New Frontiers in Learning Technology

  • Written by: Matthew Wiggins
  • Photos by: Jeffrey Sylvester

Photo: Niwot High teacher, Kane Hollins, using technology in the classroom.

St. Vrain Valley Schools’ commitment to providing rich learning experiences and cutting-edge technology is well-established. The passage of the 2012 mill levy override allowed the school district to implement a robust Learning Technology Plan and equip students and teachers with iPad minis, Chromebooks and other devices. These digital tools have reshaped how students think and learn and how they engage teachers and fellow classmates. Learning is no longer confined to the traditional classroom, but extends to the home, our community and in some cases, the globe.

Visiting an elementary classroom within St. Vrain looks far different than it did ten, or even five years ago. Computers, iPads and Chromebooks are as commonplace as pencil and paper. Applying new technology to classroom learning is a natural progression, but developing creative ways to pair these devices with purposeful curriculum is essential.

Farah Holburn, a fourth grade teacher at Mead Elementary describes how technology has been integrated into her classroom. One way is through iReady, a K-12 adaptive diagnostic assessment tool for reading and mathematics. This invaluable resource helps identify areas where students need a little more support. After students work through the lessons, teachers can identify goals and future assignments that will support a student’s individual learning needs.

Holburn also recounted how technology can build bridges to classrooms around the globe as they prepared to collaborate with a school in Ireland through a locally sponsored program.

“Students and parents are excited about digital citizenship and developing these skills at an early age,” Holburn said. “Having educational relationships with students in a different country, with different cultures has opened their eyes about what learning looks like on the other side of the world.”

Exposing students to these experiences increases independence and encourages students to ask questions. Holburn hopes to increase her use of technology in the classroom, specifically through personalized learning, a component of blended learning.

Similar to Holburn’s classroom, Kane Hollins of Niwot High School strengthens and reassures his students with autonomous learning opportunities. During his environmental science classes, students engage in laboratory investigations and field experiences. If you were to visit one of Hollins’ classes, you would witness students equipped with cameras and iPads collecting photos and videos of plant life, insects and the surrounding environment to use in the construction of personal websites. Students use these sites to present data findings and create interesting methods of showing their work.

St. Vrain Valley Schools’ recent adoption of Discovery Education’s (DE) Earth Science curriculum, has bolstered the use of more web-based curriculum. Using the DE platform, students can build ‘boards’ – interactive web pages – by assembling photos, videos, podcasts and other visuals with data and essays to display leveled content. As instructors scroll down individual pages, the content transforms from basic concepts to data analysis, lab findings and ultimately, students’ overall conclusions. Since implementing this technique over four years ago, Hollins has noticed vast improvements in student writing.

“I assign writing projects throughout the year, but I’ve come to realize final essays produced by students using this technique tend to be much more polished because it is content they are more familiar with,” says Hollins. “The expectation for students is to develop skills they will need moving into higher education.”

Four years ago, David Kline and Dan Cribby of Westview Middle School were presented with a question from the Estes Park Environmental Center – “What would you do with kids, if you had expanded access to Rocky Mountain National Park?” The two were unsure, but they knew that, between Kline’s audio/video documentation expertise and Cribby’s science coursework, they could create something special and keep middle schoolers engaged. It was then that ‘Plains to the Park’ was born.

Once a month, students from Westview Middle School travel to the park to collect data and place ‘game’ cameras to capture animal behavior patterns. Some students concentrate on documenting the visit with video interviews, photography and acquiring clips of the surrounding landscape. Others record findings and compare the data for later traditional classroom use. The program is wildly popular and continues to provide authentic learning experiences and impact students – approximately 100 thus far.

Moving forward, St. Vrain Valley Schools plans to explore and grow new partnership opportunities with industry leaders, research experts and community organizations. Coupling these valuable relationships with a vibrant Learning Technology Plan, access to world-class technology and educators willing to test the limits within the classroom and beyond, imbues our students with the skills needed to become leaders and contributing citizens.

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