, creating, testing and analyzing data. We are future STEAM leaders, and we are hard at work in kindergarten!

Jessica Priem, Kindergarten, Pine Ridge Elementary 
and Jenell Spindle, Kindergarten, Collins Elementary
From Underwater ROVs to the Forest Hills STEM Academy

Students at Forest Hills Northern High School are designing, building, and operating fast, agile vehicles constructed to search and retrieve objects in an aquatic environment.  These underwater remote operated vehicles (ROVs) are simpler versions of the ROV’s that are currently employed to investigate wreckages, inspect and repair oil rigs, and maintain nuclear power facilities. 
In October of 2012, teachers Linda Sagorski (math) and Elbert Yeh (science) attended a workshop introducing the use of underwater remote operated vehicles to heighten student engagement.  Following this workshop, Elbert modified his physics classes to include the ROV’s as a significant teaching tool.  Through significant support and investment from the FHPS Office of Instruction the ROV’s were implemented in the 2013-2014 school year.  Since then, the ROV has engaged students by providing them a stage to directly apply and receive feedback regarding their understanding of the content they learned in class. 
In the same year the ROVs were launched, Elbert also began laying the foundation for a program that would become the Forest Hills STEM Academy.  This academy was developed to provide students with an integrated presentation of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  One hallmark of instructional delivery in the STEM Academy would be the incorporation of a year-long thematic project that would tie together all the content areas taught in that particular year.  As the concept of the STEM Academy progressed, the use of the ROV in physics emerged as the model these projects. 
Inspired to push the application of the ROV to the next level, Elbert attended an advanced workshop on underwater ROV design in October of 2014.  This time he was accompanied by Scott Kemperman -- engineering technology instructor at Forest Hills Northern.  This advanced workshop focused on the integration of different components such as claws, controllers, and sensors.  These new components allowed for an enhanced human interface and the potential for advanced data collection.  With the greater complexity of the ROV, computer programming became necessary.  As computer programming is beyond the scope and time constraints of physics, Elbert and Scott developed a Robotics/Physics modified block course to push the ROV’s to the next level.  Scott authored and was awarded a grant for $3,050 from the Forest Hills Foundation to purchase the equipment needed for this next stage of ROV implementation. 
The combination of computer programming with physics applied in the ROV is a clear example of the integrated instruction upon which the Forest Hills STEM Academy was built.  With a solid vision for the STEM Academy, the decision was made to move ahead with program implementation.  Once again the Forest Hills Foundation played an inportnat role by providing support personnel as well as $10,000 in startup funds to initiate this program.        
As the Forest Hills teaching staff continue to grow in their instructional delivery and methods of student engagement, district leadership and the Forest Hills Foundation continue to provide the vital support needed for progress and innovation.  Without this support, innovations in education such as the Underwater ROVs and the Forest Hills STEM Academy would simply remain ideas. 

Elbert Yeh, FHPS, STEM Academy
Fail Forward - A Lesson in Code

Not so long ago, Dan Behm challenged each of us to develop “grit” in the students we teach. This persistence with problem solving, he said, is an integral skill of the college-ready student and 21st-century learner. As a fifth grade teacher, this request resonated with me for many reasons. I, too, believe our students need to experience more productive struggle with tasks in school. And further, I place importance on developing, among students, a sense of incompletion with failure.

In my classroom beginning with the Hour of Code initiative on, students use a program called Blockly to learn the basics of computer programming. By connecting blocks together to create a series of commands, students can see their code successes and failures come to life in real time. As was once said to me by a colleague, I encourage my students to “fail forward.” This permission to fail with the expectation to try again is often all students need to be successful.  In coding, feedback is instantaneous and perseverance is expected. With slight revision and collaboration with peers, students try different coding patterns and learn new functions.

Building on this initial coding activity, I introduce students to Khan Academy resources and tutorials.  Using student gmail accounts to monitor progress and skill attainment, I have each student demonstrate skill proficiency with the simple coding of Blockly before advancing into the more complex writing of lines of code in JavaScript for simple drawings and animations.  These lessons emphasize learning by doing and making revisions to coded commands in real time.  Finally, with the help of a generous donation from the Forest Hills Foundation, students apply their learning to coding Spheros and Ozobots - tiny robotic spheres and droids that move with commands written in code.  Drawing on previous experiences targeting tenacity and patience, students take on this challenge with palpable excitement as failure is no longer feared.  It is expected.  It is overcome.  It is true grit.  Clint Eastwood would be proud. 

Matt Meyer, Knapp Forest Elementary
Coding and Computational Design:
Integrating Problem-Solving Strategies Across STEM

STEM - one of the hottest buzzwords in education - is simple to understand as individual subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  In a basic sense, Coding is the process of getting a computer, web page, or hardware to perform specific tasks. Coding is not teaching kids how to work a computer, but how to make the computer work for them.  Coding goes beyond just the ‘T’ in STEM, however.  By teaching problem-solving strategies that can be integrated into various aspects of students’ education, Coding encompasses all aspects of the STEM program. 
In order to improve these problem-solving strategies, I am introducing and teaching Google’s Computational Thinking (CT) Model into my Coding classes.  There are four basic principles of this model:  decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, and algorithm design.
  • Decomposition: Students are encouraged to break large problems (or an overall goal) into small, simplified, steps.
  • Pattern Recognition: Once a problem is simplified, students search for and identify patterns.
  • Abstraction: Chunking of the repeated steps or patterns allows students to organize their thoughts/solutions.
  • Algorithm Design: Students create a written code or program to solve the problem or complete the task. 
This design essentially equates to a set of instructions that a computer follows.  Teaching students to think in this manner allows them to more efficiently and effectively write code, and solve problems in general.
Computational Thinking (CT) is an essential skill set for coding, but it also can be used to support problem-solving skills across the STEM curriculum.  Students learn and use the CT framework through coding to help them visualize, decompress, and chunk problems.  These invaluable skills transfer not only to all classrooms, but to the workforce and world beyond.

We are grateful for the Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation funding that has provided tools necessary to advance this work in STEM.

Adam Zavislak, Northern Hills Middle School
The mission of the Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation is to provide funding for all areas of academic excellence in Forest Hills Public Schools. The generosity of our donors allows us to fund Individual Teacher Grants and Destination:  Innovation Grants. The support of the Forest Hills’ community allows our children to have amazing opportunities to learn, grow and develop in unbelievable ways. You can give securely online at, by sending a check to FHPSF at 600 Forest Hill Avenue SE, Grand Rapids MI 49546, or by calling the Foundation office at (616) 493-8954. Thank you for your support of the Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation.  
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All rights reserved.

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