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5 Things DE Loves About Teachers

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week and we couldn’t be more excited!

Here at DE, every week is Teacher Appreciation Week. We are so grateful and so proud to be part of your daily lessons. And to commemorate this annual May celebration, we want to show you five things we absolutely love about our educators.

Teachers are always looking for new and creative ways to engage students.

Looking for a new strategy to engage students in digital resources? Explore our SOS Instructional Strategies.

Teachers always discover the best in every situation.

Explore best practices in teaching through our eLearning Modules.

Teachers are life-long learners.

Continue learning about DE and other trending topics in education in the Educator Supports Channel.

Teachers love to collaborate.

See how other teachers are using DE in their classroom with our Community Favorites collection.

Teachers support teachers.

Interested in joining a community of like-minded educators? Join our DEN STAR program!

Sign in today to explore more ways to save time and find support every day with DE!

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Meet the DE Characters! The Big Kids

Meet the DE Characters!
The Big Kids: Eduardo, Zoe, and Mei

In case you haven’t heard, we recently celebrated 20 amazing years of supporting educators and students! This milestone marks a new chapter in our unwavering commitment to teachers and students and our passion for teaching and learning.

But this next chapter isn’t just about growing our resources, but growing our DE family, too! We’re finding even more ways to creatively engage all students, and part of that is the new community of characters living in your DE platform!

This posse of pals love to hang out around DE resources while helping you and your students find and use your favorite content. Keep reading to meet The Big Kids—Zoe, Mei, and Eduardo—and where you might find these lovable additions to the DE team.

Meet The Big Kids!

Eduardo

Eduardo is a super cool teenager and all-around good guy who gets stoked about learning new things. He is a true adventurer who is completely unapologetic about his passions. His excitement is contagious as his courageous personality encourages you to chase your curiosity and dive headfirst into new topics.

Where You’ll Find Him

Eduardo believes anything is possible and loves bringing people together, which is why he’s always first in line to try a new thing and is quick to cheer on his friends in their own adventures. He’s a thrill-seeker, so it’s no surprise Eduardo is an avid skiier and has also dabbled in paragliding. You may see him shredding on his sit ski, popping a wheelie, going off a jump, or even spinning on his head!

He loves learning about the latest technology and building his brain, and is often tinkering with his puzzle cube.. Smart and cool go hand-in-hand, so of course he shows off his rockstar shades from time to time, too. Eduardo also loves cracking jokes with Abuelo. You’re always in for a good time when you find this grandson-grandpa duo together.

Favorite Functions:

  • Fist bumping you for showing up to learn new things.
  • Digging deeper as he “can’t stop nerding out on stuff!”
  • Asking the next question.
  • Modeling confidence and independence.
  • Adding healthy skepticism to daily learning.

Eduardo’s DE Picks

Eduardo loves going through Math Techbook and exploring the Math in Context Channel. Watching videos about the latest gadget or technology is one of his favorite hobbies, and he knows he wants to be in charge of something BIG when he grows up. So, the Discovering Data – Problem Solving for the Future Channel and the Viruses and Outbreaks Channel are two of his go-to places to learn the latest news and find ways to build a brighter future.

Don’t miss out on the fun—sign in today to see more of the Big Kids and learn more about the next chapter of DE!

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Meet Mei!

Mei yearns to understand how things work and loves to help you in your own quest to understand the world around you. Quite the introvert, she takes her time and has a rich internal life. But that doesn’t stop her from popping up to see you—she can’t hide that curious side!

Where You’ll Find Her

Ever the little engineer, you’ll find Mei quietly exploring and examining things around her, often with a microscope and notebook in hand. She’s always investigating, whether that’s taking apart the vacuum cleaner to see how it works, teaching herself how to code, or even analyzing the contents of bear scat! Yes, you read that correctly. However, she struggles with big groups and overstimulation, so you might catch her peeping out of the lab supply closet, too.

She’s really into birds, and is somtimes surrounded by her feathered friends. But Mei does have a mischievous side. She’s stealthy and likes to play tricks, so watch out!

Favorite Functions:

  • Being your buddy when you need quiet time to think or refuel.
  • Helping you persevere in your passions.
  • Anything STEM; she loves coding and experimenting.
  • Going on Virtual Field Trips with you!

Mei’s DE Picks

It’s no surprise Mei is a big fan of virtual labs, Mystery Science, and DE Coding. She finds new inspiration in the Simple Machines Channel and feeds her curiosity with Seeker. And she loves to spend bird-watching breaks browsing the exciting content in the Owls Channel.

You’ve seen The Big Kids, but have you met The Littles? Meet Keiki and Victor!

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Meet Zoe!

Zoe likes to be front and center, ready to roll! She is a born leader and plays “big sister” to the rest of her friends. Challenges are her favorite and she can hardly contain her enthusiasm when it comes to learning new things. She is super social, full of ideas, and is always dancing and moving with excitement.

Where You’ll Find Her

Zoe likes jumping into action and encouraging you to jump right in with her! She’s not afraid to fail and wants to spread that confidence to those around her. She has a knack for turning learning into a game and proposing big ideas, so you’ll often see her with a highlighter, homemade map, or craft supplies. Sometimes you can even see Zoe wielding a walkie talkie and clipboard as she leads her friends in a new activity.

When she’s not dancing, Zoe can be found deep in her own good idea or drawing up big plans. But her fun personality is always shining through, and you’re bound to see her playing dress-up to liven up learning. She sometimes even gets overcome with the giggles—it’s infectious!

Favorite Functions:

  • Making you feel like anything is possible.
  • Giving helpful instructions or helping you remember the rules.
  • Suggesting new projects.
  • Helping her friends and engaging with social issues.
  • Making learning fun!

Zoe’s DE Picks

When she’s not watching Shake It Out dance videos, Zoe’s getting hands-on with Sandbox AR or building projects with Studio. She also loves to explore interesting topics in the News and Current Events Channel and Social Studies Channel, and she’s always finding resources to amp up her confidence and empower her friends with the Women in History Channel.

Want more? Sign in today to find all the DE Characters and explore their favorite channels!

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Meet the DE Characters! The Littles

Meet the DE Characters!
The Littles

Did you hear the news? We recently celebrated 20 amazing years of supporting educators and students! But it was more than just an anniversary. This milestone marks a new chapter in our unwavering commitment to teachers and students while reigniting our passion for teaching and learning.

But this next chapter isn’t just about growing our resources, but growing our DE family to find even more ways to creatively engage all students. And part of that is the new community of characters in living in your DE platform!

This character crew loves to hang out in DE’s resources and activities, helping students and educators find and use their favorite content in impactful ways. Since you’re going to be seeing a lot more of them, we want you to know who they are and where you might find these lovable additions to the DE team.

Meet The Littles!

Keiki

Keiki are joyful and lighthearted little friends that help you feel brave when venturing into new territory. They love learning together with you as well as learning from you and the amazing things you find in DE.

Where You’ll Find Them

Keiki are always awestruck at simple things that are still new to them—a loud truck, a babbling brook, or even a fuzzy caterpillar! Nobody knows how many there are, but you’ll often see them in a group of three to five. You may also find out where they’ve been since Keiki like to leave a mark, like stickers or a tie of yarn.

While they don’t communicate with words, Keiki use facial expressions, tummy screens, costumes, and neon glyphs to express themselves and let you know what they’re thinking.  Their ears twirl when they’re excited, and you’ll find that they’re not the most coordinated but they embrace this funny quality (sometimes they seem wobbly or do clumsy things, which usually ends in lots of giggles).

Favorite Functions:

  • Holding your hand when starting a new or complex topic.
  • Aging down content.
  • Adding playfulness to daily lessons.
  • Serving as an eager audience to hear you recap what you’ve learned.

Keiki’s DE Picks

Keiki love exploring Virtual Field Trips or anything that sparks curiosity like phenomenon, nature, and just about everything in Science Techbook. Their favorite channels right now are the Insects Channel and The Five Senses.

Don’t miss out on the fun—sign in today to see more of Keiki and Victor and keep coming back to meet the rest of the DE Character crew!

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Victor

Victor is our resident dreamer. He is deeply curious and spends lots of time wondering about different topics and subjects and thinking about the way the world works. He’s also a good friend and cares about the feelings of those around him.

Where You’ll Find Him

You’ll often find Victor completely engrossed in a new topic, considering all angles of whatever it is he’s learning about. Victor daydreams every single day, so he’s often quiet and sometimes struggles with completing tasks quickly or making sure he doesn’t get ahead of himself when he’s deep in thought. He loves learning different perspectives and investigating how things are connected. He’s also extremely fond of pizza, his friends, and butterflies!

Favorite Functions:

  • Considering different perspectives.
  • Showing you it’s okay to pause and think.
  • Inquiry and encouraging big questions.
  • Dreaming he is in space.

Victor’s DE Picks

With his obsession with space, it’s no surprise Victor’s favorite channels include Earth in the Universe and Explore Space: NASA’s Missions of Explorations. He also likes to fuel his curiosity with Mystery Science and virtual labs. While the Pizza Channel doesn’t exist yet, Victor hopes it’s coming soon!

Want more? Sign in today to find The Littles and explore their favorite channels!

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This Month at DE: April

This month, show students that there’s no limit to what they can dream and accomplish with these new K-12 resources! Reach for the stars and go to the moon with NASA, dive into the ocean blue with deep sea content from Guy Harvey and Sea Studios Foundation, and help students responsibly fund their futures with Financial Literacy Month resources. Plus, get a sneak peek of what’s in store for Earth Day on April 22!

Featured Partner: NASA

Blast off with a bevy of new resources from NASA! We worked with our featured partner this month to bring you and your students new content that will have them ready to celebrate this year’s Artemis I rocket launch. Give students a behind-the-scenes look at the powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and details of the Artemis mission with new videos that feature NASA astronauts, engineers, scientists, writers, and more! Get started with the following resources then find more in the Explore Space: NASA’s Missions of Exploration Channel.

From the first lunar landing to the latest Mars rover and the vast network of satellites measuring the health of our planet, NASA has paved the way for humankind to explore the wonders of the cosmos. We’re proud to partner with NASA to help students learn about the groundbreaking technologies, daunting missions, and extraordinary talents of astronauts both past and present.

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Earth Day Events & Resources!

All Grade Levels

Celebrate Earth Day with a diverse collection of impactful resources from DE! Show students how they can make a meaningful difference and invest in our planet with fun videos, exciting Virtual Field Trips, and time-saving, ready-to-use activities for all students.

Plus, find exclusive, on-demand events from our trusted partners. Learn the importance of the Artemis mission and studying the moon with NASA, hear about The Boy Who Grew a Forest with Vooks, and explore ways to protect and preserve our oceans with scientist and Shark Week host Luke Tipple. Explore our Earth Day page today for even more ways to #CelebrateWithDE on April 22!

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Ask, Listen, Learn: Alcohol & the Developing Brain

Grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8

Encourage students to make better decisions this Alcohol Awareness Month with Ask, Listen, Learn! Get started by watching five-time Olympic gold medalist Nathan Adrian discuss the critical ways kids can stand up to peer pressure and live a healthy lifestyle in “Informed Students Make Better, Healthy Decisions.” Then have students complete this virtual investigation to learn more.

In partnership with Responsibility.org, the Ask, Listen, Learn collection of instructional activities videos and digital exploration resources helps students uncover the science behind how alcohol affects developing brains, bodies, and behaviors. Give students essential resources and dig into the data and facts that are critical to understanding the effects of alcohol—leading kids to say “YES” to a healthy lifestyle and “NO” to underage drinking.

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Financial Literacy Month Resources

All Grade Levels

Promote Financial Literacy Month with a plethora of helpful resources available in the DE platform! Explore comprehensive curriculums with videos, self-paced modules, and cross-curricular activities for all grades. Use the channels below to equip students with the knowledge, tools, and practice they need to make informed decisions that help them reach their goals and dreams.

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Find more timely tools and resources with our This Month at DE Studio Board!

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Fishtronaut

Grades K-2

Join Fishtronaut, Marina, and Zeek on a mysterious new adventure in Fishtronaut: The Case of Pale Flowers. In this episode, the curious crew discover clues to find out why some lily flowers are missing. At the same time, Billy and Mac begin a mystery project after seeing meteorites in the night sky. Watch (in English or Spanish!) as the team finds out how Billy and Mac’s project is impacting the lilies.

Fishtronaut is an animated series that helps younger students understand life science and earth-related topics like biodiversity, environmental pollution, common characteristics of animals, and more. Students can join Fishtronaut, Marina, and Zeek as they solve various cases about STEM while demonstrating the importance of local advocacy to create change. Explore bite-sized episodes available in English and Spanish that build problem-solving skills in STEM.

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Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation

Grades 3-8

Dive into the fascinating world below the ocean’s surface with captivating resources from the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation. Swim through Ancient Underwater Landscapes, learn about Microbial Mysteries in the Gulf of California, and see mesmerizing 4K Highlights from Ningaloo Canyons, an expedition where around 30 new species were discovered!

Head to the full Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation Channel for more new content, 360 videos, and compelling resources on life in the ocean, ecosystems, and physical science. Students can join marine conservationist and artist Guy Harvey and his marine biologist daughter Jessica as they travel the globe to study the magnificent inhabitants of both land and sea. Check out Guy Harvey Expeditions like Stingray City and Aliens from the Deep, get up close and personal with our wild world through Jessica Harvey’s Expedition Notebook series, and study all things related to the ocean with Marine Science 101.

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Sea Studios Foundation

Grades 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

Go even deeper into the ocean’s depths with Sea Studios Foundation! Learn more about captivating sea creatures with videos like Molluscs: Octopus Camouflage, which shows students how several species of octopus change their color and texture in an instant while explaining the science behind these magical abilities. You can also find interesting time-lapse videos to engage students, such as the Sea Star Time-Lapse, Eating Dead Fish!

Together with the Sea Studios Foundation, our goal is to enhance STEM culture in the classroom while equipping the next generation with resources for creating and protecting a healthy and stable future. With content like its award-winning Shape of Life series, Sea Studios Foundation can identify issues that need attention and create alluring visual narratives that educate, inspire, and lead viewers to action.

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New Quiz Library!

For Educators

Pop quiz! Did you hear we recently launched a library of pre-made quizzes for you to use with students? Access the full Quiz Library through your Quiz tile then search, find, and utilize over 300+ pre-made quizzes spanning various subjects and grade levels. Explore subject-specific, assessment-style quizzes, as well as morning-meeting style activities and conversation starters to suit all classroom needs.

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Save valuable planning time while finding new ways to engage students with these exciting resources. Then join us here next month to grab the latest DE content around our May theme: Passports and Pride!

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Meet the DE Characters! Disco

Meet the DE Characters!
Disco

We recently celebrated 20 amazing years of supporting educators and students, but it was more than just an anniversary. It marked a new chapter in our unwavering commitment to teachers and student engagement, while reigniting our passion for teaching and learning.

But this next chapter isn’t just about growing our resources, but growing our DE family to find even more ways to creatively engage students. And part of that is our new community of characters in your DE platform.

You may have already noticed some of these friendly faces—they love to pop up to say hello, chat about their favorite content, and they always seem to show up when you need a helping hand. Since you’re going to be seeing a lot more of them, we want you to know who they are and where you might find them, starting with Disco!

Meet Disco!

Many students and educators will see Disco right away. She is an alert, emotive dog who loves everybody—and everybody loves her! Disco’s main goals are to be enthusiastic, welcoming, and helpful, and to make you laugh every step of the way.

Where You’ll Find Her

You’ll find Disco always ready to play! She’ll bring you something useful or offer to help where needed. That’s why her favorite places to hang out include welcome pages and assignments. Disco is usually holding on to her backpack, a notepad, or whiteboard. She communicates through these and the objects she brings you, as well as lots of tail wags and nose wiggles! You may also see her closely guarding a treat or treasure, but she’s willing to give it over…begrudgingly.

Favorite Functions:

  • Setting Up Classrooms
  • Setting Up Profiles
  • Helping First-Time Users
  • How To Guides
  • Offering Templates and Quick Starts
  • Bringing You Things!

Disco’s DE Picks

In her downtime, Disco loves digging through the Dogs Channel and Family Channel, or sniffing out new resources in the Social-Emotional Learning Center. And of course, she also enjoys any channel you do, because she loves you!

Want more? Sign in today to find Disco and explore her favorite channels!

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#CelebrateWithDE: Women’s History Month

To help educators, students, families celebrate the importance of Women’s History Month, we’ve pulled together all the impactful DE resources that you can use right away in your daily lessons. Keep reading to find engaging content available now in the DE platform, as well as exciting resources from our social impact partners and special, can’t-miss March events!

“I teach with the ‘see it, be it mentality.’ I believe we need to show students, particularly girls, that their ideas are valid, and they already have the power to make their dreams come true. With curated resources from Discovery Education and their partners, I can empower my students today to become the leaders of tomorrow.”

– Cecilia Wilburn-Davis,
5th grade teacher and 2022 Teacher of the Year,
Oakbrook Elementary School (SC)

Get started with the curated collection in our Women in History Channel! Celebrate the remarkable journey and impact of women throughout history and learn contemporary stories of women changing the world. This channel showcases stories of pioneering women throughout history who fought for equality regardless of gender, and explores impact women have had politically, in STEM, in the arts, in sports, and more.

Then check out our Encyclopedia Womannica Channel to share incredible stories of groundbreaking women whose legacies have stood the test of time. This powerful podcast series provides bite-sized audio biographies of women you may or may not know, but whose impact has changed the world. Gain inspiration and spark student curiosity by listening to the contributions, trials, and triumphs of phenomenal women from a variety of backgrounds including scientists, activists, teachers, comedians, and more.

We’re also teaming up with our leading social impact partners to offer even more engaging, no-cost digital learning resources to support Women’s History Month observances nationwide. Under the 2022 theme of “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope” these curated resources introduce students to the women leaders whose innovations make the world a better place for all.

Career Profiles

Meet the women cybersecurity experts working to keep us all safe online in the career profiles from Girls4Tech—Mastercard’s signature STEM program supported by Discovery Education. Geared towards giving girls in middle and high school access to STEM resources and career exploration tools, this program dives deeply into the topics of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity.

The STEM Careers Coalition—the first-of-its-kind national STEM initiative powered by corporate and non-profit leaders and anchored in schools by DE—offers educators a robust array of career profiles featuring diverse women in various industries and job roles. Discover how leaders at places like Procter & Gamble, Lyda Hill Philanthropies, The Caterpillar Foundation, American Petroleum Institute, and more use STEM every day to create innovative solutions to the world’s challenges. These career profiles are accompanied by lesson resources that engage students in the world of STEM by helping them focus on their career goals with simple strategies, roadmaps, and other easy-to-use digital tools.

Find more timely tools and resources with our
This Month at DE Studio Board!

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Student Challenges

Give students the chance to become a world-class scientist through the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, the nation’s premier middle school science competition. Created in partnership with 3M as part of the Young Scientist Lab program, this annual challenge invites students in grades 5-8 to compete for an exclusive mentorship with a 3M scientist, a $25,000 grand prize, and the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist.” Previous winners like Sarah Park (2021), Anika Chebrolu (2020), Kara Fan (2019), and Gitanjali Rao (2017), specifically show the power of girls in STEM, along with the women-led Science at Home activities that foster STEM learning anywhere.

Support students on their pathway to STEM success with the new Trade Champions Challenge, presented in partnership with Stanley Black & Decker as part of Innovation Generation. The challenge offers students the opportunity to win $15,000 and introduces students to the unique opportunities offered through trade careers, encouraging them to consider new career or education paths. Inspire ideas for the challenge with the accompanying career profiles, featuring women STEM leaders from across Stanley Black & Decker.

Virtual Events

Join our upcoming Equity Talks session: Women’s Power & Voice for Women’s History Month on March 17 at 3 PM ET. Moderated by Dr. Christina Kishimoto, Founder and CEO of Voice4Equity, the 45-minute segment will focus on how school leaders are cultivating equity and excellence in education with a focus on women’s leadership. Learn more and register here!

Discover the fascinating science involved in the pursuit of a new medication and the women scientists leading the way in the Science of Health & Medicine Virtual Field Trip from Generation Health: How Science Powers Us. A dynamic middle school program created with AstraZeneca and Learning Undefeated, this event aims to make science personal through a focus on healthy living. An accompanying educator guide takes learning further with standards-aligned activities exploring the science of medicine and health.

Find more March resources in our This Month at DE: March article, and follow Discovery Education on Twitter and Instagram for more timely content and updates!

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This Month at DE: March

There’s a lot to celebrate in March! This month, we’re commemorating Women’s History Month by highlighting legendary women in history and women making an impact today. You’ll also find engaging, new resources to recognize the start of spring, SEL Day, and an exciting virtual event for Read Across America Day.

Featured PartnerNBA & WNBA

We’re excited to introduce the NBA and the WNBA as our featured partners for March! This month, students and educators can explore the powerful NBA Game Changers series, the latest addition to our DE Originals collection. This new series showcases NBA and WNBA players who have stepped up and used their voices and platforms to take action about an issue they care about. Game Changers is designed to Inspire student agency and help students learn how to use their own voices to make their communities stronger and the world better. Watch the special Black History Month episode now, and check back mid-March for the Women’s History Month installment of this impactful, five-part video series.

Want more? Explore a variety of dynamic, action-packed resources in our NBA and WNBA in the Classroom Channel and help students explore the world through the excitement of basketball. Immersive Virtual Field Trips, interactive tools, and one-on-one interviews help students make clear connections to the subjects they’re learning. Career videos, game footage and stats, and buzzer-beating content are embedded throughout this premier collection to drive engagement, deepen understanding, and develop future-ready skills.

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Discover Your Happy

All Grade Bands

Celebrate International Day of Happiness on March 20 with Discover Your Happy! LG and Discovery Education have set out to equip young people with the skills necessary to reduce stress and create sustainable happiness in their lives. As part of the LG Experience Happiness movement, Discover Your Happy provides science-based tools for educators, students, and parents to show how happiness can be achieved through learnable skills and practices.

Get started with the Discover Your Happy Virtual Field Trip and classroom activity, or choose one of the Digital Lesson Bundles or standards-aligned activities to find more ways to help students identify actionable ways to bring happiness to their communities.

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Earth to Luna!

Grades K-2, 3-5

Follow Luna, her brother Jupiter, and their pet ferret Clyde on real-life and imaginary adventures to explore life, physical, and earth and space science concepts. Through this fun, animated series, Luna sparks children’s curiosity about science and encourages them to wonder and investigate how the world works.

Check out The Scent of Spring today to welcome the spring season, and see our full collection of episodes in the Earth to Luna! Channel. You can also use the Spanish version of the channel to reach ELL students and native Spanish speakers!

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Encyclopedia Womannica

Grades 6-12

Commemorate Women’s History Month with incredible stories of groundbreaking women whose legacies have stood the test of time through Encyclopedia Womannica. New this month, students can hear about musician Sister Rosetta Tharpe, activist Charlotte Forten Grimké, STEMinist Mae Jemison, and even a tenacious former queen of France! Browse the full podcast collection to find more bite-sized, audio biographies of women you may or may not know, but whose impact has changed the world. Gain inspiration and spark curiosity by listening to the contributions, successes, trials, and triumphs of phenomenal women from a variety of backgrounds including scientists, activists, teachers, comedians, and more.

This powerful podcast series is produced by our partners at Wonder Media Network, a women-led company that uses stories to inspire action, promote equality and justice, and introduce empathy into politics, business, and culture. Visit the Encyclopedia Womannica Channel now to dig into the narratives of women who are stepping up to enact change.

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Innovation Generation Trade Champions Challenge

Grades 9-12

Fuel student passion and creativity with the Innovation Generation Trade Champions Challenge! Encourage high school students to focus on their future by asking them to create a 30-60 second video submission directed at their peers about why they aspire to be a trade professional and/or why they are passionate about the trade career they’re currently following. One lucky student will win a $15,000 grand prize and a Stanley Black & Decker Prize Pack!

The deadline for submissions is April 15, 2022.

Innovation Generation knows there’s a maker in everyone. Created in partnership with Stanley Black & Decker, Innovation Generation aims to engage and excite educators and students in grades 6-10 while empowering the makers within.

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Find more timely tools and resources with our
This Month at DE Studio Board!

Go There Now Request a Demo

Pi Day Channel

All Grade Bands

Prepare for a Pi Day party on March 14! First recognized in 1988, Pi Day is an annual celebration of the mathematical constant, Pi. This holiday is celebrated on March 14, as the month-date format is 3/14, and 3, 1, and 4 are the first three digits of Pi. The day includes eating pies, throwing pies, and discussing the significance of the Pi in mathematical research and its everyday applications. Go to our Pi Day Channel for videos, simulations, and articles related to this numerical holiday.

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Read Across America Day Virtual Read-Aloud

Grades K-5

Celebrate Read Across America Day with a Virtual Read-Aloud featuring internationally renowned writer and activist Alice Walker. Brought to you by Vooks and Tra Publishing, listen to Alice Walker read her powerful new book Sweet People Are Everywhere.

This virtual experience includes Alice Walker reading the book and talking about the book-writing process, as well as illustrator Quim Torres discussing the illustration process—in Spanish! Subtitles will be available to help you engage every student with this exciting event. You can also find a ready-to-use activity and additional resources to build a fun lesson around this annual holiday.

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Social-Emotional Learning Center

All Grade Bands

Explore our Social-Emotional Learning Center to grab resources for International SEL Day (March 11)! Social-emotional learning is often described as the process through which children and adults obtain the interpersonal skills to identify emotions, set goals, show empathy, maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. In the SEL Center, you’ll find a curated collection of resources that support professional learning, SEL integration into classrooms, and student-facing digital content for all grades.

This collection of content is supported by the generosity of the Social-Emotional Learning Coalition, an exciting partnership between DE, The Allstate Foundation, the National AfterSchool Association, and Ask, Listen, Learn, as well as leaders across the public, private, and philanthropic sectors. The SEL Coalition’s goal is to support educators while driving success and innovation in embedding SEL into students’ lives. Its first initiative: providing K-12 educators, students, families, and afterschool directors with an extensive library of digital resources to support the integration of SEL into core instruction and beyond.

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Soar with Wings: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Social-Emotional Learning

For Educators

Along with the vast amount of content available in the SEL Center, you can also find a new video from Soar with Wings to help increase understanding around the importance of SEL. In Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Social-Emotional Learning, educators hear from special educator and school leader Ashley Tucker as she shares how diversity, equity, and SEL are directly linked, and how to make these connections in classrooms on a daily basis.

In partnership with Wings for Kids and Allstate Foundation, Soar with Wings provides standards-aligned digital resources that incorporate academics and fun while building key social and emotional skills for students in grades K-5. Soar with Wings also strengthens the skillset of teachers, parents, and caregivers so they can equip students with the resources and support they need to fly high!

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Siemens STEM Day 2022 Possibility Grant Sweepstakes

All Grade Bands

Enter daily to win one of five, $5,000 grants to help foster STEM learning! With the Siemens Possibility Grant Sweepstakes, schools have the opportunity to obtain the equipment, tech tools, gadgets, or virtual learning resources they need to successfully reach and inspire STEM-smart students. Open to ALL schools, and a portion of the available grants will be reserved for Title 1 schools (See sweepstakes rules for details). Don’t miss this opportunity to take STEM learning to another level with your students!

The Siemens Foundation has invested more than $130 million in the US to advance workforce development and education initiatives in science, technology, engineering, and math. Through our partnership with Siemens, we offer a variety of tools and resources to help you reinvent your STEM curriculum and help close the opportunity gap for students when it comes to STEM careers. Together, we aim to inspire continuous learning while igniting and sustaining today’s STEM workforce and tomorrow’s scientists and engineers.

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Women in History Channel

All Grade Bands

Celebrate the remarkable journey and impact of women throughout history and learn contemporary stories of women changing the world. The Women in History collection showcases stories of pioneering women throughout history who fought for equality regardless of gender, including the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. Promote Women’s History Month and explore the impact women have had politically, in STEM, in the arts, in sports, and more.

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Use this diverse collection of content to engage students and amplify lessons this March. Then join us here next month to grab the latest DE resources around our April theme: Sky’s (NOT) the Limit

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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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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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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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