Reinventing the Toolbox

Sixth grader shows how St. Vrain Valley Schools’ voter-approved
technology investments are paying off for students and teachers alike.

  • Abel Jimenez demonstrating available learning technologies at Trail Ridge Middle School.

  • Written by: David Port
  • Photos by: Kerri McDermid

It has been a busy year for Abel Jimenez.

He has written computer code to program a robot. He has helped produce a commercial. He has even developed his own plan to save the endangered giant panda. And he has done it all as a sixth grader.

Abel, a student at Trail Ridge Middle School in Longmont, is too young to have experienced what school was like before computers and the internet changed everything. But he says learning “is way more fun” as a result of the tech tools he and kids throughout St. Vrain get to use both inside the classroom and out.

Among Abel’s favorite sixth-grade projects was one in which he and a classmate developed an imaginary island in social studies. Then, for the language arts component of the project, he used the iMovie app to produce a commercial to promote the island. But the one he says he liked best involved writing computer code to control a miniature rolling robot called Sphero as part of a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) project about endangered species. “It was really cool to see the different ideas kids had to save animals,” Abel says.

Abel, his classmates and their teachers have access to learning tools like iPad minis and Spheros thanks to grants and voters across the school district who in 2012 approved a measure to give St. Vrain the means to invest more in technology. Now, almost four years later, students and teachers alike are armed with a whole new set of tech tools. From 3-D printers to programming software to, yes, robots, classrooms are seeing clear benefits from the district’s Learning Technology Plan.

“Incorporating technology into daily lessons has increased student engagement and allowed my students to problem solve and troubleshoot while sharing their learning,” observes Erin Elsen, who teaches sixth grade language arts at Trail Ridge. “And as an educator, it is great, too, because it has reinvigorated me as a teacher, challenging me to discover new ways to teach lessons that build foundational skills, but in a more engaging and meaningful way. Technology also provides access to vocabulary and auditory support within the digital materials. This helps all readers access rigorous curriculum and discuss challenging texts in and out of the classroom.”

While tech tools are nice to have, the real impact comes in integrating those tools with the blended learning philosophy that schools across St. Vrain follow. Blended learning combines supervised learning in the classroom with online instruction, allowing students to choose their learning place, pace and path. It relies on a multidisciplinary approach, explains Elsen, where students like Abel get to tackle projects that integrate elements of various subjects, from language arts to social studies to science.

One reason the tech-empowered blended learning approach used across St. Vrain is resonating at Trail Ridge, she says, is because access to digital and online learning resources gives students greater freedom to work at their own pace, take their own path of discovery and incorporate their individual learning styles. “Tech-based assessment resources such as iReady, discussion posts and writing projects, enable me to determine students’ strengths and needs. I have created menus of knowledge-level tasks, so students can work independently. Meanwhile, I meet with small groups for focused reading and writing instruction.”

With personalized attention like that, augmented by the tech tools he gets at school and his own ingenuity, who knows what cool stuff Abel Jimenez will produce as a seventh grader. How far will it carry him toward his dream of someday becoming a chemical engineer?

By the Numbers: District Technology

assignments turned in digitally via Schoology, St. Vrain’s Learning Management System
files uploaded to Schoology, St. Vrain’s Learning Management System
managed licenses for iPad mini learning apps with our Mobile Device Manager
tablets and computers in use across the district

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