Both public and private schools are investing in specific tools to make kids ready for the real world. It’s all about exploring modern technology to keep kids on the cutting edge while ensuring they understand the basics.
3D Learning // Casey Middle School
More than an entertainment fad, 3D is now a learning mechanism for the students at Casey Middle School. In a partnership with Google, Texas Instruments and realD, Casey will implement a multi-year program this fall. Teachers will use 3D visualization to teach science to students, and students will take computer classes in which they’ll learn to make 3D technology. They will, in fact, be able to reach out and almost touch cells, amoebas, stars, planets and more. Why 3D? Research shows that 3D visualization boosts comprehension and retention. “We are anticipating learning gains as kids see these things, dig in and touch these concepts,” said Boulder Valley School District Director of Instructional Technology Len Scrogan. It’s not bringing Hollywood into the classroom, he says. It’s not about entertainment. “We are developing learning objects, simulations and micro-simulations, which help students explore content, virtual field trips, trips to outer space. It creates a whole new context,” Scrogan said.
COMPREHENSIVE COLLEGE COUNSELING CENTER // Peak to Peak Charter School
At Peak to Peak, the numbers speak for themselves. The graduation rate is jaw-dropping (averaging around 99 percent) and often students find themselves at top college once they’ve graduated. Much of that has to be attributed to the school’s college prep focus and the Comprehensive College Counseling Center, where students can find their perfect post-secondary home and prepare for learning at a higher level. Counselors visit classrooms regularly, host mini lifeskills lessons that coordinate with academic material and discuss goal setting, study habits and time management.
1:1 iPAD Program // Alexander Dawson School
At Alexandar Dawson, it’s not unusual for kids to work with high-tech equipment. But the private school’s newest pilot program is something extra special. This fall, all fifth and sixth graders and faculty will receive iPads. Students will use the 16G WiFi iPads for research, reading and studying. The initiative, which is funded through the school’s Fund for Excellence foundation, comes after months of discussions among Dawson administrators, Apple, Educational Records Bureau, Columbia University and the University of Colorado, all of which are interested in determining “the efficacy of e-readers in attitudes toward reading, language development, vocabulary growth, and other reading skills,” according to a statement from the school. Dawson administrators are examining the benefits of the iPads, from using them for interactive science demonstrations to reducing the cost of textbooks, integrating web-based data in history research and improved access to testing materials.
Reading, writing and arithmetic are no longer the foundation of an average school day. The classroom now serves as a gateway to higher learning.
Technology Labs // Flagstaff Academy
It’s a fact at Flagstaff Academy: technology helps students flourish in the modern world. Over the last few years, their technology curriculum has proven groundbreaking. Paul Ingersoll, Flagstaff’s middle school technology teacher, says his classes go beyond computer literacy. The students use everything from Dreamweaver to pod-casting to video-production for lessons, expanding on themes they are learning about in core classes. “We are taking advantage of the opportunities these tools can afford us,” he said. “They allow students to be more engaged, allow them to feel they are building something and allow them to get their lessons reinforced in a different way. The technology makes lessons come to life.” Ingersoll will focus on specific themes like entrepreneurship or architecture, and students use various programs and tools to find solutions, research and present information. “I’ll ask, ‘Does a lemonade stand make money?’” he said. “By slight of hand, they learn the tool, but it’s while they answer a much more important question.”
College on Campus // Erie High School
Erie High Principal Steve Payne knows he needs to stay on his toes when it comes to education. “Things move at 100 miles per hour,” he said. Part of that is increasing advanced studies for accelerated students. In a partnership with Aims, the school offers up to six college classes per year. Professors come to EHS to teach classes like Western civilization and college algebra, and students can balance a schedule of high school and college courses, for which they pay tuition but can receive a bulk of it back if they get a C of higher. “We prepare them for a seamless transition into college,” Payne said.
Latin for Youngsters // Boulder Country Day
People say Latin is dead,” Boulder Country Day teacher Doyle Kersey says, “but you can see its influence in so many other courses.” While some local high schools offer Latin, at Boulder Country Day, students take Latin starting in fourth grade. For the youngsters, it’s an academic warp drive, and Kersey blends in history and culture with language in a class that is meant to serve as a springboard in education. It helps students with future studies in science, ACTs/SATs and other languages. They may not get how beneficial the class is, but they will some day. “Right now, the kids don’t know the value of something like this,” Doyle said. “When they are in high school, that’s when they make connections between subjects.”
With choice being all the rage, it’s no wonder that schools, public and private, are adopting new ways of educating their youngsters. These initiatives are literally changing learning practices and making kids smarter in the process.
Experiential Education // Running River School
Based on research on the human brain and the book Cracking the Code, Running River School is transforming its curriculum in become entirely experiential. The school is integrating its academic subject areas to focus on “mastering real-life skills” and creating multi-age classrooms (although, kindergarten through first will remain together). Director Nancy Monson says the school will create a second- to eighth-grade learning pod of 10 to 15 students, and the learning will be project based. That means, for instance, when learning about food, the students harvest produce and build a green house; older students will cook, manage a budget and grocery shop. They will study the history of food, study the chemistry of cooking and work with a nutritionist. “They will bring their interests and talents to the group, and we will see what they create,” Monson said. “Project-based learning allows children to both fully pursue their own interests as well as collaborate with others, deepening and broadening their understanding of any subject area of study.” So students are learning by doing, not learning by taking tests or preparing to take tests.
Science Notebooks // Boulder Valley School District
Science notebooking is a not-so-crazy idea, encouraging students to act like scientists: write down questions and answers, predict and log data, discuss, reflect and discover. And in the process, students at several BVSD schools taking part in the program are integrating science, math and reading while boosting critical thinking. “I believe it really increases the academic expectations for students in a way that they find fun and engaging,” said Samantha Messier, BVSD director of science curriculum. As students express their understanding of concepts through writing, the notebooks become a means to greater comprehension.
AVID // Centaurus High, Boulder High & Others
AVID stands for Advancement via Individual Determination, which sounds about as fun as a CSAP test. But it’s all about interaction, motivation and preparation. The program hones in on students who want to go to college but need some extra help. Many of these students will become the first in their family to go to college, and all are expected to work their butts off to reach their full potential. AVID courses focus on helping students succeed in classes and strategize for tackling tougher curricula. They work on critical thinking, reading comprehension, written communication, and more. Students get support from educators and college student tutors and go on field trips.
Standards-Based Education// Adams County School District 50
This North Denver school district is just the second school district in the country to implement the Standards-Based Education model, which eliminates grade levels and actually groups students by academic ability and performance, not age. That means that kids of all ages share classrooms and progress at their own speed. “We are the first school district to eliminate social promotion of kids…” Jason Kosena, communications manager for the district, wrote in an email. “We obviously believe this reform of the entire school district will boost academic achievement.” Implemented last year, the model ensures students know what is expected of them, are able to track their progress and are given time and assistance to reach certain standards. That means a student can advance through several levels of English and one level of math in a single year—simply moving at their own pace.
Schools are working harder than ever to engage students in learning. These programs focus on not simply giving kids an academic boost but sending them into a new intellectual realm.
Take My Teacher Home // Several kindergarten classes in BVSD
Beginning its fourth year in BVSD, Take My Teacher Home has spread from two classrooms at Crestone Elementary to numerous kindergarten classrooms across the district. Monday through Thursday, six students in each class take home a packet, including an iPod with lessons recorded by their teacher. “These are pre-designed lessons that extend the learning day for students who need extra time and support,” said Jennifer Korb, BVSD instructional technology specialist. Korb says students listen to the lessons multiple times each night, and they also listen to them with their families, helping parents support their child. “In many cases, it’s not that parents weren’t willing to help kids. They didn’t know how,” she said. “This gives them a mentor when they have the opportunity to listen to the teacher.”
Academic Preschool // Broomfield Academy
Who says that little ones just need playtime? Broomfield Academy puts the young’ns in the classroom with its Academic Preschool: for kids “ready to move beyond traditional ‘play-based’ preschool programs,” according to the school. For children 3 to 5, who are screened by Broomfield Academy and placed in classes with children of similar ability, the academy’s classes offer lessons and activities in Spanish, Mandarin, swimming, literacy, art, music, and more. But never fear, the kiddos still have plenty of fun and play!
Career Academies // Westminster High School
Things are not education as usual at Westminster High School. WHS is one school split into five career academies: health and biomedical; architecture, construction and engineering; global business; visual and performing arts; and liberal arts (an International Baccalaureate program). Here, each student picks an academy based on their interests and they take core classes and electives that are all “career relevant.” It’s supposed to prepare students for the real world and create learning communities, in which students bond and share around their similarities. Still, WHS has all the essentials of a traditional high school, including football, national honor society and peer counseling.
Skyline Beats the Odds // School gets $14 million makeover to match academics
In a state where public schools are being drained of cash and budget cuts have become a way of life, Patty Quinones is counting her blessings. Standing in the midst of raucous construction, drills buzzing, debris flying and countless dirtied workers doing $14 million worth of work, Quinones knows she’s fortunate. “Because of the economics of the state, budget cuts are everywhere. So, for us, this is especially exciting,” the Skyline High School principal says of the construction. The work being done at Skyline—a complete overhaul that will add a fabrications lab, language labs, multi-media labs, spacious science classrooms, video production studio, DJ booth and a “future center” to the school—will make it an academic powerhouse.
The high-tech overhaul means the building will soon reflect the advanced studies happening inside.
Skyline was named the district’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) academy and Visual Performing Art (VPA) academy two years ago. The “academies” are rigorous, technology-focused programs that prepare students for college or careers in specific fields. Students apply to get into the programs, and they take STEM or VPA classes in addition to core classes; traditional students can also take STEM and VPA classes.
Quinones says the school’s capabilities now align with its academic goals and the needs of STEM and VPA. Students can now design, develop and actually fabricate parts or products.
Skyline will welcome its second class of STEM and VPA students this fall. And all students will find a shiny, revamped school welcoming them.
Here are some of the other smart programs Skyline has implemented or is in the midst of implementing:
The entire school will have wireless Internet.
High performing students graduating from the Skyline High School STEM Academy earn guaranteed admission into the University of Colorado’s College of Engineering.
The STEM Academy partners with the University of Colorado’s College of Engineering, allowing graduate students to work with students and faculty to improve course development. Those engineers also work with students in SHS’s feeder schools.
The school is working on a class where students learn to make iPhone apps.
The one-on-one laptop initiative will offer every freshman student a netbook to take home during the school year.