EdTech Spotlights: Dave Dellwardt, of ISES, with Digital Science Notebooks in 3rd Grade Classroom

Want to see STEM in action?  Read on to see ways Dave Dellwardt leverages science notebooks in a STEM environment.  Tracking the learning is what science notebooks are all about.  For these entries, Dellwardt’s students were engineering their own designs using the Rube Goldberg machines (RGM) invention model.   RGMs perform a simple task using a domino-effect that’s as complicated as possible.  This is the stuff childhood memories, and learning, are made of.  To observe an examle in action, see the video below:

Dellwardt designed this personalized learning experience to reinforce critical steps in the scientific process.  The process would be recorded in their digital science notebooks.  Voice & choice were central from the beginning.  His students designed their own Rube Goldberg machine to perform any (safe) task they wanted.   Each design element was an opportunity for students to make decisions.   The more complex the machine, the more decision-making opportunities created.

Science, like self-directed learning, is an iterative process.  How did Dellwardt provide feedback and multiple opportunities for all students to revise their designs?  Think parameters.

The students worked with some limits for their machines.  The machine perimeter, no matter the shape, needed to be around 6 feet total.  Materials were loosely limited to their STEM lab inventory.  And of course there was a time-line.  These guidelines created the shortest feedback loop possible.  Students didn’t have to refer to a complex rubric, or see their teacher to find out if their project was OK.  The RGMs either fit into the allowable perimeter or not.  It performed the task, or not quite.  That’s where the iterative process of observation, revision, and testing came in:

“We need to add a leg to hold up this flap or the balloon won’t fall right” announced one inventor.

“No!  That makes the machine too big.  We have to keep it down to the right size” retorted another.

“What if we pull the flap up from the top with a string.  It can be as tall as we want” offered the 3rd.

All the while Dellwardt was across the room helping another group, clarifying the parameters, prompting students to add to their digital science notebooks, and generally attending to the multitude of tasks teaching a full class of 8 and 9 year-olds requires.

But what about those science notebooks?  And what about technology?  Students can use a variety of tools to record video, screencast, and annotate images such as Pages for Apple, the Screencastify extension in Chrome, and the Flipgrid app to name a few.  Dellwardt had students using Book Creator to record their process.  Requirements for the science notebooks were straight-forward:

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Technology wasn’t the focus of the work.  It was intentionally leveraged to help facilitate the learning and, in particular, reflection.   “Sometimes writing gets in the way of the reflecting” said Dellwardt, so he strategically implemented a technology-based tool so students could record their reflections verbally.   Not a single student asked how many sentences their reflection had to include.  Letting writing go for this lesson meant that his students could master other 3rd grade academic standards for science, communication, technology, as well as work habits.

One last note:  The level of care and neatness in Ivy Stockwell’s “STEM” room was very high.  I’d have eaten off that floor (that’s saying a lot for this germaphobe)!   Additionally, kids were meticulous about putting their devices away in the classroom.  Time was running out for this class period, so I jumped in to help get things put away for the next group using the iPads.  Each child had a redirection for me:

“Put it away so the charger is sticking out” demanded one.

“Remember to match up the numbers” reminded another.

“Don’t close the cart on the wire” warned one.

Their pride was obvious.  Some of it was orchestrated by Dellwardt’s classroom management routines.  The rest was organic; these learners truly value their time and resources.

By Jeannie Sponheim

Turner Middle School takes students, community to the Dark Ages at Medieval Fair

By Shelley Widhalm

The Berthoud Surveyor

Seventh graders at Turner Middle School (TMS) hailed the community to the Medieval Fair on April 6 to step back to the Dark Ages and become enlightened on their social-studies lessons.

The Medieval Fair, held in the school’s cafeteria in booth format, presented the culmination of two months of research the students conducted on royal, village and town life during the fifth to 15th centuries. More than 200 guests came to the morning event, where the walls were decorated with fake banners to make it look like they were walking into the great hall of a castle.

“The fair is the award,” said Justin Muir, seventh-grade social studies teacher at TMS. “Let’s show off everything we’ve done.”

The students — 180 in total — broke into groups of three to four to research various aspects of Medieval Europe, including the Vikings, knights, castles, Black Death, towns and villages, and key people during that time period, such as Mary of Tudor or Bloody Mary.

The groups, which had February to April to do the work, created posters to present their research findings at the fair, along with coats of arms, artwork, and artifacts related to their topics. They could work on the artwork in school or at home and created things like illuminated letters, mosaics and frescos in their seventh-grade art class, taught by Holly Thompson, art teacher. They also created paintings, pencil sketches, pottery and paper stained-glass.

“Art reflects … the consciousness of what’s going on in that time period,” Thompson said, explaining because churches funded most of the artwork, there was a lack of portraits and landscapes. “This is why during this time period all you see is … fresco paintings, mosaics and architecture.”

The students made their artifacts at home; choosing things like shields, helmets, foam weapons, serving platters, and a miniature guillotine, Muir said. They also made goods and services to sell in exchange for plastic coins their parents, students and members of the community received in bags at the door. This year, because the coins ran out, taxes had to be collected to continue providing the coins for the next guests.

For their goods, which included traditional breads, cookies and brownies, the students gave the items Medieval-sounding names, such as Plague Bread, Witches Brew, Dragon Snot and Unicorn Blood, and some tried recipes from the time period. One group sold Slime and called it Black Death Dupe.

Other groups offered services that included hair braiding, henna tattoos, face painting, and games like a ring toss, Planko and a miniature witches’ dunk tank, resulting in a carnival-like setting. The students dressed in medieval clothing as part of their presentations.
“The Medieval Fair was very fun and enjoyable,” said TMS seventh-grader KeeLei Burrows. “We all got to dress up and have fun. We got to buy other peoples’ products and enjoy a fun time with friends. My group had the topic of law and punishment. For our good, we made Jell-o with gummy body parts in it that we called Witches’ Brew. Our artifact was a model showing a man being hanged, drawn and quartered.”

The fair began with an opening ceremony and the procession of the royal court with the king and queen, eight nobles, the town crier, and the court jester making an entrance while the school band played. The king proclaimed the fair open and the buying of goods and playing of games ensued. After 45 minutes there was an intermission with the town crier making an announcement, the choir giving a performance, and the court jester telling jokes.

The fair then continued, and guests could participate in a trebuchet chase contest or come to the stage to learn fencing moves, presented by re-enactors from Colorado State University. At the end of the event Muir gave the closing speech.

“They put a ton of effort into it,” Muir said, adding all of his students turned in their assignments in order to participate in the fair and took pride in their projects. “The kids love it. I’m able to keep it motivating, and they are very interested in it.”

Other teachers got involved in the project for interdisciplinary learning, teaching the students Old English, the songs of the time, and the biological aspects of the Black Death. Students made scale-model drawings of suits of armor, applying mathematics principles and in-tech education, the students built trebuchets, a type of catapult. They also cooked their baked goods in the family and consumer sciences classroom.

“Project-based learning takes one project and blends it in other classes to get multiple perspectives, so students understand it at a deeper level,” Thompson said. “It gives a deeper connection. … The level of enthusiasm and engagement is much higher.”

Muir, who has led the fair for two years, moved it to a larger venue, from the gym to the cafeteria, and added the re-enactors, trebuchets, artwork and other disciplinary projects.

“We took something they’d already been doing a good job with and made it better,” Muir said.

Berthoud High Students Show Compassion Through Crafting

By Katie Harris

The Surveyor in Berthoud

It’s been nearly a year since Berthoud High School (BHS) librarian Carin Barrett launched the school’s Compassionate Maker Space, a place where students can come together to create items for those in need in the community, and the program is going stronger than ever.

“Last year I was looking for ideas for my ‘Philanthropy as Civic Engagement’ class to make things to be donated to non-profits,” said Barrett. “I tweeted something and a librarian in New York tweeted back explaining what she did in her library. As I got to looking at what she was doing with her students I realized that this could be much bigger than just one class, it could be something for all the students in the school to do.”

Barrett and library assistant Michelle Trujillo began brainstorming project ideas, and by May 2017 they’d converted their library office space into a crafting area and Compassionate Maker Space was born.

“A person that works at our school had attended a meeting with a woman from Restore Innocence, a group that makes restoration bags for people who have been rescued from sex trafficking circles,” said Barrett. “We decided to start there.”

She opened up the space to the entire school, while making it known that participation was entirely voluntary. It wasn’t long before the first project was running in full swing.

“Once it was explained to them, almost every student wanted to help in one way or another,” said Barrett. “I think it quickly changed the vibe of our library. Students would peek in there and they’d be intrigued by what was going on.”

When designing the space, Barrett and Trujillo did their best to create a relaxed atmosphere in order to make it easy for students to participate when and how they wanted.

“There are options where students can just contribute and don’t have to finish a whole project, or we have bins where students can leave unfinished projects and come back to them where they’re able,” said Barrett. “They can come in during their open periods, during lunch, or during student advisory. It’s nice because students who can’t drive have limited options for volunteering in Berthoud, so this gives them a way to earn volunteer hours.”

For BHS senior Henry Mizer, the flexibility the project offered is one of the main reasons he got involved.

“My favorite thing about the maker space is the fact that it’s so easy to volunteer,” he said. “I can go in on one of my off hours and make a difference for 45 minutes of my day.”

Since the maker space opened last May, Barrett said more than 10 percent of the student body has participated, creating nearly 300 projects for eight different non-profits. Projects have included small pillows donated to Medical Center of the Rockies to cover hospitalized patients’ medical ports, 3D printer toys such as puzzles and rattles for Operation Smile, and scarves and hats for FoCo Cafe and the Longmont Public Library’s coat tree.

BHS senior Sophie Visger’s favorite projects were the pillowcases and pillowcase dresses the students made to go with the port pillows.

“I made quite a few pillowcases because they were easy and very therapeutic,” she said. “As for the dresses, I liked those most because I got to build on my sewing skills and build something so proactive with new people.”

Once projects are complete, Barrett mails or hand delivers them to the recipients, bringing her students along with her when possible.

“The FoCo Cafe was interesting,” she said. “Our class visited the cafe on a field trip, and there were a few students in my class who had made scarves to donate and were able to deliver them themselves. When the place is close and there’s that opportunity, we’ll definitely do that. They left wanting to volunteer in other ways too, which was great.”

Ella North, a freshman at BHS can attest to that sentiment. “Personally, [volunteering] has made a difference in my life because I have been more aware of my own blessings, which I take for granted, and how much I value these.”

Just as all work completed in the maker space is done on a volunteer basis, 100 percent of the funding for materials is donated. According to Barrett, a large portion of the money was donated by an anonymous Berthoud Community member, with a fundraiser through the Thompson Education Foundation raising an additional $700 for materials. Barrett said, due to a lack of storage, the best way to contribute is through a tax deductible cash donation, which can be written to BHS with “Make for Good” in the memo.

“No school funds have been used for this,” said Barrett. “It’s really good in the sense that the students know that the community supports this too.”

As another school year draws to a close, Barrett hopes to engage every student at BHS in Compassionate Maker Space by the time they graduate.

“I really hope that this becomes something that new students coming into the school already consider an opportunity and look forward to getting to do,” she said. “The students who have done it so far, they come back; they want to do it again and recruit others. I want to see that whole ecosystem grow even more.”

For the students at BHS, contributing to the effort has given them something to be proud of and feel good about.

“Being a part of the maker space has helped me to focus my energies on helping others and getting out of my head, said Visger. “It’s been a really amazing opportunity.”


EdTech Spotlights: Jen Varrella, of LEMS, using PhET for Science simulations

Hands-on, authentic learning has always been one of the hallmarks of education in Science classes.  But the challenge Science teachers consistently face is one of time, funds, and resources to complete labs and other interactive, student-centered lessons.  Plus, scientists today often complete their initial experiments in a controlled context with the use of computer simulations.  With this in mind, the University of Colorado created a free, large, digital database of interactive simulations in Science and Math called PhET (Physics Education Technology) and its continually growing.

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At Lucile Erwin Middle School, 8th grade Science teacher, Jennifer Varrella, has been implementing PhET with her students for several years.  Jen explained that she has had a dose of skepticism when it comes to technology instead of hands-on learning for students.  But she became motivated to utilize PhET because of time constraints and lack of necessary materials for certain experiments, like lasers and circuits.  Varrella spoke about the student engagement that comes with a balance of learning activities: sometimes students are excited and learn best from lab activities, sometimes students are most engaged by the visuals and wide variety outcomes found in PhET’s computer simulations.  She reiterated that “these simulations show visuals, and students can try and re-try in a controlled situation,” allowing for students to complete an activity as many as needed in order to reach the learning target.

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In getting started with PhET, it’s important to know the types of student devices needed and what issues to look out for.  But this may be the best aspect of PhET: it works for any device.  Jen started integrating these simulations years ago in a PC computer lab, and now visits the website on iPads in her classroom.  Students work in partners on iPads to complete the activities.  While not every simulation will work on every device, each contains an icon specifying if it runs on HTML5 (all devices, including iPads), Flash (will work on Chromebooks, but not iPads), or Java (PC or Mac computers only).  The simulations can also be organized by device so the user will know exactly which will work with their student devices.  Knowing this ahead of time, Varrella excitedly pointed out that PhET has never been glitchy and never let her down when she used the technology with her students, which is high praise for a computer program!

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Example set of simulations on PhET; notice the icon indicating if the sim runs on HTML5, Java, or Flash.

In discussing her appreciation for PhET and encouragement of other Science and Math teachers to try it out, she elaborated on its benefits.  Many of the simulations share functional aspects with testing tools that our students may need to practice, they tie in with Next Gen Science and other content standards, and with an account, teacher-made activities can be accessed for corresponding simulations, plus it’s all free.  Before finishing our conversation, Jen emphasized “there are certain things that simulations can’t replace, but part of science is computers and models.”  Scientists today often need to simulate before experimenting in order to consider all possibilities.  With PhET, technology is not a replacement for hands-on learning, but rather a complement in order to provide an authentic, high-level learning experience for students.

If you are interested in PhET or other Science and Math simulations, feel free to contact Jen Varrella or the EdTech Team, in order to find out how to utilize this fantastic tool at your school or class.

By Joe Zappa, @edtechtsd

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!

EdTech Spotlights: Jodi Nierman, of PES, with Innovative Project Designs

“You should know we just had a ‘throw-up in here'” Mrs. Nierman warned.  (Thanks to a great custodian and some open windows we’d never’ve known).   Her 3rd graders had just completed a unit, with the rest of their cohort, on space and were instructed to demonstrate their learning.  ” … [S]tudents got to pick anything about space to research more at home, create a visual, and present it to our class and parents on showcase night.” – Mrs. Nierman

We’d walked to her classroom through the 3rd grade hall, impressed with the sheer variety of projects on display.  Not a single artifact was like another.  I was haunted by the “Cliff Dwellings” unit in my own 4th grade Colorado History unit a decade ago.  At the end students made a diorama to help show their learning.  It’s what’d always been done.  If we’d been able to take a VR field-trip to the Cliff Dwellings and really personalized students’ opportunities to experience and share learning like this PES team planned and carried out with students, I know one thing for sure:  it would have been lots more memorable for students.

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This group of PES teachers made everything come together with the space unit.  Learning targets?  Check.  Cross-curricular connections? Check.  Reading, writing, speaking and listening?  Check.  Thematic room decor? Check.  Technology?  Yes, but not in the way we sometimes think of it in the classroom.  While they regularly use Promethean boards, Chrome books, and other resources to increase engagement, support differentiation, and increase voice and choices in learning, teachers saw another opportunity.   When asked to create a visual, students were allowed total freedom.  Some sculpted, others colored, many cut and glued – almost all projects involved string, and then some like the one we’re about to see, went full-on techie.

First, a little background:  This year I helped host, and attended, the ’17-’18 Super Connected Conference where I learned about a new concept:  programmable paintings.  

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Take a look at what’s behind the scenes:

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TSD students are showing us that this kind of technology is accessible to all of us, not just PhD candidates at MIT.  By participating in a learning community focussed on providing personalized learning opportunities, PES students are free to explore a wide variety of ways to communicate their learning.  What does this PES 3rd grader’s project have in common with the programmable painting idea?  According to Mrs. Nierman:

After exploring the Star Lab, Xylee knew she wanted to study constellations and create her own planetarium.  She took off with it with the help of her family.  They recorded Xylee reading constellation stories and created an electronic board with mp3’s of each story.  Xylee drew 13 constellations with glow in the dark markers and stitched led lights in the constellation shapes with the help of her grandma.  Finally they put it together using black sheets, an umbrella and a lampstand … She took off with this project based learning opportunity.  I am proud of her hard work!

Xylee and her family learned a way of applying the programmable paining idea on their own.  Technology is no longer for the elite, economically or educationally speaking.  Technology is for everyone, everywhere, all the time.  Xylee clearly felt encouraged and supported enough to explore possibilities rather than being confined to random check lists like we used over a decade ago for the Cliff Dwellings unit:
  • Does  your diorama have at least 3 structures?
  • Does it have 6 tools used by Cliff Dwellers?
  • Does it have your name, the date, and your class name?

In fact, I don’t even remember seeing Xylee’s name anywhere on her project.  It didn’t need it.

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By Jeannie Sponheim @edtechtsd

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

Helping Your Child Become a Reader

As a classroom teacher, one question that I was frequently asked by parents and guardians was, “How can I help my child become a reader?”  In my experience as an educator, consultant, and adjunct professor, my thoughts have been continually evolving.

One of the most critical elements is reading quality literature to your children.  When reading aloud to your child, select a book that is on a topic of interest (this could be informational), one that is a favorite or one that will lead to deeper conversation.  Another key element is getting the child to think about the selection you are reading – noticing pictures, characters and details in the pictures.  Ask questions like, “What do you notice?” and “What do you think is happening?”  A child will often notice things that we don’t see!  They can focus on the smallest details that will lead to a deeper understanding of the book.  Let them talk about what they are noticing, then move into predicting and always confirming and adjusting the prediction as you continue reading.  When you are finished, take time to talk about the book and find out if they have any questions.  Learning to ask questions is a key part of becoming a reader and thinker.


Another aspect of helping your child become a reader is when the child transitions into wanting to be that reader.  When the child is learning to read, help and support will need to be given when reading unknown words.  The most effective support is when the reading partner sits down beside the child and “shares” the book.  “What is this word?” is often asked.  Do not immediately say “sound it out” because many of our words are not words that can be sounded out.  For example, if the word is “give,” our phonics logic is the “i” should be a long sound because the “e” on the end is a signal for a long vowel sound.  So many of our words are not words that can logically be sounded out; some words need to be told.  A child needs to have many opportunities to read the word in “real” reading and not just in isolation.

Learning to read is something children are most often very excited to do.  Some students face challenges and others will find it to be a very natural process.  As a literacy partner, the key pieces are reading to them and also being present with them when they become the reader and need some additional support.

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Our staff members throughout Thompson School District are dedicated to providing you with the support that is necessary to help all children learn to read and develop a lifelong love of books. Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions you may have.  Our team is eager to help!


Barb Kruse

Thompson School District Board of Education


RSVP for Thompson School District’s upcoming Family Literacy Night on April 5th!