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5 Principles of a Successful Digital Transition

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All across the country, school districts are adapting to digital curriculum to give their students the competitive edge they will need once they leave the classroom. Making this transition to digital learning can be fraught with fresh challenges, but there are a few best practices that will help newcomers navigate their way to success.

Here are five principles to help guide your digital transition.

1. Good instruction trumps everything.

A great number of digital transitions get derailed when they are solely focused on devices. If you begin with the supposition that good instruction drives meaningful change, form will rightfully follow function.

2. Students and teachers need help navigating the oceans of digital content.

Content that engages students online must be deemed a priority since a significant amount of available content is superficial and dependent on sources that can’t be easily verified.

When it comes to digital content it’s usually feast or famine. There’s either too much for students to meaningfully interpret or not enough of the right type of content. This is where districts turn to trusted services to vet and organize content for them. Getting the content aligned with district curriculum also saves teachers a little bit of their most precious commodity: time.

3. Effective digital transitions are thoughtfully planned, executed, and measured.

The success of a digital transition is directly related to the clarity of its goals and vision, the sustainability of its plans, and the thoroughness of its reporting measures.

Presenting a clear and detailed explanation to all stakeholders of the educational goals behind a digital transition should be your first priority. It is also important to acknowledge that new methodology may initially impact workload.

What’s needed most is a realistic approach that employs reporting measures that reflect how predetermined educational targets are being met. For the short term feedback (that is essential to win funding), plan on collecting anecdotal reports that show early success.

4. People will only buy into a change they believe adds value.

Teachers and parents alike want to understand why their school has opted to refocus classroom instruction to take advantage of technology. Visit schools or search the web for stories of successful digital implementation to show the benefits of a digital transition.

5. Digital transition is a major culture shift. Ignore this at your own peril.

Digital transition is about the people involved more than the technology. Schools and districts that ignore this often wonder why their expensive tech investment collects dust in most classrooms or is used for occasional entertainment.

Take the time up front to help teachers learn the expected instructional change. The first year of a successful tech roll-out should include demonstration classrooms that allow other teachers, parents, and community members to see the change expected, while teachers have access to the anticipated technology. This ensures that year two, which may include wider scale transition, is built on a firm foundation of in-district experience.

This type of attention to the human-cultural aspects of digital transition dramatically increases the likelihood of an instructional return on investment.


With over 26 years experience as an educator, Marty Creel leads Discovery Education’s innovative curriculum and instruction team. Marty began his career as an engaging social studies teacher known for creative use of technology to deepen learning. As a district-wide curriculum, instruction, and professional development leader in a large urban/suburban school system he was the architect for a thoughtful transition to instructional standards that empower teachers and principals as instructional leaders.

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9 Steps for Superintendents Guiding a Districtwide Digital Transition

Laying the foundation for a modern, digital learning environment can be thrilling — and terrifying.

School administrators may be excited by the prospect of students learning at their own pace on devices loaded with interactive, customized lesson plans; or envisioning teachers as facilitators in classrooms where students are empowered to lead their own learning. But the step-by-step process of transitioning to a digital curriculum can be daunting. It requires much more than simply providing devices to students. A digital transition is a multi-faceted, multi-year process that must be carefully considered, planned and communicated.

We are three superintendents with 16 years of superintendent experience and 20 years of K-12 teaching experience among us. As heads of school districts — one small, one medium and one large — we have steered the transition to digital learning. We know first-hand what works and what doesn’t. We’ve experienced setbacks and successes. Sometimes we moved too fast, other times we wished we had been bolder. We’ve learned a lot along the way, and we’ve brought our experiences together to provide helpful steps as others consider making the transition to digital.

Digital transition is the shift from physical textbooks and paper handouts to digital, interactive learning tools.

  1. START WITH THE ‘WHY?’

    In our experience, this crucial first step is the foundation for a successful digital transition. Consider how digital learning will align with standards, add value for teachers, and enhance the student learning experience. Then make sure you broadcast this message clearly and frequently. Begin by involving all stakeholders — principals, teachers, parents, students, the Board of Education, local businesses and community residents. Is the goal of digital learning to provide education for all levels of learners? Is it to prepare students for the workplaces they will encounter? Is it to engage and challenge students with inquiry-based lessons? Your answers will be tailored to your community and school.

    Why we took the digital leap:

    “We wanted to level the playing field and make sure all students have access to the technology that prepares them for the future.” — Susan Allen, superintendent of East Irondequoit Central School District, N.Y.

    “We knew the future of our students was going to change, and we wanted to make sure we could provide our students with the best learning tools that were available.” — Christine Johns, superintendent of Utica Community Schools District in Michigan

    “In Las Vegas, teachers had a lot of learning levels in their classrooms. Technology allowed teachers to bring more differentiation into their instruction.” — Dwight Jones, former superintendent for Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nev.

  2. ASSESS YOUR DISTRICT’S READINESS FOR A DIGITAL TRANSITION

    Spend time building broad-based understanding and support through meetings with the board of education, principals, teachers, parent teacher associations, and other local stakeholders. Develop and communicate a roll-out plan that takes into account which schools in your district are most ready for digital transition as well as which schools are most in need of digital investment. Some school districts will start with a particular grade or subject, while others will begin with the teachers who are most eager to learn about and use digital learning tools.

  3. MAKE SURE YOUR DIGITAL RESOURCES ARE STANDARDS-ALIGNED

    Just like printed materials, digital materials must deliver on the standards that students are expected to know and be able to do. There are many great resources – both print and digital – that generate highly engaging classroom experiences, but have nothing to do with the curriculum. Invest in digital resources that enhance your teachers’ abilities to deliver the learning objectives they’re expected to teach.

  4. CLEARLY AND RELENTLESSLY COMMUNICATE YOUR VISION

    As you embark on a digital transition, use the communication tools you already have to provide a framework, and make answers to questions easily available to all stakeholders. There is no such thing as over-communication. Your district must be relentless in its effort to explain the importance of the digital transition you are planning. Do not expect anyone in the district, not even teachers or principals, to automatically know the value of digital tools.

    In addition to proactive communications describing the goals and benefits of the initiative, it is important to keep lines of communication open throughout the process. Be transparent about challenges, setbacks, and promises with all stakeholders. Listen to concerns, and address them as they arise. For example, a common concern about digital transition is that students will be distracted by devices in the learning environment. Anticipate this concern, acknowledge it, address it and then let stakeholders know exactly how it was addressed. An effective strategy for handling this type of concern would be to provide professional development around it for teachers, and a book study for parents, and then write a blog post about it to share what has transpired with your community.

  5. ENGAGE YOUR NAVIGATORS

    Purchasing digital content without someone who deeply understands the nuances of different providers truly is flying blind. Dedicate knowledgeable staff to guide the purchasing process, for both hardware and digital curriculum, and to help steer and encourage professional development opportunities. These navigators will become the champions to help your district move this project forward and to provide answers throughout the process. Before they begin their work, encourage them to reach out to colleagues in other school districts to learn about their experiences.

  6. TRANSITION SLOWLY — TARGET A GRADE LEVEL AND ITERATE

    Ask teachers who are enthusiastic about the transition to opt-in to the process, and allow them to pilot the transition. Those teachers can then serve as resources who can share their insights and experiences with other teachers preparing for digital learning. Honor this learning by celebrating teacher leaders who are risk-takers, leading every day by example.

  7. PROVIDE ONGOING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

    Professional development should be embedded and ongoing so that teachers and other system staff gain a real facility with utilizing technology and digital content to create self-directed student learners. Administrators must become versed in digital learning so they can observe and evaluate teachers. Much of the professional development should focus on nurturing digital learners. Provide professional development beginning the spring before roll out, and continue through the summer. Once the school year begins, bring a curriculum mentor into the classroom to work with students and teachers. Professional development can be offered in person, online and through webinars. Teachers can be pulled out of their classrooms for instruction, or instructor/mentors can provide digital learning guidance during the instructional day. Make sure teachers have access to resources throughout the school year so they always have a place to turn with questions or when seeking lesson ideas. Be prepared to provide professional development that meets teachers on all different levels. Some teachers are going to be skilled and eager digital instructors, while others will be wary of change to their established lesson plans. Full-scale professional learning should be based on the content that will be taught, not on grade levels or familiarity with the intricacies of the devices. Teachers want to know how to teach content effectively and with ease. Show them how.

  8. LEARNING > TECHNOLOGY

    Demonstrate to teachers how technology can be used to support a variety of teaching styles, including small-group collaboration, rotating through technology stations, student presentations and teacher-led instruction. The goal is to create classroom environments where students are directing their own learning and teachers are guides, not dispensers of information.

  9. EMBED LESSONS OF DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP

    Ensure students learn digital citizenship and sourcing skills. Devote classroom instruction time to teaching students how to be good digital citizens. That includes knowing how to interact online without bullying, how to advocate responsibly and how to evaluate the trustworthiness of sources. Students also need to learn how to resist the siren call of a device. One student said a digital learning environment helped him learn how to resist distraction: “I had a choice to make. I could remain distracted and my grades could go down, or I could use this tool to get better grades.”

About the Authors:


Dr. Christine Johns —
 superintendent of Utica Community Schools District in Michigan

Susan K. Allen —
 superintendent of East Irondequoit Central School District, N.Y.
 
Dwight Jones — 
former superintendent for Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nev.
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Full STEAM Ahead: How Fort Mill Schools Instills Engagement and Passion

Sometimes being on top isn’t enough.

In 2017, Fort Mill School District in South Carolina became the top-rated district in the state, garnering national acclaim for its students’ academic achievements, and being named to The College Board’s AP District Honor Roll. But the district’s leaders knew they could reach even greater heights. The challenge was – how can they get there?

When it underwent its AdvancED accreditation in 2017, the district had every right to expect great results. So when officials got the accreditation report back, they were surprised to find one small note of discord: Student engagement, while satisfactory, was lower than administrators wanted.

“It was not where we wanted to be as compared to our normally high achievement results,” says Marty McGinn, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and human resources.

At the time, district officials were in the process of reexamining their curriculum, mostly to make sure students were college and career ready according to the state’s Profile of the Graduate.

When officials considered the engagement of their students, as well as the recognition that various schools were offering different STEM activities, only one choice addressed all these issues. The choice—to increase offerings in STEAM topics—was quickly agreed upon. STEAM refers to the basic STEM topics, science, technology, engineering, and math, with the arts included.

But even administrators couldn’t have guessed how well the changes would be accepted both inside and outside their classrooms. In just the first year of the district’s shift in focus, the effort has been well received by students, the school board, and especially teachers.

“We had a lot of STEAM activities going on here and there,” says McGinn of the district’s 16 schools. “But we’re a growing district, and we needed something that could bring everyone to the table.”

BUILDING STEAM

After mapping where district leaders knew they needed to be, they had to decide how to get there, which meant weighing the options for programs to implement and who could help them through this transition. In April 2017, the leaders hosted a strategic planning session.

To provide some guidance, Fort Mill’s leaders invited Cindy Moss, vice president of global STEM initiatives at Discovery Education, to speak with school and district leaders, along with students. Moss envisioned a classroom ecosystem where all teachers and students were immersed in STEM.

“Schools need to provide experiences that allow students to become ‘glocal,’” said Moss. “They should walk outside their school to find local problems and be able to see how their local problems fit into the global scheme of things. Adults should stop just dispensing knowledge and allow students to solve real-world problems.”

Chad Allen, the district’s STEM coordinator, said Moss’ passion filled the room with energy. It became the ignition for their STEAM engine.

“After she spoke, our students said, ‘We need our teachers to teach like that,’” said Allen. “We did not expect that strong of a reaction from our students, but they were immediately engaged.”

MANAGING RAPID GROWTH

Fort Mill’s move to emphasize STEAM topics districtwide was initially complicated by the district’s tremendous growth. In just 15 years, the district, located in a town of 50 square miles, has grown from fewer than 6,000 students to more than 15,000. In that time, two new high schools were opened, and the district hired new teachers to compensate for the growth in student population.

Despite this growth spurt, these sudden changes haven’t had a negative impact on student achievement. Fort Mill remains the top-performing district in South Carolina, with a graduation rate of 94 percent—12 percentage points higher than the state average. Also, 85 percent of its graduates went on to a two- or four-year college, well above the state’s average rate of 71 percent.

But these changes did emphasize for district leaders the need for a unified curriculum, said McGinn. Redistricting has shuffled both students and teachers to different schools, so streamlining the curriculum made it easier for both groups to change addresses without losing ground.

“Our superintendent continues to say, ‘It doesn’t matter which school you go to in Fort Mill—they are all equally excellent,’” said McGinn.

SEEING STEAM IN ACTION

In order to better formulate their goals, Fort Mill officials visited Santa Rosa County District Schools in Florida to see how it integrates STEAM activities into its everyday education.

In recent years, Santa Rosa has emerged as an international leader in STEAM education. Its students have continued to show promise after embarking in 2015 on a five-year strategic partnership with Discovery Education called STEAM Innovate!, where educators receive intensive professional learning and job-embedded coaching. Santa Rosa’s classrooms have become STEAM-infused learning environments, with lessons that nurture student achievement and critical 21st-century learning skills.

“We were struck by the common language and the common vision,” McGinn says. “Everybody moves in the same direction, from the district office to the classroom. It inspired us.”

Now, Fort Mill was moving with purpose toward a STEAM model, but still had some hills to climb. Leaders knew that they would need a strong professional development basis from which to launch into STEAM, but the district’s central office is slim.

“We believe in funding our schools, but we simply don’t have the capacity to do something like districtwide PD all by ourselves. So we had to find a great solution,” said Allen.

BUILDING A CORPS OF TEACHER LEADERS

Fort Mill partnered with Discovery Education’s STEAM Leader Corps, a comprehensive program that helps scale digital and instructional leadership in school districts. Schools in Fort Mill were already using the company’s Science Techbook digital textbook, and it plans to expand into Discovery Education STEM Connect in the future.

The district’s partnership with Discovery Education has been powerful and unique, said Allen, adding that it was unlike any of his previous experiences with education service providers.

“Discovery Education’s people have been right alongside us every step of the way.

“They’ve invested themselves in the community, they talk to parents at PTO meetings, and they’re involved in planning and designing posters—it’s almost like they work for the district,” said Allen.

Through the Leader Corps, Fort Mill’s educators are being prepared for effective STEAM instruction and establishing a team of teacher leaders that will help drive systemwide change.

“Having a clear professional development structure for implementing STEAM is important to focus our efforts to achieve our goals,” said McGinn. “It also fosters communication and collaboration within and between our schools.”

Initially, the district sought volunteers to start, asking for eight teachers at its high schools and four at each middle and elementary school. McGinn wasn’t sure that many teachers would be interested, But the opposite proved true. More teachers applied than they could immediately use. While those not chosen were disappointed, the district has included them on trips to conferences and other schools to see STEAM activities in person to prime them for the future.

The training took a strategic approach, beginning with principals, says McGinn.

“Principal leadership is so vital. If the administration doesn’t understand what teachers need, such as time for planning and collaborating, it’s hard to support them,” she said.

Now, one year into the four-year STEAM Leader Corps program, teachers are beginning to showcase the effects of their training, said Allen.

He can tell teachers are embracing the new methods when he hears them discussing STEAM concepts in side conversations in the hallways. They’re also active on their own Twitter hashtag, #FM21STEAM where they regularly share their accomplishments.

“Some of those who came out of this process surprised us, and they’re surprising themselves,” he said. “These teachers are starting to demonstrate their skills as leaders. They’re stepping up and responding to the extra autonomy they’re being given.”

These teachers will lead model classrooms for others, organically growing the STEAM initiative internally throughout the district. And more leaders are being added each year.

“We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s exciting work,” McGinn said.

WHAT STEAM LOOKS LIKE IN FORT MILL SCHOOLS

Teachers are learning how to create project-based learning lessons that meet the district’s standards, she says. Once teachers immerse themselves in using units from STEM Connect, they will better understand how to create their own interactive units.

In classrooms throughout the district, a combination of project-based learning and student-centered teaching can be seen in full practice. In place of stand-and-deliver instruction, students are empowered to be at the core of their classrooms, leading their own explorations in learning.

“We’ve seen the level of student engagement increase in our schools. They’re doing more rigorous work, and there is more creativity on display,” said Allen. “We had 400 people show up for one of our student-led district art shows recently. That was huge for them.”

Also emerging are STEAM-based lessons grounded in real-world issues. Springfield Middle School students embarked on a service-based learning exercise recently while studying what life is like for those living in refugee camps. To provide context for the lesson, they left the classroom behind and went outdoors.

They crossed a river, and using the limited materials they’d carried with them, built their own tents and spent some time in the wilderness.

They experienced a small taste of the life of those without homes of their own. Beyond the hands-on learning experience, it’s an exercise in communicating the power of compassion, said Allen.

“The definition of caring comes from understanding someone else’s perspective. When you design solutions, you’re trying to think of how people will experience that,” said Allen.

“I think giving kids a firsthand account of life experiences really helps them understand what it is they’re learning.”

Another major shift is on the teacher’s side of things. They’re encouraged to experiment with new ideas in the classroom and not be afraid of failure.

“If something goes bad, or fails, it’s okay. We’re giving them the freedom to explore. It’s allowed us to open our minds and be more intuitive about how we teach our kids,” said Allen.

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Why Embracing New Ways of Teaching is a Worthwhile Risk

This column was submitted by Branchburg Township School Districts’ (NJ) Superintendent of Schools Rebecca Gensel.

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” – Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s quote is one that’s been applied to many other fields. So it should come as no surprise that his wisdom also applies to how good educators can bring out the best in their students.

To decompress at home after a long day, I throw clay on a pottery wheel. I’m no Michelangelo, but one of the things this hobby has taught me is that forcing something into what I want it to be usually doesn’t work out. I’ll throw a ball of clay on the wheel, setting out to make a mug. But as the wheel spins, and I influence the clay by putting pressure on it or moving it around the wheel, often I discover the clay has a mind of its own for what it wants to become. I’ve learned that if I incorporate that tendency of the clay, rather than beat it back into what I had intended it to be, the result is much more successful.

Over the years, I’ve learned that relinquishing control often yields a more beautiful piece of art than what would have existed if I insisted on exerting my will over the clay.

One of the recent challenges my district’s teachers have been faced with is making the leap to a new relationship with students – one augmented by technology. Instead of a top-down, authoritative approach to classroom instruction, many teachers have embraced the notion that by democratizing access to information, they don’t always need to be the expert on every topic.

Rebecca Gensel, superintendent of Branchburg Township School District

More of our teachers are looking to their students to help them become better educators. Without a doubt, our students know more about what’s out there than we do. Giving them the opportunity to share what they know by flipping the teacher/student relationship certainly has its advantages.
Though technology has been a cornerstone of our district for decades, our use of technology has been transformational over the past four years. Classroom devices have moved from discreet computer labs to an everyday presence throughout school buildings. We’ve equipped our K-8 students with classroom devices ranging from laptops to tablets. We’re not just teaching keyboarding in our tech labs anymore. We’re using those labs now to teach coding, showing students how to master technology by understanding what makes the computer do the things that it does and what happens when you manipulate those programs in new ways.

These devices have given students opportunities to learn and share their learning with their peers and a broader audience. Students’ responsibilities have evolved from rote memorization and single-audience term papers to exploring abstract concepts in group settings.

Services like Discovery Education Streaming and Techbook are woven into the canvas of resources our students can explore and through which they can share, expressing what they’ve learned in their own unique way.

Technologies like these give our students opportunities to choose how they learn, rather than limiting all students to only one avenue for expression.

We’re fostering learning environments where we can say to our students, “Here’s the topic-now go explore. Open your laptops, see what you can learn, share it, and we’ll connect the pieces together.” At this stage in their education, it’s not necessarily about defining a career as much as it is about helping students understand the possibilities that exist for learning.

This is a lot to take in for many educators. It requires taking a risk-giving students permission to fail while trusting that they’ll learn from their mistakes. It requires being a mentor and a guide, not a dictator or a drill sergeant.

Through Discovery Education’s professional development sessions, our educators’ eyes were opened to the possibilities of what can be achieved by integrating technology into the curriculum. We’re collectively beginning to shift our own understandings for what our students can be.

Rather than forcing our students, like a ball of clay on my pottery wheel, to learn in the ways we think are best, there is much to be gained by following their lead as we all move forward in our learning.

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5 Classroom Technology Fears and How You Can Conquer Them

Worst case scenario: You’re not totally comfortable with your classroom technology. You’re standing in front of an impatient, adolescent audience during the last period of the day, pressing Play on a hilarious video you’ve selected to demonstrate the law of gravity. But nothing is happening. Let’s add another fear factor: your administrator is in the room for an evaluation. Maybe it’s better to play it safe and rely on the pictures in the textbook or your trusty egg demonstration.

Fear and anxiety are major drivers in our world. In fact, they are affecting our students in larger proportions than ever before. Recent studies show that about 25 percent of teenagers have suffered from anxiety at some point. Acknowledging and conquering our fears have become all the more important. Overcome your fear of technology in the classroom and you can be a role model for your students as you show them how to accept imperfection and face reasonable risk.

Fear often arises from the unfamiliar, and technology is evolving so quickly it can be hard to stay fluent. Let’s tackle some big fear-based objections to incorporating technology from an educator’s point-of-view, with a special lens on how they may be addressed in the classroom and with your students’ help.

FEAR 1: It’s Just Too Complicated

 Basis for Fear

A recent search for “educational technology tools” turned up over 72 million results, and a link on the first page boasted a list of 321 free technology tools for educators. With such a volume of options available, it’s no wonder that educators with any hesitation may be turned off. With mysterious names like Voki, Smilebox, and 19Pencils, each tool comes with its own flavor of quirks — some require registration or access on your school network may be blocked, or they may be incompatible with something your district is already using. That’s a lot to digest.

Overcoming the Hurdle

Get recommendations from trusted sources:
A great place to go for recommendations on technological tools might be right next door or down the hall. Your colleagues certainly have their favorites, and they’ve probably already undertaken the effort of figuring out what works well with the special limitations you may face at your site. You can also turn to your virtual PLNs. Almost every virtual community has discussion boards and messaging functions, so find your tribe according to subject, interest, or comfort level with technology.

Work with students:
Your students likely have a set of go-to apps and are used to selecting tools for the best features and user experience. Have them apply their research and analytical skills to a review of tools for a particular instructional strategy. For instance, if you want to choose a tool for collaborative annotation, ask a student or committee to research and recommend the best one. They’ll become experts in the room and can help you use the selected technology at the appropriate time. Be sure to be explicit about the skills that are required for these tasks (e.g., compare/contrast, cost-benefit analysis, synthesis, presentation/communication) – it will help them identify their own strengths and extrapolate them to other work.

FEAR 2: I Don’t Trust It to Work When I Need It

Basis for Fear

Time is tight, you need to teach bell-to-bell, and one glitch in the plan can throw off an entire period. Plus, it can be rattling to experience technical problems in the moment when you’re supposed to be teaching, which can make it harder to problem-solve effectively.

Overcoming the Hurdle

Plan to fail:
Run a troubleshooting session before using a new tool during a class activity. Think about what could go wrong to derail the momentum. What if the screen is blank? Identify and secure connections ahead of time. What if the accessories don’t work? Make sure clickers and remotes have fresh batteries and are stored properly. What if buffering is unbearable? Download media you’ll be using in class, whenever possible, and delete it when the lesson is complete.

Work with students:
Students will value being able to help you troubleshoot technical problems in class, so take a deep breath, admit defeat, and let your students be the lesson’s heroes. It is important for them to see you have a problem, identify it, and allow someone to help you fix it.

FEAR 3: The Students Will Be Out of Control or Surfing Constantly

Basis for Fear

If students are using all the technological tools available to them, there’s a good chance they’re looking at different content on different screens. The days of all eyes on the board are over. Especially if they’re on personal devices, students may click over to their social accounts, stream movies, or play games. (Lots of adults would be tempted to do the same in a meeting.)

Overcoming the Hurdle

Incorporate structures that keep students on task and accountable:
Encouraging students to use technology does not have to mean setting them loose. Use intentional strategies that include checkpoints to keep students moving through relevant content and assignments without having too much time to wander online. Strategies that require students to break for pair-share, rotate through stations, or respond to prompts keep students focused as they work.

Work with students:
Discuss your concerns with students before you begin using devices, whether that’s at the beginning of the year or somewhere in the middle. Be respectful and realistic about how difficult the request to stay on task may be for some students. Have them help you define the expectations.

FEAR 4: My School Doesn’t Have Enough — Support, Equipment, Bandwidth, etc.

Basis for Fear

Most educators are short on time and resources. It can seem like too much to invest time and energy in learning about new technologies just to be disappointed when they are impossible to implement with your school’s limitations. If something is great, it may require registration, a subscription, individual tablets/clickers, or more bandwidth. If something is free, it may be blocked or have tiered plans that limit the functionality.

Overcoming the Hurdle

Take advantage of what you have:
You probably have access to staff that would appreciate the opportunity to help you select tools for your instructional needs. Your media librarian, technology director, or instructional coach are great resources. You may also have access to services to which your district has subscribed, and those services should run smoothly within your district and classroom (and have customer service numbers where you can usually find enthusiastic support).

Work with students:
Students may not have much power to help in this area immediately but, as you look to the future, it may make sense to advocate for a student technology representative or committee at your school or in your district. Some schools even have a tech team based in an elective course where students earn credit helping with technology throughout the school.

FEAR 5: It’s Not Rigorous Enough

Basis for Fear

We want students to be able to perform well on tests and meet standards. It can seem like learning and assessment in a digital environment are less rigorous than the paper and pencil assessment we’re more used to. Can a digital assessment really demonstrate the same learning as an essay, a written unit test, or a lab report? The answer to this question lies in the assessment design. If the questions and prompts within the digital assessment are thoughtful and the demonstration of learning is rich, then a digital assessment can be just as – if not more – rigorous than a paper-based assessment. Among its many benefits, a digital assessment can be customized, include student-created materials and performance recordings, and provide faster feedback during the learning process.

Overcoming the Hurdle

Match the technology to the learning:
Trying to retrofit a cool new tool to your instructional and assessment needs is a tough road. Instead, if you start with the understanding (e.g., standard, concept, skill) you are asking your students to investigate or demonstrate, you’ll likely find a digital tool that supports the learning rather than showcases students’ technological savvy.

Work with students:
Make sure you provide clear learning targets and a detailed rubric, so students can put emphasis on the relevant information and requirements.

There are so many technological tools to choose from today for almost anything you want to do better. But “with technology” does not automatically mean better.

In the classroom, aim to incorporate tools that positively impact learning, make assessment more accurate, and make everyone’s day more engaging. And take advantage of the opportunity to be fallible, afraid, and human in front of – and for the benefit of – your students. Let them see you struggle, learn, accept help, and conquer your fear of technology. It will serve them in class tomorrow and maybe even for the rest of their lives.

Jeanette Edelstein is an educator dedicated to making learning more engaging for students of all ages. She has been a classroom teacher, curriculum designer, and program developer. She was a founding teacher and the gifted and talented coordinator at Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts. Her curriculum projects include Hive Alive!, a collection of teaching resources about honey bees, Animal Planet Rescue, a disaster relief and educational vehicle that rescued over 1,000 animals, and CapsinSchool, an elementary curriculum based on the math and science of hockey.

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How Schools Are Bridging the Coding Gender Gap

Turning girls onto computers and coding requires strong leadership, said Superintendent Dr. Kristine Gilmore of the D.C. Everest School District in Wisconsin.

Computer science classes have long been the domain of boys. While girls and boys are now equally represented in advanced science and math classes, girls still are not flocking to classes like Programming in JAVA or Mobile App Development. With the growing need for computer scientists in the workforce, school leaders are trying to convince girls that these classes aren’t just boys’ clubs.

As superintendent of D.C. Everest Schools in Wisconsin, Dr. Kristine Gilmore has led a vibrant campaign to conquer the gender gap in STEAM courses at her schools.

“Things don’t happen by chance,” said Gilmore. “You have to ask, ‘Do all kids have opportunities?’ As a superintendent, my job is to remove barriers for kids.”

Girls only made up about one-fifth of all AP students in computer science in 2013, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project, even though girls are equally likely to take the science and math AP exam. This gender gap continues into college. In 2015, only 18 percent of all computer science college degrees in the country went to women.

This gap puts girls at a distinct workforce disadvantage in an industry on track to explode with opportunities. According to ComputerScience.org, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects growth of 15-20 percent in computer science jobs between 2012 and 2022. By 2020, there will be only 400,000 students. With those real-world opportunities, it is important to open more students — both boys and girls — to the pathways that coding skills could provide.

Why Girls Don’t Feel They Belong in Coding

It is somewhat puzzling that girls are comfortable calculating derivatives in calculus classes or studying harmonic motion in physics, but tend to balk when confronted with rows of computer terminals. A variety of factors are behind the computer science gender gap, according to a 2010 report by the American Association of University Women, including the geeky-guy stereotype, which is reinforced through popular media. Teenage girls think that computer classes are filled with skinny guys with bad social skills, like the characters on the television show “The Big Bang Theory”, and don’t feel comfortable stepping into that environment.

Researchers from the University of Washington found that simply redecorating the classroom might bust through that stereotype barrier. Allison Master, Sapna Cheryan, and Andrew N. Meltzoff reported in the Journal of Educational Psychology in 2015 that girls were three times more likely to say that they would sign up for a computer science class in rooms that were decorated with nature posters, lamps, and plants, rather than rooms that contained Star Trek posters and science fiction books.

“When girls felt that they belonged in the environment, they became more interested in taking the course,” according to the article.

Learning from female computer teachers, particularly during the middle school years when interest in computers peaks for many girls, may also hold the key to increasing gender equity, according to research by Accenture and Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization that runs summer immersion programs for girls across the country. Developing a positive “experience of computing in their junior high years means that girls are 18% more likely to show interest in computing throughout their high school and college years,” according to the Accenture research.

Shaping Coding Experiences for Girls

Getting girls in the classroom is a focus for several tech-forward school districts across the country. Dr. Michael Lubelfeld, the superintendent of Deerfield Public Schools in Illinois, and a member of AASA’s Digital Consortium, has acquired a reputation as a technology innovator. And this is a topic he is passionate about. Lubelfeld has successfully increased the number of girls in computer science, garnering a lot of attention for his school district.

Superintendent Dr. Mike Lubelfeld believes heightened community engagement, school board support, an more female mentors could help resolve the gender gap challenge.

He’s found that a combination of community involvement, the presence of female mentors, and support from the school board are critical to changing mindsets. He also believes that immersing both boys and girls in computer science at an early age, in all subjects, is extremely important to overcome the gender gap. His district is even discovering new ways of bringing coding into English classes.

He also pointed to the success of a lunchtime learning experience, “STEM for Girls,” which was run by mothers from the community with careers in computer science and engineering. Over 100 elementary school girls learned how to build robots, performed basic coding, and completed hands-on, creative experiments using electricity and magnetism.

Beyond pulling girls into STEM, the program also served as a catalyst for a community-funded, $1.5 million STEM program in the school district’s libraries and as a factor in the selection of an elementary and middle school named Blue Ribbon Schools in 2016.

Like Lubelfeld, Superintendent Gilmore said that her district worked to bring girls into computer science by starting young and teaching computers across the curriculum.

“We’ve tried to think about it across more than one course,” she said. “We are trying to make it embedded in what we do, rather than being a separate pull out.”

D.C. Everest’s students are exposed to coding experiences even as early as kindergarten, using programs such as Scratch, and in unique learning environments like Maker Spaces, enrichment summer school programs, and during after-school activities like Lego Robotics clubs.

She wants girls to recognize that game design doesn’t just have to be for boys. Her district isn’t putting together clubs or classes that are exclusively for girls, because they want their programs to be open to all students, including students who are English  Language learners in her district.

“Girls play video games, too. Look at the success of Minecraft and Candy Crush Saga. We don’t have to create barriers,” said Gilmore.

“I don’t want to just destigmatize computer science for girls. I want to destigmatize STEAM for all kids.”

Tina Plummer, an assistant superintendent at the Mehlville School District in St. Louis, has worked to improve the computer science gender gap. Plummer and her district partnered with Discovery Education to reach girls when they were young, advocating to form connections with the community, and provide girls with role models.

“Start young, and give them opportunity,” said Plummer.

Mehlville’s schools also reached girls by offering them a girls-only event, “Breakfast with the Experts,” to showcase their various STEM courses and to introduce them to women in the community with careers in engineering, neurobiology, and computer programming.

There are signs of progress. More girls took the AP computer science exam in 2016 than ever before. In 2015, 22 percent of all test takers were girls; in 2016, 23 percent were girls. The College Board also reported that eight states had fewer than ten girls who took the test.

Clearly, more work is needed to get girls coding. Innovations from tech-forward districts like Deerfield, D.C. Everest, and Mehlville can help guide other school districts in their efforts to shift stereotypes.

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6 Structures and Supports for the Inquiry Based Classroom

Human beings are born to question. We are born to ask why. Inquiry begins with acquiring data and information through interactions with our environment. Stimuli provide us with information, and we ask questions to make sense of it all.

Unfortunately, traditional educational offerings often work in ways that discourage inquiry and limit students’ innate curiosities. This stifling of a student’s need to know has served to shift the focus of today’s educational system from inquiry to assessment. The shift has manifested in classrooms filled with students less likely to ask questions and more likely to be told what to learn and what questions to answer. Memorizing facts to help answer questions is an important skill for students to master. Inquiry, however, is a skill that will lead students toward being prepared to enter a workforce that is placing increasing emphasis on creativity and problem-solving.

Inquiry implies a need to know. Further, it highlights a desire to find out, to determine, and to continue exploring a topic to arrive at a resolution that sufficiently quenches the student’s thirst for understanding.  Effective inquiry relies on the effective implementation of instructional practices weighted heavily in favor of student exploration. Structures that support student engagement, collaboration, open-ended questions, and teacher facilitation are just some of the tenets of inquiry-based learning.

Fostering Civic Responsibility

The C3 Framework was developed to provide states with voluntary suggestions to update and enhance social studies curriculum. Aligned with the Common Core through similar language and student outcomes, the focus of the C3 Framework is squarely on inquiry as the catalyst for deep student learning.  Using the Framework as a guide, teachers of social studies can begin the conversation with colleagues and administrators about how to ensure that the content facilitated by the teacher is rigorous and fosters civic engagement.  At no other time in America’s history has the importance of structuring social studies classes to not only provide historical perspectives on

At no other time in America’s history has it been more important to structure social studies classes not only to provide historical perspectives on events, but to also foster the development of a student’s deep understanding of civic responsibility.

Today’s social studies educators continue to strive to balance the demands of teaching the curriculum with a desire to move beyond it.  Teachers focused on the process of learning, rather than simply what is learned, serve to foster an inquiry-based learning environment in their classrooms. If the goal of an inquiry learning environment is clear, the steps for successfully implementing this type of instruction can be challenging. In order to have students think deeply, it’s important to provide them with content to think deeply about. So what steps can an educator take in order to create this type of learning environment? How can an educator move beyond what is required and allow

In order to have students think deeply, it’s important to provide them with content to think deeply about. So what steps can an educator take in order to create this type of learning environment? How can an educator move beyond what is required and allow inquiry to move students to what is possible?

1. Engage in Inquiry-Based Professional Development

Learning to think deeply, critically, and creatively requires that educators themselves receive the type of professional learning that facilitates inquiry-based learning for students. Teachers need to model, through their thinking, actions, and comments, what it means to read critically, think deliberately, and respond in an informed way. Deeper learning is the byproduct of intentional planning and deeper teaching. Inquiry-based learning demands hands-on learning experiences for those teachers whose responsibility it is to facilitate deep learning for students. When embarking down the inquiry path, consider professional learning options that offer the opportunity to learn how to support students in creating complex and incisive questions. Those types of questions serve as the backbone of inquiry-based learning and are essential to the success of an inquiry-based learning classroom.

2. Create a Community of Inquiry

To create a community that values opinions and thoughts of others, it’s imperative that teachers create structures that encourage students to share their opinions even if different from those of their classmates. Asking questions, developing opinions, and researching topics of interest must be standard practices in a community of inquiry. Discourse must be accepted and encouraged. Collaboration among students is at the focal point of an inquiry-based classroom. But to get to the point where students are comfortable sharing their ideas, it’s imperative that the teacher formulate rules, norms, and expectations for how students will interact with the content and with one another.

Class meetings where students have opportunities to discuss issues pertinent to the class or share a connection they have to a particular topic allow students to appreciate the uniqueness of their classmates while teaching them the importance of actively listening to one another. Establishing how the class will run and the important part each student will play in the success of the class will provide students with a model upon which to build their community.

3. Inquiry is not a ‘Special Activity’

Students need to fully understand that deep learning isn’t something that takes place in one classroom session. To learn about something deeply and to ask the questions needed to get students to that level takes time. Inquiry is not reserved for special times during the school year, nor is it an activity to be done once and then never revisited. In classrooms where inquiry thrives, students rely on the structures they’ve been taught as the framework to guide reflection and action. As Edutopia writer Andrew Miller states in his post Creating a Culture of Inquiry, it’s not enough for the teacher “to simply state that their classroom is inquiry based, and doing an occasional inquiry-based activity is not enough.” Every day needs to be focused on providing students with the type of learning that fosters their innate curiosity for inquiry to succeed.

Middle school classrooms provide excellent settings for the introduction of inquiry as a tool to foster deep learning. Teachers who challenge students to develop their own questions centered around their desire to learn more about a topic help to create classrooms where inquiry thrives. Opportunities to teach with inquiry in mind occur throughout the recommended social studies curriculum in middle school. When considering a debate that will focus on the concepts of right versus wrong, for example, students can be provided with a setting for debate, mock trials, and role playing. These interwoven and connected learning opportunities become the norm, rather than the exception, in a classroom focused on inquiry.

4. Deep Learning Requires Connections and Relevance

Making learning relevant to today’s students requires that teachers help their students find connections to documents and historical events. Reviewing the Declaration of Independence, for example, and reimagining how the document would be different if it had been written by women or people of color, allows students to think deeply about the issues taking place during that time period from the perspectives of those not reflected in the document.

Students think outside the box in order to make personal and lasting connections with historical documents and time periods. In this way, learning becomes meaningful, powerful, and relevant.

5. Reflection on Practices

Even the most seasoned educator can struggle with the concept of facilitating, rather than directing, student learning. It’s important to set goals and outcomes regarding what you hope to achieve as a teacher in an inquiry-based classroom. The Inquiry Arc, found in the C3 Framework, helps students “develop a capacity for gathering and evaluating sources and then using evidence in disciplinary ways.” The Arc provides the structure for teaching and learning within a social studies classroom. It’s a set of actions that form the basis for what students should experience in an inquiry-based social studies classroom.

If, for example, the teacher’s goal for his or her students is that they understand the importance of reviewing more than one document to answer a question, the Arc would recommend that the teacher ensure that documents available to students allow them to effectively compare, evaluate, and find evidence to support their research. Reflecting on their own understanding of a document, it’s relevance in history, and the perspective these documents will provide to students are key actions of the teacher whose practices support, rather than direct, student learning.

6. It’s Not Just About the Question

Effective inquiry-based learning moves beyond just a well-thought-out question. It requires the teacher to consider the purpose of the questions posed and how student responses will help to facilitate student discussions. Inquiry-based learning demands that the teacher pose questions to students, elicit questions from them, and allow their responses to questions to be heard. In addition, the questions posed by students help to drive the content learned and the rigor with which it is understood by students. Inquiry encompasses the actions, thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of the learners in the classroom.

For this type of learning to succeed, students have to make the connection that their civic responsibility is inherently tied to their deep understanding of history and historical events.  Being well informed about the way our past has served to shape our future is essential for students to develop an appreciation for civic responsibility and participate actively in society. Simply asking questions of students in the hopes that an interest is sparked is not enough to reach a deep level of learning. Complex questions that help students create learning for themselves must be at the forefront in the inquiry-based classroom.

Establish a Culture of Inquiry

Students who ask questions, think critically and learn deeply become informed and responsible citizens who do the same. But without the creation of an emotionally, intellectually, and physically safe learning environment by the teacher, this type of learning cannot thrive.

Careful consideration should be given for the learning that must be undertaken by the teacher in order to effectively facilitate an inquiry-based classroom. To do so allows both students and teachers to learn not only in a deeper way but in a more meaningful way; a way in which both are prepared to meet the demands of an ever-changing civic landscape.

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Helping Students Find Their Voice

When I attended college, some of my favorite classes were those in which I felt empowered in how I pursued my studies. When my professors provided options, valued my opinion, and shifted the responsibilities for learning over to me, my level of engagement increased dramatically.

That college student is now a middle school math teacher with her own room full of students, and I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of fostering student voice in my classroom.

Student Voice describes how students provide input into what happens in their school and their classroom.

One of my goals as a math teacher is to help my students see themselves, their ideas, and their thoughts reflected in the required curriculum. Student voice does not mean student takeover. To the contrary, the idea of students having a voice in what they learn, when they learn it, and how they learn it leads to collaborative opportunities to increase engagement and facilitate deeper student learning.

Even though my classroom is primarily built upon structures that foster independence, it’s still a shift for me to scale back the responsibility for student learning from me as their teacher and place it with them as the learners. Over the years, I’ve made deliberate decisions about how to approach the content and ensure that it’s delivered through a student-centered lens. I’ve reflected about each decision and considered how the shift to a classroom culture that values and supports student voice has impacted the overall learning of my students.

While I don’t have any hard and fast rules, there are some guidelines that I follow to help ensure that student voice is at the forefront of my instructional decisions.

1. Create Classroom Norms Together

Norms and rules are not the same things. Rules help to establish the practices and procedures that allow tasks to be completed in classrooms. Norms provide teachers and students with shared agreements about how best to support one another and learn from and with one another, and they help create a culture of and for learning.Developing norms with my students has allowed them to have a voice in the structure of our classroom, which helps to contribute to a positive classroom culture.

As I began to infuse student ideas and suggestions into our classroom expectations, I began to see the value in co-creating these norms rather than creating them independent of my students.

Collaboratively creating norms helped me better understand what my students valued and what was important to them. During the creation of our class norms, it was apparent that students appreciated the chance to give their opinions and thrived on the opportunity to hear what their peers thought as well. These norms continue to provide the structure upon which our classroom culture was established. We review the norms periodically and add things when needed. Occasionally we adjust our norms in order to better meet the changing nature of our classroom.

To this end, our classroom culture depends on the students upholding the norms that we create together. When students interact with each other during collaborative problem solving, it’s an understood norm that each student will have a responsibility for contributing to the discussions during the group work. Further, my students understand that every voice in the group is important and will be valued.

I do get students who, from time to time, deviate from the norm. But because I’ve established with my students the expected behaviors, they are quick to reset the conversation and get back to the business at hand.

Norms don’t need to be elaborate. I’ve found that establishing a number of expectations regarding how students treat one another in class provides students with the opportunity to see and hear their voice reflected in our classroom practices. When I establish norms with my students, we focus on what language is and isn’t acceptable during classroom collaboration and discussion and the responsibility that each student has in contributing to their own learning and the learning of others. For example, my students understand that they are expected to be their own best advocates and ask questions accordingly. Their questions help me differentiate my instruction and enable me to reflect on my practices in order to better meet their needs. I expect my students to communicate with me and with one another, especially when things get challenging.

It’s also equally important that students learn to trust me and to trust their classmates. Our norms reflect my students’ deep desire to learn from one another and their willingness to take responsibility for their own learning.

Rules might govern student procedures in my classroom, but norms help to facilitate a classroom culture conducive to student responsibility and student learning.

2. Foster Feedback and Flexibility

Perhaps no other educator tool has the potential to elicit change and facilitate student responsibility more than feedback between teacher and student and between the students themselves. In our classroom, feedback is given carefully and always through the lens of improvement. We focus on what students are doing well and address specific steps students can take to continue to improve.

If there is a specific goal a student is working toward, students feel comfortable enough to ask for suggestions from their peers to help them reach that goal. Feedback becomes the structure through which students become more involved in their own learning and the learning of others.

In my classroom, it is not uncommon to hear students reflecting on the lesson and sharing their thoughts about the curriculum, objective, and math concepts learned. We talk about the culture in class that must be present for my students to grasp challenging concepts. Recently, when my students were working together to defend the strategies they used to solve a problem, several students thought it would be best if the groups were smaller than the 28 students in our classroom. Their theory was that the smaller groups would let each student ask questions about the strategies that were shared and not be rushed to hear everyone’s strategies. This was another example of the way in which my students began to take more ownership for their learning.

Hearing that my students valued the opportunity to learn from their peers reinforced the continued inclusion of student suggestions in my instruction.

We tried it, and the kids were right. The smaller groups did help to facilitate better discussion and more engaged student-to-student conversations. The feedback I shared with them about the difference that this small shift made for student learning allowed students to feel comfortable making suggestions at other times as well.

3. Embrace Student Voice to Drive Engagement

I knew that I was on the right path when students began showing up in my classroom during lunchtime. These students were looking for extra help or support. But their true motives were revealed to me when they began to talk about why they liked our math class, how they felt important and believed that I genuinely cared about them. I noticed the shift to “our math class around the same time I noticed an increase in lunchtime visitors. My students were deeply involved in their own learning. They knew their voice not only mattered but was truly valued. In turn, my connection with students has never been better.

Student voice and student engagement are not, however, synonymous. While the first can lead to the latter, it’s rarely a straight path. To fully embrace the idea of student voice, teachers must be willing to do the work to ensure its continued existence in their classroom.

Just because my students offer their thoughts doesn’t mean they are deeply engaged in learning.

As I learn more about how to inject student voice into my instructional practices, I continue to seek out additional resources and ideas, such as those found on sites such as SoundOut and Teaching Channel.

4. Improve the Classroom Experience with Their Voice

The small things that I did over the years to establish a culture of student voice continue to pay dividends for my students and for me. I’ve continued to refine my practices to include student- developed assessments, choice seating, and more personalized approaches to student learning. I truly hope that by working collaboratively with my students, I am helping to provide them with opportunities to own their learning not only in my classroom but elsewhere as well.

As a school-based team, my colleagues and I have talked about opportunities to include more student-selected choices in our instruction. We’ve reviewed upcoming lessons and created learning menus for students to work with. Students will have the chance to choose from a variety of options related to the math problems they will solve or the data they will use to construct their own questions. Collectively, our team continues to discuss additional ways to foster student independence and responsibility through the inclusion of student voice and student choice.

It’s my hope that the norms established in my math class are those that students can use to enhance their experiences in other settings as well.  Ultimately, I want my former students to look back at their time in our classroom and feel that they not only made progress academically but also socially and emotionally. To this end, the continued inclusion of student voice in my daily instruction will serve to reach this goal.

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How St. Vrain Valley Schools Started a STEM Revolution

Eight years ago, St. Vrain Valley Schools in Colorado started a STEM revolution. Today, its students, with projects that stretch from building robots to helping save an endangered species of frog, are reaping the benefits. We are proud to showcase this district’s transformation with an in-depth report that covers each major milestone on a decade-long journey to empower students.

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Introduction

St. Vrain Valley Schools in Colorado is on a roll. In just under a decade, the district of 32,000 students has transformed itself through a variety of initiatives to provide students with a hands-on education that sets them up for success well beyond the halls of their schools.

During this time, the district launched an Innovation Center, where students use their STEM knowledge in real-world projects; it opened a P-TECH school that allows students to earn an associate’s degree and high school diploma in six years; it has pulled in more than $20 million in national and state grants for a variety of programs; and its list of public–private partnerships have expanded to encompass national companies such as Lockheed Martin, Apple, and IBM. If that’s not enough, the district, located about 35 miles north of Denver, has netted nearly 90 awards for its academic programs in the past five years, and it regularly hosts visitors from other school districts and corporations.

While outside recognition is great, St. Vrain has also garnered the approval of the 13 communities that comprise the district. Last year, voters overwhelmingly approved the district’s financial plan, agreeing to a $260 million bond that will allow the district to build four new schools while expanding the footprint of another 29 schools—no small feat for a school district in Colorado, where the purse strings are tightly controlled by the state. Parents effectively bought into the process of transforming the district to help raise their children to new heights.

All of these investments are coming online just in time, as the district is adding 800 new students each year, making it one of the fastest-growing school districts in the state.

The road to the district’s success began about a decade ago. Examining the steps district leaders took reveals how administrators made deep cuts in legacy resources to invest in new avenues, and launched new innovations, ensuring improvements were instituted district-wide instead of just school by school, while always continuing to push for improvements.

Superintendent Dr. Don Haddad with St. Vrain elementary students.

“Our systematic approach is very unique,” says Superintendent Dr. Don Haddad. “What we’ve done is establish a pre-K–12 system where every one of our schools is focused on the things that we know work.”

Haddad highlights the core components of St. Vrain—a district-wide 1:1 program, STEM studies that start at pre-K and run into higher education, curricula that push students to problem solve and employ critical thinking skills, a “design thinking” mindset from administrators, public–private partnerships, and effective professional learning that reinforces all these ideas.

“That’s what makes the system work. What you see as a result is systematic gain. It’s not limited to one school—it’s districtwide,” he adds.

When former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited the district’s Skyline High School in 2014, he agreed:

“This is a remarkable success story. This is how students should be learning around the country.”

Envisioning a Transformation

The district’s first move in reinventing itself was building a comprehensive plan to support a variety of programs related to 21st-century careers. The programs focused on STEM, medical and bio-sciences, international baccalaureate, aerospace, and energy, among others. The idea was to create schools of choice for students, allowing them to pursue pathways they were passionate about, which could lead to interests in college and eventually a career.

These initiatives, in concert with a plethora of programs such as music, art, and athletics, made for a strong, comprehensive direction for the district, said Haddad.

Officials created a STEM Academy at Skyline High School, one of its 10 high schools, using STEM to both engage learners and interest them in pursuing post-secondary education. The academy quickly outpaced those modest goals and set into motion a series of domino-like changes that have transformed the district into a national leader.

Eerie High School students work on assembling a drone in class.

The short timeline to prominence at St. Vrain began when the district reeled in a $3.6 million Investing in Innovation federal grant in 2010, just one year after Haddad was named superintendent. That grant helped establish the STEM center, but also led to a longer school day for at-risk students in four elementary schools and an intervention program designed to help middle school students in danger of failing math.

The improvements from those funds led to an even bigger prize when St. Vrain was one of 16 Race to the Top winners. The federal $16.6 million award allowed the district to expand its STEM studies to all the schools that feed Skyline High School and to pursue creating Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) with IBM.

Starting in 2016, St. Vrain was one of the first districts to partner with IBM on P-TECH outside of the original Brooklyn school in New York. This program offers students a chance to earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in a six-year block. The college courses are free for students, and partner IBM offers graduates interviews for jobs that pay $50,000 a year.

This work culminated in St. Vrain being named one of the 100 Future Ready school districts in the country and Haddad being named superintendent of the year in 2013 by the National Association of School Superintendents.

All this positive momentum in St. Vrain came after the district’s darkest days in 2002. That’s when a perfect storm of accounting errors, lower-than-expected revenues, and higher-than-expected expenses resulted in the district facing a $13.8 million shortfall on what was then a budget of $130 million.

With the state’s help, the district began a wide-ranging plan that included a 15 percent cut of its non-salary budget, a 45 percent slash to administrative costs, and a rollback of promised teacher and district employee raises. Teachers were supportive of the effort in order to help the district through this difficult time. The state also loaned the district $28 million and agreed to buy and lease back to the district a building for $4.8 million.

Making the Community a Partner

By 2005, things were looking better. The district was still recovering from the financial crisis, but it had implemented sound financial processes and procedures. In addition, the district received an excellence in financial reporting award from the Government Finance Officers Association.

However, the district was in need of additional local funding through a process called a mill levy override, which could only come after approval from local voters. And though the district had made strides in securing state funding, it still needed to win over locals with its vision for St. Vrain’s future.

In 2004, the district had lost a mill levy override by just 159 votes. The next year’s effort was rejected by 54 percent of voters. So when another mill levy override was suggested in 2008, the school board knew that gaining the trust of the community would require the involvement of the community. The board would not attempt another mill levy override unless they had the support of the community.

The board told parents: “If this is important, then do something about it,” recalls Laura McDonald, the parent of two St. Vrain students.

McDonald and a small group of parents accepted the challenge from the school board and launched what eventually became Grassroots St. Vrain, the leading community arm of the 2008 campaign for a $16.5 million mill levy override, which would later pass with 57 percent of the vote.

McDonald admits the group’s leaders had a “tip of the iceberg” level of knowledge about school funding when they started. But the leadership was strong, and the school district did not want to lose the community momentum. In 2009, the school district partnered with community leaders to create Leadership St. Vrain with the goal of helping community members deepen their understanding of the business of education.

Students from Indian Peaks Elementary start STEM projects at an early age.

These community members agreed to meet for three hours each month for nine months to learn about the inner workings of the school district, including who the state-level decision makers were, down to what curricula were used in classrooms. Only one of these sessions was focused on school funding, but McDonald says a subgroup of the initial Leadership St. Vrain group decided to formalize Grassroots St. Vrain into a nonprofit organization focused on school funding issues.

Just as St. Vrain was coming out its financial difficulties, the state found itself in a deficit. In 2010, Colorado ultimately decided to reduce per-pupil spending back to 2006–07 levels, cutting about $14 million from St. Vrain. The district absorbed the cut by slashing budgets 25 percent, freezing textbook adoptions, and pushing the adult basic education program outside the district’s purview.

Thanks to its community challenge during the 2008 mill levy override, and the continued community education through Leadership St. Vrain, the district had established a new partner as it tried to stabilize its funding—Grassroots St. Vrain. This nonprofit group, created by parents, is committed to advocating for school district improvements by both explaining and supporting mill levy overrides that allow the district to add funding to what the state provides.

Grassroots has become a reliable resource of facts about various school funding topics, McDonald says, giving the group lasting power in the community. Grassroots has made videos to help explain the state funding formula, local initiatives, and yes, even where marijuana tax money goes in Colorado (mostly to cover an increase in state services, with some going to school districts).

The financial uncertainty over the years actually led the district to build a more stable system. In 2012, hard work by the district and Grassroots paid off again. St. Vrain passed a $14.8 million mill levy override that gave teachers raises, maintained class sizes, and helped fund preschool for low-income students. In 2016, voters in the district easily passed a $260 million bond issue, with 59 percent of voters approving.

As of the 2015-2016 school year, St. Vrain’s general fund per-pupil expenditures were $8,584. The district’s $252 million in general fund expenditures were funded almost equally from state and local sources. Those two groups account for the majority of the district’s general fund revenues, with federal grants accounting for just one percent.

Still, McDonald says, “Relying on local mill levy overrides is not a good solution.” While St. Vrain is fortunate to have passed its last two overrides and bond issues, this isn’t possible for many other districts, because they may not have the needed political support or property tax value, she adds. That’s a big reason Grassroots St. Vrain focuses much of its work on looking at state-level solutions.

“The fact that we stabilized our funding helped us move forward with the transition,” says Greg Fieth, the district’s chief financial officer.

“We always have funding challenges, so that’s why it’s important to engage the community so that you not only limit the problem, but step over them,” says Haddad.

Targeting ‘Total Equity’

In 2009 Haddad was promoted to superintendent, and he and his team quickly realized that they were leading “a district of schools versus a school district.” Within a district that covers 411 square miles, there was a lot of inequity between the 55 schools, he remembers.

“You could go to any of our schools and you would find huge variances in programming, wide swings in technology, and disparities in the quality of the facilities,” he said.

Remedying that imbalance became a top priority for his administration. Plans were already under way to use the funds from a $189 million bond to renovate and make over the district. The superintendent insisted on achieving “total equity” in schools across the district.

The district went a step further under the leadership of Tori Teague, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. Teague led an effort to reorganize curricula, eliminating the typical gaps between elementary, middle, and high school. Once this was completed, the district was ready to tackle the needed infrastructure improvements that could pave the way for the later digital transformation.

Joe McBreen became the district’s chief technology officer the same year Haddad became superintendent. He recalls that even during the district’s lean years, it invested in fiber optic networks because officials knew technology would be important to the future of the district.

But in St. Vrain, “it’s not as simple as putting in a fiber line and having it hit every school,” says Fieth. Comprising 13 communities and 411 square miles of territory means it’s necessary to work with each of the municipalities to ensure every building has access to a fiber-optic network and wireless network capability in each classroom.

Students at Falcon Tech work with industry mentors.

Going 1:1 With Technology

With finances stabilized and an infrastructure in place, the district was ready to make changes that would intensify the impact on students in its classrooms. Over four years, the district provided all students in middle school and high school with iPad minis. Elementary classrooms received five to seven tablets each.

“When it came time to look at the technology piece, it was easy to decide this was the next layer of that, and we implemented it across the board. We looked at digital curriculum because that is an easy way to implement the technology.  We really see these devices as extensions of collaboration,” said Teague.

Right from the beginning, the district made sure professional learning was a key part of any technology upgrades. “Even in the leanest budget years, we made it a priority that 20 percent of any tech investment would go toward professional development,” says Fieth.

“We were intentionally aware of avoiding the ‘bright shiny object’ syndrome,” says McBreen. “Teachers can become enthralled by the latest, greatest technology, but it’s about purpose.”

Adam Wellington, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Coal Ridge Middle School, details how the support helped teachers during those early days of integrating technology en masse. Getting the iPads three to four months before students afforded staff extra time to work with instructional tech coordinators, helping them pivot from delivering information to guiding students to finding information themselves.

Wellington’s school also holds “tech slams,” where teachers take a minute or two to share a new tool they are using in the classroom.

“It’s a very open environment, and it’s helped our staff see the benefits of what technology can do,” he adds.

Fifth-grade students program Dash and Dot robots at Longmont Estates Elementary School.

Presenting the material in a new way can boost student understanding, too. Wellington says the district’s move to use Discovery Education’s Techbook “has really changed how our students can understand our curriculum.”

As soon as the district got teachers familiar with tablets, they quickly realized that parents needed a crash course, too. “We found that parents didn’t know exactly how to get students to turn off the devices and disengage,” said Teague.

Eventually St. Vrain started a Camp iPad for parents, where students would show what they were doing with the devices. A tech newsletter was also distributed, and the district hosted technology nights at schools to orient parents to the new devices.

“I think that first year we had a lot of questions continually come up. [Now] it’s almost gotten down to zero,” Teague says.

“I think it’s critical that you’re very proactive with parents in any technology implementation. If a school district doesn’t do that, it will fail.”

Investing that time with parents made a huge difference for St. Vrain, garnering goodwill that spread beyond the scope of technology instruction, says Teague.

“What’s really cool about it is that it creates equity across the system,” she said. “For some families, they have not had any technology at home, and now all their kids have iPads. Kids can share it with parents, and families cherish it.”

Learning in the Great Outdoors

While expanding their learning horizons through a district-wide 1:1 transition, students at St. Vrain schools have also been engaged in ambitious activities outside the classroom. Through a series of community outreach efforts, St. Vrain’s high school students are working with scientists, park rangers, city officials — even shark researchers. They’re receiving a science education with a career context and learning how science can be applied in real life, filling them with newfound focus and experiences they can apply back to their classroom studies.

Read our previous feature article for more about St. Vrain’s environmental literacy programs.

Michael O’Toole, the K–12 science coordinator at St. Vrain Valley schools, has a vision for how STEM studies like these can be applied across all subjects to build a stronger foundation for future learners.

“We’re fortunate to have a 1:1 environment, in which our secondary students each have an iPad, but we are still committed to a hands-on science experience,” said O’Toole.

O’Toole has taken his environmental learning to vistas like Tanzania and Mount Kilimanjaro, sharing excursions with other learners online. On one particular trip in 2015, students from Nigeria, Oman, South Africa, Tanzania, and the United States explored the unique biomes and the summit of Kilimanjaro. As students planted their feet atop the 19,341-foot summit, other students from all over the world watched online, expanding the scope of environmental learning.

“In science, we have an opportunity to become citizen scientists, where students not only learn but help contribute to something bigger than themselves,” he said.

“All of this contributes to the overall knowledge of our community and planet as well as giving students real-world experiences.”

St. Vrain’s educators are finding new ways to use Discovery Education Science Techbook as a platform to enhance the hands-on experience of students, he said.

“We are always looking for ways to incorporate 21st-century skills such as creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. This mindset allows our teachers to push past previous limits of traditional educational practices, unleashing the learning and contribution potential of our future scientists,” said O’Toole.

Securing National Grants

A key piece of St. Vrain’s transformation clicked into place as the district started to gain national recognition, and funding, to help propel its improvements. The first instance of national acclaim occurred in 2010 when the district earned an Investing in Innovation grant from the U.S. Department of Education. These coveted awards, known as i3 grants, were created in response to the recession of 2009 in an effort to help supplement school spending and to fund experiments that aimed to improve the achievements of disadvantaged students.

In the first year, awards were open to individual districts instead of states. St. Vrain’s application was one of 1,700 to vie for a portion of the $650 million fund. More than 300 judges pored over the applications, rating them on a 105-point scale. St. Vrain got the top score of all the applicants, garnering a $3.6 million grant over five years.

One little-known part of the i3 grants was that grantees needed to match at least 20 percent of the award with funds from the private sector. For St. Vrain, that meant getting $721,000. Ridgeview Communications, a telecommunications company, agreed to provide $734,000 of in-kind donations over five years. This included internet access, consultation with district officials, and technical support. IBM also stepped up, contributing $215,000 worth of software to the seven schools named in the grant. IBM went a step further, donating software to 14 other St. Vrain schools, although that total of $436,000 couldn’t be counted to match the i3 grant.

After launching the STEM Academy within Skyline High School, which focused specifically on engineering and computer science, Haddad recalls that their district was becoming more visible.

“People were paying attention to what we were doing, and different companies were wanting to provide support,” Haddad says.

Teaming up with the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Engineering to create the academy, St. Vrain administrators started by identifying the skills needed to be successful in college.

Patty Quinones, who was then the school’s principal and is now the district’s assistant superintendent of innovation, worked backward to translate the end goals into curricula that met the state’s academic standards. Program graduates with good grades were guaranteed entry to CU’s College of Applied Sciences.

About 240 students have graduated from the STEM Academy in its eight years, and nearly 40 percent of them have gone on to STEM-related postsecondary programs. The graduation rate for the academy has jumped four percentage points, to 81 percent.

As impressive as St. Vrain’s i3 win was, it was only a warm-up for what was to come. While 49 organizations and districts won i3 grants, St. Vrain was about to join even more exclusive company two years later. With an application based on the same STEM program that netted the i3 award, St. Vrain won a Race to the Top (RTTT) grant in 2012, grabbing $16.6 million. This time the district was one of 16 winners out of more than 350 applications.

The RTTT grant focused on programs related to technology, professional development, extending the school year, and Skyline High School’s STEM program. It also helped bring that program to the high school’s seven feeder schools, which served many of the district’s minority students and English-language learners.

As good as this progress was, district leadership recognized that something was missing. The district put together a robust STEM curriculum, which included project-based learning and working with engineering students and faculty from the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus.

Launching the Innovation Center

The goal for the district’s newly created Innovation Center was simple but challenging. The district wanted students to use the center to stretch themselves by mixing their creativity with top-notch tools to work for clients outside the school district.

St. Vrain’s Innovation Center began three years ago. The 6,000-square-foot center is located at the district’s career development center. It’s stocked with a bevy of tools students can use for their various projects, including a technology lab, an electronics lab, and fabrication and wood tools. The center also includes high-end industry equipment, such as a laser cutter, five 3D printers, and a scanner. Perhaps the most eye-popping tools in the center are the Nao programmable humanoid robots. These 23-inch-high robots have been used everywhere, from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to the French Institute of Health and Medical Research, where they were used to train International Space Station crews and assist elderly patients.

Not only do students take high-end courses and gain industry certifications through their work at the center, those working on projects for clients earn $10 an hour.

“It expands their opportunities and skill sets,” Quinones adds.

For example, the center is the only school of its kind in the country where students can earn Apple certification for technicians. Successful students can walk out of high school and earn $45,000 working for Apple or third-party companies, but St. Vrain encourages the students to attend college and work at fixing Apple products while there. In this way, students also leave college with a solid work history.

Students at the Innovation Center in St. Vrain Valley Schools interact with virtual reality headsets.

This year, 24 students gained the certification, and the group worked not only for the district but also for the city of Longmont. Students help the district roll out technology, and they conducted workshops to train Longmont firefighters and policemen how to use new iPhones.

Perhaps the best manifestation of the type of work that students complete at the center is the project that has students working to save an endangered frog in Bolivia and Peru. The students built an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that they named Thelma. This device can go twice as deep as a scuba diver, and it is equipped with sensors that can record the water’s properties.

“Our students not only built the underwater ROV, but they also communicate with the marine biologists [using the device]. Because some students are bilingual, they communicate with the scientists directly,” Quinones says.

While district staff oversee student work and keep projects on track, the more important oversight comes from outside experts. The project lead initiates the logistics and sets timelines, and students fill out time cards. Because they get paid, all students are run through the district’s human resources department.

Students have built robots, done computer programming, designed apps and websites, and even served as beta testers for companies.

As good as the center’s results have been in the first three years, the district is excited about the future. Thanks to $20 million from the $260 million bond initiative that passed last year, the center will be getting its own stand-alone building for the 2016-2017 school year. The 50,000-square-foot center will be able to serve all of St. Vrain’s schools.

In addition to the high-tech tools the district already deploys, the center will have four new components. An entrepreneurial zone will allow students to hone small-business skills, while a “pitch room” aims to replicate the SXSW Accelerator product demonstration spaces, and a biomedical engineering lab will allow students to work with various higher education partners. In the center’s new aeronautics division, students will be able to create ROV projects, conduct flight testing, and build drones.

“Our team visited Stanford Design School, and many of the things that we saw served to inform us as we built this program,” said Haddad.

“I feel like St. Vrain and the Innovation Center have definitely changed students’ pathways for higher-paying jobs and better opportunities to look at their choices of careers,” Quinones says.

“We’ve made huge differences for students who didn’t see themselves going to college or becoming engineers, mathematicians, or scientists.”

Fostering Public-Private Partnerships

The crown jewel for St. Vrain is the creation of over 60 partnerships with large companies such as IBM, Apple, and Toyota.

Other prominent partners include:

  • OtterBox, which makes durable cases for mobile phones
  • Aldebaran Robotics, which makes the humanoid Nao robot
  • Esri, a GIS mapping software company
  • Sphero, a Boulder-based company that makes app-connected toys
  • SparkFun Electronics, a Colorado-based maker of microcontroller development boards
  • Red Idea Partners, a consulting and venture capital company in the food, technology, and consumer markets

The evolution of St. Vrain’s partnership with IBM helps illuminate how the best collaborations not only serve the company and the district, but also can deepen over time. IBM is a neighbor of St. Vrain, with a massive facility in nearby Boulder. IBM created its 500-acre Boulder facility in 1965; it includes 2.5 million square feet of space and 26 buildings.

The district expanded its partnership with IBM in 2009 when the company recognized the excellence and potential at St. Vrain.  IBM agreed to in-kind donations to the district for the i3 grant in 2010. When St. Vrain went after its Race to the Top (RTTT) grant in 2012, IBM upped its involvement with the district. District officials asked the company how they could help interest their youngest learners—kindergarten to second grade—with STEM and science programs.

P-Tech students meet with industry mentors from IBM.

“We looked at each other and thought ‘Whoa,’” says Ray Johnson, IBM’s corporate citizenship and corporate affairs manager. “It was a great idea.”

IBM and St. Vrain agreed to create a two-week Innovation Academy for a Smarter Planet. The program, run with the University of Colorado, targets elementary school students and runs during the summer months. One project, designed by fourth graders, is a “nonbullying social media app” that can tag objectionable language.

The program marks its seventh year in 2017. This year 240 students attended what one teacher calls “engineering summer camp.” Students spend one week at an IBM training center and the second week refining their prototypes at St. Vrain’s Innovation Center. From this work, district officials, with help from three IBM representatives, have now created a STEM preschool.

“I always say we don’t give kids, especially young kids, enough credit for what their minds are capable of absorbing at such a young age,” Johnson says. “They are like sponges. At the end of two weeks, second-graders are using terms like prototype.”

Talking about the deep partnership between the district and the company, Johnson says St. Vrain has been an aggressively innovative district.

“That made it easy for us to see what they wanted to accomplish and let them know what we wanted to be part of,” said Johnson, adding that like most companies, IBM is happy to offer intellectual expertise more than just a check, because that is where true value lies.

IBM’s involvement with St. Vrain went up another notch when the two, along with Front Range Community College, opened the first of three P-TECH 9-14 schools in Colorado last year. That school, Falcon Tech, has a six-year program that allows students to earn both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in four to six years, at no charge to the student. The school features integrated high school and college coursework, along with rich workplace experiences, including mentoring, site visits, paid internships, and “first-in-line” job interview opportunities from IBM.

“It’s a real boost for the economy, because you’re creating a talent pipeline for a number of industries, and it’s a boost for the school districts. Graduation rates go up, and kids get the attention and support to earn a college degree and be ready with the skills required for 21st-Century careers,” Johnson said.

Student Achievements

So with all this progress, how are St. Vrain’s students doing? By a variety of measures, the needle is pointing up. In 2017, students achieved the highest average ACT scores in the district’s history, and they took 3,500 AP tests, an increase of 1,000 tests just from last year. The district’s graduation rate jumped 3 percentage points in the last year alone.

The district’s English language learners and special education students do still face a significant achievement gap. Given that ELL students are 15 percent of St. Vrain’s student population and special education students 10 percent, this is a significant number of students. In the district’s accreditation rating, the district met the performance indicators in both academic achievement and academic growth at its elementary and middle schools. In its high schools, the district’s results are labeled “approaching” in achievement and growth.

Haddad prefers to look beyond just state test scores to get a full picture of the district’s health and its trajectory. The news there is also good.

“Discipline rates have plummeted and enrollment, a true test of what you’re offering, is skyrocketing. Kids are coming to St. Vrain in droves,” he says.

The district leader goes outside the numbers to highlight the top reason for the district’s growth.

“Our district’s overall success is a result of all stakeholders, including the students, the teachers, the classified staff, the parents, the business community, and the elected officials, coming together to make a strong statement that educating our children is our top priority. And we in the St. Vrain Valley Schools could not be more grateful to the community for their support.

“That’s at the heart of why we’re so successful,” said Haddad.

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High School Civics is Cool Again

High school graduates don’t know enough about American government.

That’s the conclusion of a Department of Education report which highlighted the fact that less than a quarter of high school seniors scored proficient on the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics test. Civics learning, the department maintained, was an add-on in too many schools and was seen as a distraction from the core subjects.

“The need to revitalize and re-imagine civic education is urgent. That urgent need brings a great opportunity—the chance to improve civic education in ways that will resonate for years,” then- Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in 2011.

And the students themselves are looking to boost their knowledge of American government. The current politically charged atmosphere is drawing a record number of high school students toward current events, according to the New York Times.

Students are seeking out more information about civic engagement through social media and from their high school teachers.

To support schools as they craft their new civics classes, a wealth of online resources and curriculum content are available that present the facts and history of American government, provide an overview of the ideas and the issues that divide our nation and introduce students to the various methods for participating in American politics.

The first step in any civics or government class is to instruct students about the institutions of government. The three branches of federal government, checks and balances, the process of creating laws, federalism, the basic mechanics of elections, and the role of parties and interest groups in this country all need to be mastered. Like any good board game, students have to know the rules of government in order to play.

After students have a strong understanding of the institutions and process of government, the next step is learning about the substance of politics. Here, students learn about the issues and the values that divide our nation. They must take positions on controversial topics and state their opinions in a civil manner. They have to discuss the details of current policies, such as those related to the military, education, housing, welfare, and immigration. Research shows that students who are used to discussing current affairs are more likely to be politically active as adults.

The last step in any good civics class is to present the various ways that students can wade into politics and have their voices heard. Voting is the most basic form of participation, but citizens can also sign petitions and attend marches. They can attend local town hall meetings. Even calling an elected official to ask a question or stating your position on an issue is a way of participating. Hopefully, some students might even work on a campaign or run for office in the future, or at the very least gain an insight into and respect for the machinations of government that affect all American lives.

The following resources help teachers provide their students with deep knowledge of the institutions of government, the ability to wade into the hot buttons issues of the times, and the tools to directly participate in American politics.

Resources

  • Discovery Education’s Social Studies Techbook offers instruction on the structure and processes of the U.S. government through an inquiry-based learning process. It provides teachers with primary source documents, exclusive videos, and other dynamic digital content. New online-entry features check students’ understanding, allowing them to apply their learning to new situations, and contribute to classroom conversations. Discovery Education Social Studies Techbook also includes interactive features in which students practice civic discourse with debates and role-playing.
  • iCivics is a set of free online educational games developed by a nonprofit organization founded by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Last November, the game was played roughly 3 million times, according to Education Week.
  • Newseum, a Washington-based museum about current events, provides free learning tools on media literacy and the First Amendment.
  • C-SPAN Classroom offers extensive classroom lesson plans and free videos developed by teachers and the C-SPAN staff.
  • The Center for Civic Education is an independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote an enlightened and responsible citizenry that is committed to democratic principles and actively engaged in the practice of democracy. It offers a variety of lesson plans related to elections on topics such as voting requirements, the power of the senior vote, and amendments. Handouts include a chart of political slogans. Did you know that Herbert Hoover’s slogan was “a chicken in every pot (and a car in every garage)”?
  • The American Bar Association has lessons plans on a variety of topics, including antitrust laws, the Second Amendment, and the environment. One lesson plan involves a discussion of the use of censorship in Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451.
  • The Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools is an advocacy group that promotes civics education at the state and national level. Its website provides links to over 90 organizations and schools that provide teachers with free lesson plans and inspiration, including EarthForce.org and the Constitutional Rights Foundation.
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