CTE is not just another education acronym. It refers to “Career and Technical Education,” an area of study that is gaining more notice among students, teachers, educators and business leaders. But what is it and what does it look like in Thompson School District? Simply put, CTE classes are designed to prepare students for work.

Those of us of a certain age are familiar with the vocational education programs that taught the trades, such as plumbing, welding and auto mechanics. These days, many students want a career pathway in high school but they also enroll in certificate programs or two or four-year degree programs after high school.

Thompson School District offers six CTE pathways to guide students to the courses most relevant to their future careers. Some of the courses in each pathway even provide college credit at no cost to the student. The pathways are:

  • Agriculture & Natural Resources
  • Business & Public Administration
  • Health Sciences & Public Safety
  • Hospitality, Human Services and Education
  • Skilled Trades
  • STEM, Arts, Design and Information Technology

More information can be found on our website: https://www.thompsonschools.org/Page/16494

In addition to our current offerings, an exciting new apprenticeship opportunity will be available to TSD high school students next school year through a partnership with CareerWise Colorado and local companies. Students can enter into a three-year learning experience that combines classroom study, hands-on training and paid meaningful work for a company in their area of interest. Students are able to earn while they learn and come out prepared for careers in high-demand industries that pay average salaries around $50,000.

The CareerWise modern youth apprenticeship program is modeled after long-standing successful programs like that in Switzerland, where nearly three-quarters of high school students participate in apprenticeships, regardless if they pursue higher education. Whether a student enters the workforce immediately after high school or decides to continue their formal schooling, an apprenticeship experience will help them further their career goals.

I am thrilled that we are able to bring CareerWise Colorado to Thompson School District students and I am thankful to our dedicated CTE staff for pursuing this partnership. TSD is one of a handful of school districts across Colorado offering this modern youth apprenticeship opportunity to students. To learn more about CareerWise, please visit https://www.careerwisecolorado.org/

Lori Hvizda Ward
Thompson School District Board of Education

EdTech Spotlights: Carol Barnes of HPS, with flexible pacing

Walking in to Carol Barnes’s class, you will be immediately struck by the movement, discussions, and technology usage of her students.  These students are engaged right from the start and ready to use devices and converse with other students about their learning.  Barnes, a middle school math teacher at High Plains K-8 School, is on the leading edge of Thompson School District’s mission to personalize learning for all students.

Adopting this type of instruction is no easy feat and allowing middle school students to learn with an increased level of autonomy can build a teacher’s anxiety.  But Carol came to the realization that developing successful education for students means we need to meet them where they are developmentally.  For teenagers, allowing freedom for curiosity and social interactions is a vital part of the learning process, but parameters from the teacher still need to be in place to facilitate academic achievement.  To achieve this, Barnes has integrated flexible pacing in her Math classes.  “This model of flexible pacing has given the student’s the power and control of their education. They can move quickly if they are comfortable or slow down if they are finding it difficult,” she explained.  Students never need to feel stuck on a Math concept.  “Students have also chosen to move on,” Carol said, “and come back to it before frustration hits an all time high. They truly have control and autonomy over their learning and I am a facilitator and source of knowledge.”


Students meet with Ms. Barnes when ready to prove mastery of a standard.

When asked why she moved to this approach, Barnes explained, “My motivation happened 5 years back when [some students were] struggling with current content because [of] knowledge gaps. I wanted to find a safe and encouraging way for students to go back and fill missing pieces before attempting current content, while not holding back those that were ready.”  Students became more engaged than ever and recognized that the teacher was there to meet their needs, instead of simply teaching Math concepts at a predetermined pace.  “I was sure there was a way to meet all aspects of the spectrum in one room but I knew I would have to let go of the norm.”  There has certainly been a reward to Carol’s courage.

But this method of teaching can be very foreign to students, even if it is beneficial.  When asked how students have responded, Barnes said, “They love it! The students who normally struggle and get discouraged are getting the help and encouragement they need. The students who are [at a higher level] are able to have a challenge and get support and the middle is not forgotten.” Students are bought-in to the process and excited to find their own paths to success through collaboration with their teacher.  “Many students now feel more like math is achievable and manageable,” Carol stated.  Knowing students have that outlook is an incredible feeling for a teacher in any content area.img_1223-e1510348518713.jpg

Consider integrating flexible pacing with your students through utilization of formative assessment tools like iReady or Map.MathShell.org.  When in doubt of how to integrate the process, seek out Carol Barnes, EdTech TSD, the Professional Learning Team, or other teachers using flexible pacing and find out how to make this work with your students.

By Joe Zappa

This post originally published on Nov. 10, 2017, on tsdtech.org

EdTech Spotlights: Christina Feldhus of LEES, VR Field Trip

Innovation flourishes at Thompson School District elementary schools.  Teachers at Laurene Edmonson Elementary School, a STEM school with 1:1 iPads and Nearpod subscription , are truly redefining learning experiences for students.

Before Nearpod, 4th grade teacher Christina Feldhus would have had to submit special requests to take her students to see the Cliff Dwellings at Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park.  In fact, the preventative distance from Loveland would have made this trip nearly impossible.   But as part of their Colorado history unit, Ms. Feldhus wanted to bring the Cliff Dwellings to life for her students.   She wanted to do more than give a lecture and show slides.  So on a snowy Monday in November, her 4th graders were warm in their classrooms while exploring the inner rooms of the Cliff Dwellings.  I had the privilege of joining them.

She began the lesson by asking students to consider what questions they had about the Cliff Dwellings.  After sharing, they were directed to log onto Nearpod and access the VR (virtual reality) video tour for Mesa Verde.  These fourth graders got right to work.  Armed with their personal questions and a graphic organizer for recording, each child toured the park looking for different things.

One student was looking at construction.  “How do you think those stones are being held together?” he asked me.  I encouraged him to explore further and get a close-up view.  After more investigation, he said, “That looks like mud and water mixed to make a special kind of cement!”  He then went right to work recording his findings.

Another student was looking at the weather.  This VR was recorded on a sunny day and he noted: “The Cliff Dwellings have a lot of shelter too.  It’s not like they were living outside.  I bet when it rained everything was OK because the houses are built into the side of the cliff so all the water ran down and didn’t flood their homes!”  He too went right to work recording his thinking.

Ms. Feldhus found a moment to chat and shared with me that the teachers in her school “are loving using Nearpod on their iPads.”  The lessons are easy to create, and many more exist in a communal bank of lessons created by other teachers.  Students are 100% engaged.  With the availability of VR, students were in control of their learning for this “field trip”.   Not once did the teacher have to ask everyone to “stay together”.  They were freely exploring their own questions, at their own pace.   It’s this kind of innovation that transforms learning for students from traditional sit-and-get to a personalized journey of exploration.

By Jeannie Sponheim

This post originally published on Nov. 8, 2017, on tsdtech.org

EdTech Spotlights: Joe Rein of MVHS, using Google Docs

In this post, Joe Rein, English teacher at Mountain View High School, is showcased.  Joe has changed the writing process with his students, especially in regards to providing instant feedback to students through the use of Google Docs.  While Google Docs is not a new tool for most teachers, its practical and innovative use for the Feedback Loop is not always seen. Using the “Suggesting” and “Comments” function on his students’ Docs, he provides input to guide students in real-time.  Whether he is using this feature during class, or at 9:30 on a Thursday night, students are able to have an ongoing conversation with the teacher about their writing.

“The use of Google Docs changes the writing process from the individual student making a guess at my exact expectations based on a rubric into a collaborative process between me, him or her, and even their peers and sometimes… with their parents as well,” Mr. Rein explained.  “The best part about using Google Docs is that I can provide real time feedback on rough drafts and the writing process.”

Collaboration, a skill significantly valued by today’s most successful companies, is expertly facilitated through Joe’s Google Doc integration.  It also provides an authentic opportunity for personalized learning. “I can meet them right where they are at in the writing process rather than waiting for them to complete a full rough draft,” he stated.  Learning is interactive and deeper.  “Rather than a sit and get, where I tell them ‘here is how you write your paper, here is the proper format, and here is your rubric’ it instead becomes a process where I am analyzing and discussing their thinking with them in real time and they are participants in that discussion rather than receivers of less personal and interactive feedback. It also brings the focus away from purely content and back to the skills that develop critical thinkers.”

Mr. Rein mentioned a fantastic aspect of Docs, which allows for the teacher and student to look through version history and see all of the changes made in the process.  Students have responded well to this new style of the writing process.  “Students have given me overwhelmingly positive feedback,” Joe said. “You see them interacting with me much more during the writing process. When they respond to a comment, or make a change or changes and then ask me to take another look at it this tells me that they have become more engaged with the writing process.”  Best of all has been observing change from students passively changing their text based on teacher commentary to taking an active and engaged role in teacher feedback. “Essentially the dialogue that occurs allows for deeper learning and understanding of why we go through this process,” Mr. Rein explained.

Knowing that students are more engaged than ever in the writing process is a victory in itself.  But for Joe Rein, Google Docs has put students fully in control of their learning with the teacher simply facilitating the process.  Try this with your students, all that is needed is a internet-capable device and the students’ Google Drive.  When in doubt of how to manage the process, seek out Joe Rein, EdTech TSD, or other Google Doc teachers and find out how to make this work with your students.

By Joe Zappa

This post originally published on Oct. 24, 2017, on tsdtech.org

A Unique Learning Experience

It’s been almost seven months since I joined the Thompson Board of Education, and during that time I’ve learned a lot. More than anything, I’ve learned that I still have much to get my head around. But given this opportunity, I thought it might be interesting to share about my experience so far being a member of this 2017-2018 Thompson Board of Education.



What’s it like to be on the Board of Education?
As a member, I’ve learned that I have very little power individually; as a collective, the Board Members direct the course of the entire School District. You may have heard the rumor, but it’s true: Board Members don’t get paid. I’ve done a lot more reading than I expected, and I’ve learned about just how much depth lies in terms like “Affective Needs,” “Multi-Tiered Systems of Support” and “Personalized Learning”. They weren’t kidding when they said that being a Board Member would require about twenty hours a week. I’ve met incredibly talented people that bring amazing programs to our schools while at the same time finding clever ways to fund them. Just when I think I’ve finally got a handle on it all, another fantastic program like “Give Next” surprises and impresses. We have a strong, generous and giving community with a wealth of knowledge and experience in making our schools do more with less. It’s an exciting time for Thompson!

What are the other Board Members like?
Each Member has their own personality, but shares one very important trait – they put students first. Each brings a unique perspective and a wealth of experience to the Board and although that may lead to some fierce discussions at times, it ultimately helps one another make better, more educated and balanced decisions. I don’t think any of our Board members are willing to settle for second best. I’ve seen each member be passionate about supporting our employees. They fervently believe that we can most effectively serve student needs by having a fantastic teacher in every classroom. I’ve observed each member recognize that every contribution from every employee, every volunteer and every giver from our community is an integral and critical part of our District’s success. I’ve heard each member express how important it is for our District to run in a financially responsible manner – to focus very, very hard on stretching every dollar that’s spent. We argue a lot, we laugh a lot and we enjoy one another. It’s a great team to be a part of.

So who’s this new guy from Boulder?
Our incoming superintendent, Dr. Marc Schaffer, is a true “Steward Leader.”  I was impressed with him during our district interviews and I’m growing more and more impressed as I watch him “build a runway” as he becomes an integral part of Thompson. Already I’ve observed him “walking the talk” as he starts by meeting people and LISTENING, just like he said he would do during our interviewing process. He has great ideas and great experiences and he’s willing to share those when it makes sense – but not to overwhelm or try to over-impress. He brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to our District. He values the strengths that we see in our District and wants to support those in a spirit of continuous improvement. We’re going to miss Dr. Scheer and I hope we continue to see a lot of him as he continues to be a vital member of our community. I also believe it’s safe to say that we’re in good hands with our incoming superintendent.



Marc Seter

Thompson School District Board of Education

Get Ahead With Free College!

Did you know that Thompson School District offers “free college” to high school students?

The formal name of the district’s free college program is Concurrent Enrollment. Follow along to learn more about this great opportunity offered to high school students.20170527_Graduation LHS_1_WEB

What is Concurrent Enrollment?

Concurrent enrollment gives students the opportunity to graduate from high school with college credits and accelerate their progress toward earning advanced degrees and the working world.

Thompson School District pays for the cost of tuition for a maximum of two college classes per semester per student. The parent/student is responsible for the fee(s) and book(s) associated with the course(s). Students in grades 9-12 are eligible. However, we strongly recommend that participating students are in grades 10-12. Some colleges may have an age requirement. Each of the programs is initiated by speaking with the student’s counselor and they also involve an application process.

TSD has concurrent enrollment agreements with a handful of colleges. Students can take college courses that fit into their ICAP at Front Range Community College (FRCC) and Aims Community College. There are other opportunities for college credit to be awarded with limited class options at the University of Colorado-Denver, Colorado Christian University, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs for a specific program called “Project Lead the Way” which specifies in Engineering and Metropolitan State University for the Pro Start program, which specifies in Catering.

There are three ways to earn concurrent enrollment credit:

  1. Career Pathways/Career Academy
  2. High School Select
  3. Campus Select

Let’s talk about Career Pathways and Career Academy!

Career Pathways is a year-long career and technical education program through FRCC. All students earn high school credit and have the option to earn college credit. The tuition is covered by Thompson School District and the parent/student is responsible for associated course fees. Most of the programs are held on the FRCC Larimer Campus in Fort Collins or at the CLC (Thompson School District Admin Building). Classes are held every day – students are placed in the morning from 8:00-10:00am or in the afternoon from 12:30-2:30pm. Transportation is provided to all locations. In-depth, hands-on learning is offered with a cohort of students. Many offer internships, FRCC certificates and/or industry credentials. All students in the Career Pathways Program must take the Accuplacer exam. The programs offered at Front Range Community College are:

  • Animal Technology Automotive Technology and Service
  • Criminal Justice Careers Exploration Culinary Arts
  • Medical Careers Exploration Welding and Metal Fabrication
  • Wildlife, Forestry and Natural Resources

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Career Academy is a year-long career and technical education program through Aims Community College. All students earn high school credit and have the option to earn college credit. The tuition is covered by Thompson School District and the parent/student is responsible for associated course fees. All programs are held at the Aims-Loveland Campus. Classes are held every day.  However, transportation is not provided for this specific program. The programs offered at Aims are:

  • Animation: 9:10am-11:00am M/T/W/TH
  • Graphic Design: 12:45pm-2:35pm M/T/W/TH

Let’s roll on over to discuss the High School Select program…

This program is one of the best options to earn college credit without even leaving the high school campus. It consists of college-level classes taught at the high school by an approved high school teacher or college professor. It offers a convenient location with familiar students and instructors. Tuition is paid for by TSD and the parent/student is responsible for course fee(s) and book(s). In High School Select, TSD offers the courses solely based on enrollment numbers. Students should talk with their high school counselors about what course offerings may be available at their high school. Classes are taught at the college level and students are expected to meet all college-level requirements. The requirements are: to speak with your counselor, fill out an application, recognize prerequisites and appropriate test placement scores. An Accuplacer assessment is needed if the student does not have ACT scores.

Last but not least, our last option for concurrent enrollment is the Campus Select program.

This program is great for the student who is able to drive to the college campus and have the option to take more classes than what is offered at their high school. It includes any course taken at the college level on the college campus. Students will apply to the college and register for classes like a college student. It is recommended to sign up for Guaranteed Transfer (GT) courses in order to ensure that the credit will transfer to most colleges and universities in the state of Colorado. Classes must fit and work within the student’s high school schedule and graduation requirements take precedence. Students must meet all prerequisites and understand that they will be in a college class with other college students. Classes are taught at the college level; most classes will require 6-9 hours of work at home per week. College professors will not know that the student is in high school unless the student tells them. Students may be required to work with classmates outside of class time.

Now that you have read about the concurrent enrollment programs, would you like to know how a student gets enrolled?

First, the student needs to talk to their counselor about taking concurrent enrollment classes and which program they are interested in. Second, students need to update their ICAP (Individual Career and Academic Plan) and Plan of Study on Naviance to reflect that they want to take a concurrent enrollment class. Counselors can assist with this step. TSD will not pay for the course unless it is in their ICAP and Plan of Study.

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For Career Pathways and Career Academy, the student will apply at the beginning of the spring semester for the following school year. Typically during course registration, there are only a certain number of slots for each program.

For the High School Select program, the student will apply at the beginning of the spring semester for the following school year.

Please be aware that students who fail or withdraw will be responsible for repaying tuition costs back to the school district.

For the Campus Select program, students may register for the class(s) they want to take once the college course catalog is released, which is typically 3-4 months prior to the start of the semester.

The final step for the concurrent enrollment program is for the student to see their counselor for the appropriate paperwork. Apply to the appropriate school via online application or paper application. Complete the concurrent enrollment form, take the Accuplacer test if necessary and attach the score or attach the qualifying ACT scores. Return the paperwork to the student’s counselor. Check back later for confirmation of enrollment. If the student is taking a Campus Select class, you must check your college e-mail account regularly, as this is how the school will communicate with you. If you miss a deadline for payment of fees, you will be dropped from the course. Also, when taking Campus Select courses, you will have a few extra steps to do with a new student checklist that will be provided to you. This checklist involves speaking with a college advisor and attending a new student orientation.

What will this look like on my high school transcript?

All 100 level and above college classes will be weighted like AP classes. Example: ENG 121, PSY 101, COM 115.

Career Pathways classes have their own unique credit amount and the grade will be weighted.

High School Select classes will be .5 high school credits and have a weighted grade. Students typically earn 3 college credits.

Campus Select classes will vary from .17-1.0 high school credits, all depending on the number of college credits earned for the course. If it is a 100 level course and above, it will be a weighted grade.

Toward the end of the student’s senior year, when the decision has been made about what college/university they will be attending, the student will need to transfer their earned college credits to that school. They will need to request official transcript(s) from the colleges where the concurrent enrollment credit was earned and have them sent to the college/university they will be attending.

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Advantages of participating in the concurrent enrollment program:

  • Free tuition
  • Good transition to college
  • Earn credits toward your college degree
  • Gain confidence in your ability to succeed in college
  • Campus Select students are fully integrated at FRCC

Cautions to know for participating in the concurrent enrollment program:

  • 6-9 hours of homework per week
  • Transcripts are permanent
  • Poor grades can affect scholarships and financial aid

Please feel free to reach out to your student’s counselor or our College and Career Department for further information.

  • Tyler Schlagel, College and Career Coordinator
    • Phone: 970-613-5098
    • Email: tyler.schlagel@Thompsonschools.org
  • Afton Valerio, College and Career Assistant
    • Phone: 970-613-7575
    • Email: Afton.Valerio@ThompsonSchools.org


A Call to Action: The Need for Critical Reasoning Instruction

“Critical thinking, analysis of facts and proper policy formation have become extremely difficult in a politicized and media-saturated environment,”

–  Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan CEO, April 2018

Over the span of three decades as an educator, I’ve had a driving passion to help students think critically – meaning to assess and evaluate their own thinking in order to improve it. My journey began as an undergraduate in pursuit of an understanding of how best to teach “thinking.”

As a teacher practitioner, I pursued this goal through professional development opportunities, but found the results to disappointing. I soon abandoned relying on others in the education field and evolved to self-direction.

I based my Masters and Doctorate research on people’s ability to develop and utilize quality reasoning – within the context of organizational leadership.  I discovered a wealth of research focused on how the brain works and what constitutes quality critical thinking. It became clear, however, that few practical connections have been established between the research, knowledge and classroom implementation.

I came to realize how much society in general, and educators in particular, ignore and distort the established lessons of critical thinking.  Ironically, if you Google critical thinking, you will find almost 29,000,000 sites referenced. Critical thinking has become, like so many other disciplines, whatever someone wants to make it.  As a result, classroom practitioners struggle to establish a cohesive, substantive and accurate approach to critical thinking. Unfortunately, my experiences as a teacher, administrator, researcher, educational consultant and now a Board member indicate that schools fail to teach critical reasoning skills except in superficial ways.

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In preschool, children bubble with energy, curiosity and excitement. They want to understand the world, express themselves and relate to others. Instead of capitalizing on this wealth of potential, our schools pursue discipline, conformity and short-term skills acquisition and memorization to perform successfully on standardized tests. Once vibrant minds become passive, lose motivation to learn and become satisfied with the superficial. Instead of seeing education as an opportunity for growth and enjoyment, students learn how to survive the system.

What is incredibly disturbing is that teachers, parents, students, board members, etc. quickly fall into line and become so indoctrinated in current approaches that they no longer see alternative paradigms to education.  We simply accept the status quo as unrefutable truth. Many of these people reading this are probably already getting defensive and are wanting to refute what I am proposing. This is an indication of a trapped mindset designed for self-protection.

While some blame teachers for this superficiality, it really falls upon the entire education system. Flawed groupthink, from the federal level down to the local level, has produced a system lacking substance and an environment that fosters superficial learning with little motivation or resources to improve. Driven by educational fads and short-term decisions, schools continue to struggle to deliver the rigorous, substantive education our children deserve. Educators have become trapped in a fishbowl, unaffected by the knowledge that exists outside the educational system. Nothing significantly new emerges. Instructional strategies, curriculum and levels of rigor get repackaged and reused decade after decade. This helps people keep their jobs and companies make lots of money without having to really change anything.  In the words of Richard Paul, a leading authority in critical thinking, “The history of education is also a history of educational panaceas, the comings and goings of quick fixes for deep-seated educational problems….The result is intensifying fragmentation of energy and effort in the schools, together with a significant waste of time and money.”  Our latest efforts are packaged as “personalized learning.”  Will this simply become another superficial fad, representing the old rather than the new only with a different name, which makes us temporarily feel good and gives the appearance of change? Or we will truly embrace rigorous student learning with new paradigms?

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Many of our politicians and community leaders and many educators continue to buy into the misconception that educational change simply requires schools and classroom teachers to follow dictates about what the outcomes should be and then apply stringent accountability measures. Many believe that tweaking direct instruction around vocabulary, fluency and basic comprehension, adding some technology gadgets into the classroom and having students pursue their self-identified interests, is the key. Rather than elevating student achievement, these erroneous and simplistic methods continue education stagnation.

Society as a whole has created a false perception of being intelligent and educated. We pride ourselves on our intellectualism and try to convince others of our brilliance. In schools, this false perception equates to a belief that excellence in thinking means mastery of basic comprehension skills, a few activities labeled as higher Bloom’s Taxonomy, followed by standardized tests. This approach does little to develop deep reasoning skills or intellectual character. Ron Richhart, another educational leader, reflected on his educational experience by saying, “I quickly discerned that school was more about style than substance, breadth than depth, and speed above all else…I learned that being smart meant having the answers readily at one’s disposal.”

It is a bit ironic that we convince ourselves as a highly sophisticated and educated society, yet one of the major issues we are dealing with right now is how outside countries are able to easily manipulate public perception and thinking to impact elections. In other words, other countries realize our voting citizenry are lacking basic critical thinking skills which can be exploited to manipulate voting outcomes and cause disruptions.  Do we need a louder wake-up call?

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I sincerely believe that all students have the ability to become better thinkers and I would like our district to offer a vision of hope and create a blueprint for a pervasive culture of thinking.  Let’s focus on the development of highly-skilled readers, writers, mathematicians and scientists and most importantly, the development of students with high intellectual character.  Let’s challenge long-standing assumptions of education and move away from a system of indoctrination and memorization to one of intellectual awakening.  We need leaders with long-term thinking based on a substantive theory of education. We need to move critical reasoning instruction from faddish rhetoric to practical reality.  If we fail to develop adults capable of thinking, well, what good is school?

Admittedly, this is a difficult challenge. History demonstrates that external factors dictate education priorities. Accountability measures as “basic” as state standardized assessments that measure minimal skills make for great political rhetoric, but establish educational priorities contrary to the development of quality thinking.  These tests establish an achievement ceiling that I believe should be our floor of achievement.

The powerful impetus for change may have arrived. Political and economic pressures continue to mount. Other world powers, especially China, have gained considerable influence in global politics and economics. For the past seven decades, the United States possessed the military and economic power to promote its interest and maintain world stability. We’ve compelled others to do what we wanted them to do. But the tide has begun to flow out. As the United States faces deep internal problems, emerging countries, aggressive and self-promoting, have moved closer to parity. These trends should encourage business, political and educational leaders to collaborate for the common good.  We can maintain our status and the benefits that come with it by exploiting a competitive edge of free, high-quality thinkers.

Schools stand among the most complex of all societal organizations and must be respected as such. The move toward developing quality thinkers remains to me a moral and ethical calling that requires rising above the mediocrity of politics and short-sided fads. It is definitely a road less traveled. Critical thinking can become a powerful, comfortable and routine aspect of everyday teaching and learning. Most educators sincerely want to move their students past superficial memorization and fragmented information towards deep, connected learning. We just need to redesign our system to prioritize and support this vision. We can do it. And we can do it for all teachers and students.IMG_5039.jpg

I’ve learned much about creating quality thinking classrooms. The Foundation for Critical Thinking highlighted my work and contributions by recognizing me as their national leader in Critical Thinking ten years ago. I continue to teach courses to educators across the globe and provide consulting across our country in pursuit of quality education.  It is difficult to be a prophet in your own land, as people would rather beat you down for their own comfort and protection than support efforts to change. But I hope that as a Board member, I can spark a community-wide conversation about how we want to educate our children and how we can develop world-class critical reasoners.

Dr. Paul Bankes
Thompson School District Board of Education

Seeing is Believing Series: Mountain View High School

Every month, parents, community members and district staff come together for TSD’s “Seeing is Believing” program, which offers an inside glimpse at how schools are fostering personalized learning. In our third summary of the series, we re-visit Mountain View High School.

Teaching and learning doesn’t get more personalized than in Peter Toew’s music room at Mountain View High School.

Conducting a band or orchestra, says Toews, requires “100 percent personalized learning.” For the whole group to function, the individual performers must rise to the same level. Playing in a band or an orchestra requires collective performance. And each individual’s contribution counts.


The evidence of mastery—or evidence of where the individual student currently stands on that road to mastery—is immediate.

Toews, who has been teaching at Mountain View High School since the school opened in 2000, collects eight pieces of data in each student’s performance—tone, rhythm, notes, intonation, etc. When giving a test, Toews opens an iPad and checks off his rubric. All students at MVHS are given an iPad and log-in to see their scores. There is no need to wait or wonder.

“In a minute, kids can go in and look and they go, ‘man, I got a four on notes, but I got two on rhythm, so I really need to this time focus on rhythm to get better,’” says Toews. The specificity helps students key on areas of improvement and then they take the test again.

Toews’ spacious music classroom and the entire Mountain View High School were on display when Thompson School District’s “Seeing is Believing” tour stopped for a visit on Wednesday, Feb. 21. The tour is giving district staff and district partners an opportunity to see how schools are making progress under Thompson School District’s ongoing journey to bring personalized learning to every classroom setting. Mountain View High School was the eighth such visit.


Like Toews, says Mountain View High School principal Jane Harmon, some teachers are implementing personalized learning in a “very comprehensive way.” Other teachers “remain skeptical,” she acknowledges. But most teachers are implementing some elements of personalization.

Teachers are being asked to become learners in this journey, says Harmon. And they are being asked to take risks, all with the goal of creating learning environments that give students more of a voice and more of a choice in their education and to encourage students to take ownership of their learning.

For instance, math teachers Em Ayyildiz and Heather Anderton each designed a “flipped classroom” unit for their shared Algebra I class. In flipped classrooms, the instruction shifts to a learner-centered model in which students use class time to explore topics in greater depth while content is left to online resources.

“It was uncomfortable for those teachers,” says Harmon. But the flipped classroom approach changed the teachers’ interactions with students, she adds, “because they became a one-on-one tutor for some students, and a small-group tutor for others. At times, they had to stop and do large group instruction, but it gave them the ability to know students personally, because they had the time to do that. They weren’t standing in front of the classroom modeling a problem. So through that risk-taking they were able to do the very thing we need teachers to do, and that is to relate with students.”


In any algebra class or music room, adds Harmon, some students are “ready to fly.” At the same time, other students need one-on-one time with the teacher. The personalized approach allows teachers to distinguish the needs and gives them time for those various interactions.

Up in the second-floor classroom of social studies teacher Kelly Evans, students are exploring the seven jobs that make up the work of the President of the United States. The class is pre-Advanced Placement civics integrated with economics. The class is part of the magnet program inside MVHS known as ‘LISA’ or Loveland Integrated School of the Arts. Groups of students are working together to write a paragraph explaining what the one job they have selected to study and why it’s important. Each group will also create a hat that represents that particular responsibility.

Recently, students were asked to summarize everything they had learned about the executive branch of government. They were given a rubric of how their submissions would be evaluated. Each student decided the form in which they would deliver their work. Evans says she received “amazing” submissions that included storybooks, pamphlets, and infographics—all based on the individual student’s choice of how to represent their work.

Evans said her early cautions about personalized learning are dissipating. “I think before it was almost sort of sold as ‘have at it.’ And that was very scary, but now that I’ve done it this way, the students are tapping into their learning styles. They’re really expressing themselves, and I’m seeing the breadth of what they understand more than if I were to just say, ‘here’s an essay question, write me something.’”

Students, says Evans, are more engaged. “They’re more into it … they do the work so that they can produce that higher-quality project at the end. They actually navigate their agency, their self-agency, a lot better. They’re more invested.”


There are 170 students in LISA (out of 1,240 in MVHS overall). LISA is a school-within-a-school. Students apply for enrollment with a portfolio demonstrating their pathways and interests. Once enrolled, they pursue a rigorous pre-Advanced Placement and Advanced Placement curriculum.

Art is incorporated in all LISA core classes except for mathematics. Collaborations with local artists and other community connections are routine. There is team bonding at a fall retreat. And seniors complete a capstone project including interviews with people in their field of study, says LISA coordinator and language arts teacher Gwynne Johnson.

The capstone project “is a reflection about their learning and how they have come to understand themselves. How did they learn? What do they know about themselves? How has arts integration helped them get where they need to be? What are their future goals?” says Johnson.


The LISA students “are known for tending to be a lot more risk-takers in their learning,” says Johnson. “My LISA classrooms look different. They tend to be a bit noisier … They’re not just here as sponges, taking a test and going through school. They’re active participants.”

The same is true in the “regular” art classrooms, too. Students were given free rein to design their own art show. During one recent project, students selected a personal favorite quote and decided how to develop art that incorporated it. Advanced students worked on their own, pursuing the techniques and materials that inspire them.

“The key to personalized learning is to learn to be okay with the chaos,” says art teacher Anne McManus. “It’s just the way it is.”


Revisit other Seeing is Believing tours here:

Ferguson High School

High Plains K-8

ThompsonCARES Hosts Third Annual Wellness Night

Last month, ThompsonCARES hosted their third annual Wellness Night, an event focusing on mental health resources and awareness for the Thompson School District students, parents, and staff. Resiliency was the theme of this year’s Wellness Night.

The event was composed of four student sessions, four adult sessions on topics concerning youth, and a special session for educators on the importance of gender-neutral language. Betsy Cairo, the executive director of Look Both Ways, was a speaker for the educator session as well as the student session on healthy relationships. “I was a presenter to both faculty and youth. I had such a good time presenting to both of these groups,” Cairo said. “The kids were so eager to participate and it made it so fun to interact with them. Presenting to the faculty was such a treat.”

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Luke Walker, a social work intern with the district, had the opportunity to attend Betsy Cairo’s educator session. He found the session to be extremely informative and important in today’s world: “Cairo’s session gave me new perspectives on gender identity and helped to shift my mindset. I would encourage everyone to learn more about gender identity and gender-neutral language if they ever get the opportunity because it is such an important topic especially with the way that our world is evolving.” Cairo said that she is “hopeful that more professional development can be done in the arena of transgender youth.”

Among other speakers was Brandon Maynard, a co-responder with the Loveland Police Department. “I had the delight of speaking to many parents and discussing topics of suicidality and depression with adolescents,” said Maynard. “During my lectures, attendees had excellent questions and insights that really spoke to the passion of supporting the wellness of the next generation.”

In between sessions, attendees could browse the resource fair. Various resource tables were set up to educate the TSD community about the different resources that are available in the Loveland area including Betsy Cairo’s organization, Look Both Ways. Other resources that were represented included Hearts & Horses, SAVA, SummitStone Health Partners, 3 Hopeful Hearts, and the Loveland PD Crisis Team. The resource fair provided an opportunity for students, parents, educators, and community members to learn about resources that they may have been unaware of beforehand. Brandon Maynard shared the following in regards to the resource fair, “As a professional, I learned a lot, myself on the resources and support offered for adolescents in the Loveland Community. Additionally, I work as a co-responder with the Loveland Police Department, and was able to provide additional resources and obtain some for the various teens served in the community.”

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The night ended with a moving speech from keynote speaker and former principal of Columbine High School, Frank DeAngelis. DeAngelis spoke about his personal experience during the Columbine shooting and the effects of that traumatic event for him and his students. He spoke about the resiliency that he and his students had to have to carry on. It was a powerful way to end an already illuminating night.

It was encouraging to see how many staff, families and community members care about mental health and want to educate themselves about the subject. “I found it inspiring to see so many different walks of life attend this event,” Maynard said. “Everyone was very friendly, and supportive of the many different providers, parents, and organizers at the event.  I was honored to present, and anticipate, with great enthusiasm, for next year’s event.”


Thank you again to everyone who was there and helped to make it such a successful event. If you couldn’t attend Wellness Night this year, we hope to see you next year!

Digital Storytelling – Student Creativity at its Best

Digital storytelling is a great way for students to deepen their understanding of content through the creation of a product that can be shared with a social media audience.  Using a digital filmmaker, such as iMovie or Youtube’s online editor, have students display their content knowledge or skills through a short movie to share with other students.  Here is a video I created to provide an example for my students:

Using iPads, or allowing students to use their own phones, I implemented this activity as a final assessment for the year in 8th grade Social Studies.  Students chose a topic in which they were interested from the year, then linked it to a Social Studies standard in order to be assessed.  After developing a storyboard and a script, students created their digital stories.  Because this assignment integrated Speaking skills, I worked with a Language Arts teacher on my team to create a cross-curricular assignment, assessed in both classes.  There were high levels of creativity from many students.  It was especially exciting to see and hear another side from my students because they often felt more comfortable presenting through film.  Here is a wonderful (and funny) example from one student:

By Joe Zappa @edtechtsd

Image credit: kidscameraaction.com