Innovative Learning in High School

This is the second post in a three part series to highlight some awesomeness, and to ask for others to share or provide more ideas.

Coaching Chronicles

The following Coaching Chronicles was created by our High School Collaboration Coaches as their reflection on the 2010-2011 school year.
Collaboration Coaching at AJHS has allowed us to better use our instructional time and resources to effectively engage and inspire students. Through training sessions and frequent interactions, we have been able to share ideas, receive encouragement, and seek guidance on lesson plans. In looking forward we anticipate creating a stronger support system, increasing student achievement and accountability, and discovering resources to better teach 21st Century skills.

Created by Elizabeth Francois, Sandy Rollefstad, and Jerry Paterson.

What I appreciated was their understanding for collaborating and building professional learning communities. Prezis spread like wildfires in the classrooms because the students were given opportunities to engage in more mediums, and teachers started having conversations about what was working in their classrooms. Those conversations led to trying new things to focus on the learners.

OK Go and Rube Goldberg

Physics students were given the task to build Rube Goldberg Machines. Kids were engaged as they watched the OK Go "This Too Shall Pass" video. But who knew so much physics were involved? AJHS teacher Sandy Rollefstad did, and she used it to ignite interest in learning.

Rollefstad's students grappled the physics and collaboration to create their own Rube Goldberg Machines.

Student reflection-- Q: "How do you feel this project helped you learn about physics and simple machines?"
  • A: It broke it down to make it more understandable for me. Not just a video and a test on it.
  • A: I really loved this project because it was a perfect project for a kinesthetic learner like me. It helped me understand the six simple machines as well as many of the properties of physics.
  • A: We got to learn more about physics and simple machines from it because we used them to power and successfully/unsuccessfully run our Rube Goldberg machines. :-)

Science Symposium

Panda + Lion = "Landa"
Rollefstad saw the power of an authentic purpose and authentic audience, and entered her AP Biology students in the Central Arizona College's (CAC) 8th annual Academic Symposium. "The Symposium is an academic conference where students share original projects, research or talents with other students and faculty."

"We were charged with the task of realistically hybridizing two living organisms, and to treat the resultant species as if it were an actual evolutionary path," explained AJHS student Ty.

It was amazing to listen to the students discuss what would happen if they actually created a new hybrid breed, and defend/debate the best traits and behaviors of their hybrid.

Those same students asked Mrs. Rollefstad to create a class blog for them to share their ideas with others. She wasn't going to hold them back.

She created an Edublogs class blog, which is ran by the students with teacher supervision.

Final Remarks

It's been almost twenty-five years since I was in high school, and I only remember a few brief moments of innovative learning, but never anything like this. I predict they will remember this twenty-five years from now.
  • What innovative learning will your students remember twenty-five years from now?
  • How is the focus shifting from teaching to learning in your classrooms?
  • Is there anything I should add to this, or anything you want to add?
I thank the AJHS teachers for opening doors and talking to each other. When I asked Sandy Rollefstad how she got the idea to introduce Prezis to students, she let me know it was the teacher next door... who heard from the collaboration coach, Francois, in the middle of the campus. Awesome!


  1. Wow, this has been an exciting and rewarding year. It was often nerve-wracking to take such risks, I felt like I was out on a very small limb many times, but the reward of watching my students absolutely immerse themselves in their learning was enormous! Thank you, Tracy for always supporting me and often giving me the confidence to take the next risk...I can only imagine the fun we will have next year!

  2. Sandy, It's been a joy to learn with you. You are inspiring and I thank you for all you do! It's been a blast and I too am looking forward to the future.

    Kind regards,

  3. Oh the JOY that I have had in AP Bio this year! We pulled apart ferrets, hybridized our very own species, and managed to squeeze everything in between! 25 years from now is a long ways away, at least to me as an almost-senior high schooler. This AP Bio class has expanded my way of thinking and learning in so many ways. I know for a fact that 25 years from now I will be continuing this way of creative thinking. I love the fact that both Mrs. Rollefstad and Mrs. Watanabe are so into project base learning. It really does make a difference within a class room and it pushes us as students to achieve a higher understanding of each project that we approach.

    From day one in AP Biology, I loved the way the Mrs. Rollefstad approached our class. She sat us all down and immediately began to pick our brains on numerous amounts of different topics. At one point, she even had the "leftys" singled out within our class and asked us to reason why she would do such a thing! Many of us began to think that she favored "lefty" students since Mrs. Rollefstad is a "lefty" herself. :) This was the very beginning of taking on a whole new concept of learning...not to just be taught, but to learn indepth of all the possible reasons and outcomes, whether they were right, wrong, crazy, or simply insane. Kuddos to Mrs. Rollefstad for going above and beyond my own first impression experiences throughout my high school years.

    To quote my teacher as she watched some of us stressfully study for our AP exam as our year came to an end, she reminded us, "You know more then you think you know!" Fortunately, she was right! I have had the opportunity to learn so much in her class because of the fact that she taught us as students to learn all that we can, to the best of our ablilities!

    Mrs. Watanabe has been such a trooper for putting up with our crazy yet fun-loving class! She has taught us so much and has helped our class tremendously! She even attended the CAC Academic Symposium that our AP Bio class participated in and she supported us the whole way! It may sound conceited, but we definitely blew those college kids out of the water with our marvelous Prezi presentations and spectacular animal hybrid projects! I was priveleged to have Mrs. Watanabe as my 5th grade teacher, but now even more so privelged to have had her input and help within our AP Bio class. She has brought us a long way!

    25 years from now, I will still remember how our class was taught the simple principle to learn. Breaking down hard and almost impossible tasks became subconscious for me as a student. I will be doing it in my sleep for the rest of my life! I have gained so much knowledge from hands-on experiences this year that are unforgettable. Thank you so much to Mrs. Rollefstad and Mrs. Watanabe for truely caring about the future generations.

    I owe it all to you both!

    Breanna Milkey

  4. Hi Breanna,

    Thank you so much for the thoughtful and fabulous comment! It is an honor to work in Mrs. Rollefstad's class, and an honor to get a comment from you. The heart of your comment is your benefiting from educators shifting their focus from "teaching" to "learning." Thank you so very much for writing this!

    I love the classroom and it was such a difficult decision to step out of it; but I chose to because I believed that one day I might hear a student say they loved that they learned how to learn! So thank you. I know it will mean as much to Mrs. Rollefstad as it does to me.

    Kind regards,
    Mrs. Watanabe

  5. Biology this year was by far my best year of science. Not just because of the people in the class but I actually enjoyed the things that were being taught to me. This was the only class in my years of school that used new and innovative technology. From learning how to use the smart board to using “slide shows on steroids,” as Mrs. Rollefstad would say, I have learned a lot about new technology. I’m not sure what I will remember 25 years from now, aside from how crazy my teacher was. Although, the most memorable moment of the class at this moment would have to be the wide range of choices we got and all of the different technology that was available.
    I think that the reason our class was so able to learn was that the students had a big part in deciding their education. For example, in my other classes it was the same thing every day. We would take notes then do a worksheet. In AP Bio we would do a lab one day, watch a slideshow another, then the next day we would be coloring. In our classroom we had a certain amount of freedom that let us learn from conversations and interactive learning.
    As far as the web posting I would love to see more about the thought process the students went through in choosing their animal hybrid. For example, did the students mean to create killing machines or cute house pets? How did the group choose specifically those animals? Also it would be nice to hear different group’s opinions of the project.
    I will always have memories of this year and no matter how hard I try everything relates back to Jurassic Park.

  6. Hi Erin,

    Thanks so much for commenting on my blog! I love how you wrote, "I think that the reason our class was so able to learn was that the students had a big part in deciding their education." I think that is so very true! Students choice in their learning is a huge part of the learning process. From a teachers point of view, there is so much research to support that student choice and having a student centered classroom, as opposed to a teacher centered classroom, is what takes the learning to a deeper level. I have to admit, those first steps as a teacher are scary because you aren't sure if it will really work. But, when we actually try it, many of us never go back. Having the focus on the learners is where it should be. So, thank you for sharing your comment here!

    Kind regards,
    Mrs. Watanabe


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