New RMS electives capturing attention

New Ross Middle School electives capturing students' attention
Posted on 09/19/2019
Students in green screen room

In Melinda King’s communications and video journalism class, students script and record daily announcements using a green screen and video equipment.


In Crystal Case’s robotics and coding class, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are taught to program computers, allowing them to rewrite the ending of a favorite video game or create a birthday card online.


And elsewhere on the Ross Middle School campus, students are able to take a high school Spanish course; earn digital badges in subjects like respect, responsibility, safety, history and art; enroll in a health class that explores mind, body and fitness; or take a strategies class designed to help them catch up on missed credits.


Those are some of the new electives rolled out this school year by Principal Luke Hibbard and his team. They join traditional favorites like band, yearbook, leadership and futures, giving Ross students plenty to choose from when deciding what to take beyond the core subjects like math, English, social science and history.


If enrollment is any indication, all of the new electives are off to a good start. Almost every one of them is at or close to the 35-student limit, a sure sign of early popularity.


“I’m just really proud of our staff,” Hibbard said Wednesday while walking around campus and visiting some of the new classes. “There’s a lot of change and everybody has stepped up. Change is uncomfortable. It’s hard. It’s not easy to do. It’s not in their comfort zone, but I think that’s when learning happens, for our staff and our students.”


King’s class has responsibility to produce a daily video announcement that includes the Pledge of Allegiance and what’s being offered in the cafeteria at lunch. Students work in teams in a specially equipped lab. In addition to the green screen – which allows graphics to be superimposed later behind the students – there are video monitors, cameras and keyboards. The students rotate from between being the on-screen talent to working behind the camera or offering feedback.


One of the first projects the class was assigned was to create individual videos for every player on the Hughson High varsity football team, coached by King’s husband, Shaun. The videos are shown on Friday nights at Husky Stadium after the player has done something notable in the game. The class also has created sponsor videos for various Hughson businesses, which also are played at home football games.


The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive for the Ross students.


“It makes my heart happy to have these kids see the application of the skills they’re learning,” Hibbard said. “I love it.”


There is a lot to love as well about the enthusiasm of the students in Case’s robotics and coding class. Wednesday, they were working on a lesson involving Scratch coding, a basic building block of computer language. Students worked effortlessly on the Chromebooks that are assigned to each of them and can be taken home.


Seventh-grader Sebastian Vassallo drew a crowd when he offered to share a new ending he created the night before for Flappy Fortnite, one of his favorite video games.


“I changed a lot of the buffers and played around with what happens. I just remixed things,” said Vassallo, who said the class has whetted his appetite to learn more coding skills.


Across the room, sixth-grader Sam Standen – who just moved to Hughson this year from Mariposa, where he learned a little about coding – said he likes to add text or rewrite portions of games.


“What I do is erase coding that other people do or I did to change the ending of a game,” he explained. “I like to add ways to dodge an attack or do extra damage.”


At one point, a student asked Case for help completing something on his Chromebook. She didn’t immediately know the answer, so she quickly got the other students’ attention and asked if anyone could help. Problem solved.


That is precisely the culture Hibbard aspires to create at Ross.


“Traditionally, the teacher has been the broker of all knowledge,” he said. “I like the collaboration; kids sharing with each other. A lot of teachers don’t want to take that chance. But now that student got his issue resolved by crowd-sourcing in his class.”


The technology-focused lessons in many classes are more than just an excuse to play video games or create eye-catching graphics in class.


“They’re learning how to use sequencing to make things happen,” Case said. “It’s a glimpse into 21st century jobs. … They’re discovering skills they didn’t even know they had and sharing them. Watching that is like watching wildfire spread, in a good way. This is like PE for the brain.”


Hibbard said the focus on technology is intentional all across the Ross campus.


“Coding is in everything from stoplights to washing machines to smart phones,” he said. “These students are growing up in a world full of technology. We want Hughson to be known for this.”
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