All posts by Lucie deLaBruere

Loving learning and the powerful learning that technology makes possible. I'm currently a freelance digital age learning specialist who is passionate about learning, digital equity, student leadership, creativity and innovation in our schools, and so much more. We currently live, learn, and work from our 1983 BlueBird Wanderlodge. Keep up with where the bus is currently parked at I blog about education and technology at creativity and innovation at girls and technology at

North Country Flexible Pathways

The fifteen year old boy slowly hobbled from the parking lot to the school’s main office, stopping to adjust his crutches.  He was welcomed by the school’s Flexible Pathway Coordinator, Ian Dinzeo for their 10 o’clock appointment.  They both sat down, masked,  at opposite ends of a table in the school cafeteria – which offered more room to spread apart than the coordinator’s small office.  Mr. Dinzeo  listened as the young man described the challenges of navigating a traditional school schedule, physical therapy, and family concerns about COVID.

With an expanding Flexible Pathways Program Flexible Pathways program in place, Mr. Dinzeo was able to offer this student options that kept him in the game of school during an especially  challenging time.  The 18 different pathways now available at North Country Union High School students didn’t just happen overnight. 

The program grew strategically from the right combination of leadership,  passion, and increased need for more flexible options for students. 

Similar to many other schools in the state, North Country Union High School  started to research different approaches to Flexible Pathways in response to  Act 77 in  2013.  For several years, Flexible Pathways opportunities in the school were coordinated by a guidance counselor and a half time Work Based Learning Coordinator.  After the school hired  Ian Dinzeo as its full time Coordinator,  the Flexible Pathways Program blossomed serving over 1000 instances a year of students taking advantage of more flexible learning opportunities. 

North Country Flexible Pathways
Click or tap to enlarge.

As North Country educators immersed themselves into the developing proficiency based graduation requirement, Chris Young, principal, saw the growth of “a widely held belief in our school that we need to provide as many ways as possible for students to meet graduation proficiencies. This set the Flexible Pathways up to be the main vehicle that we use to get to more transferable skills level proficiencies rather than just content level proficiencies.” 

Listening to Principal Young, it’s obvious that he has an innovator’s mindset with a bias towards action.  He describes himself as a leader that is “comfortable living with some ambiguity and not putting up artificial barriers to implementing some of these program.”  He is committed to providing the Flexible Pathways program the freedom and support to continue to build opportunities so that students have access to a lot of different ways to get where they want to go”. 

It is obvious that passion of the school leaders, the staff, and students are key contributors to the growth of the Flexible Pathways program. “Our flexible pathways program would not be successful without the contributions of the majority of teachers and staff within the building,” says Dinzeo.  “The more the faculty and staff believe these pathways are to educational benefit to our students the better. During my first year we were still targeting a small number of Teacher of Records for our independent studies, that pool has grown over time as more of the staff started to buy in.”

“With staff buy in comes student buy in. I strongly believe we have the buy in from the majority of our staff that this is a viable educational option for our students without the loss of academic rigor. If a certain pathway lacks the rigor or something else the staff is not shy about providing feedback. This leads to the overall improvement of said pathway and the betterment of the pathways program as a whole.”

Ian’s passion for meeting student individual learning needs as well as his leadership skills stand out. His previous experience as the school’s athletic director serve him well in this role. He understands that to grow and sustain a program, you need a strong base of participants, visible wins, and community support.  He’s no stranger to motivating students and teams; he applies the same strategies he used on the athletic fields to academics.  

North Country Flexible Pathways
Photo credit: Ian Dinzeo

His active listening skills help him identify students’ personal interests, which he uses to motivate students to set achievable goals and create a plan to meet those goals.  Instead of recruiting coaches, he now recruits teachers and community members  to support students in reaching individualized goals through a wealth of flexible options ranging from more structured non-traditional programs to a student’s  individual pursuit of their passion or  interest.

More structured options like North Country Arts and Communication Academy, The STEM Academy, The Kingdom Course, or even the local Career and Technical Education program  bring together students with similar interests.  Some options (community service and mentoring programs) have  been put on hold due to COVID.  The school also offers students an opportunity to select either “structured” or ‘student designed” independent study options. 

Principal Young, also acknowledges that a key area he can provide support in is to build systems  where educators’s commitment to flexible pathways are sustainable.  Ideas for growing a pool of ‘teachers of records” for student independent projects range from providing stipends for teachers to tapping into school leaders to supervise independent studies. 

COVID and the school response to the pandemic created an even greater need for flexible options for students.   With several families choosing remote only options for their student, North Country High School’s Flexible Pathway option was in high demand. The program quickly added distance learning pathway offerings from Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative and Edmentum. Fifty eight students are currently engaged in the distant learning pathway. 

North Country predicts that COVID will  also increase the demand for credit recovery options.  High school principal, Chris Young is putting together a team to create multiple credit recovery pathways to meet the upcoming need.  The school’s well developed Flexible Pathway program will be instrumental in that process. 

Ian understands that each pathway has different logistical needs; although some translate from pathway to pathway some needs do not and it still takes time to tweak pathways and have them grow. He’ll bring his experience planning, piloting, reflecting with others, and  making changes to the process of preparing additional flexible learning opportunities for students as the school prepares for post-COVID learning. 

Ian is determined that as the Flexible Pathways program continues to expand, it will always be centered around student voice. Noticing that a teacher voice easily overshadows student voice in the design of a personalized learning plan, Ian has adjusted the process of engaging a teacher to support a student’s individualized project plan.  “We use to bring in an educator early into the planning process of a individual student project.  I now work with the student to design a draft of their plan before we bring in a supporting teacher,”  explains Ian. 

As the options for Flexible Pathways continue to grow, it will be important to start preparing students to use their voice and leverage these options by advocating for their own learning needs.  Middle school passion projects or genius hour projects can help create  a mindset where students take accountability for communicating what they need and become designers of their learning.  “Every single kid ought to be reaching out to their teacher with something — specific question about science problem, an assignment, or a bigger problem like I need to meet graduation proficiencies,” explains Principal Young.  

“The good news is that during our pandemic response, we got really good at identifying the most important things a student had to learn,” he continues. “We now have a tighter more accurate description for the portrait of a graduate. Flexible pathways provide ways for students to develop the transferable skills proficiencies that are part of that portrait.” 

Use your makerspace for instructional shifts this year

It’s that time of year again! Time for New Year’s resolutions!

Could you use a little boost as we kick off the new year? Then why not visit your school’s makerspace? Did you know that you can use your makerspace for instructional shifts?

This includes shifts to:

There’s a reason that more health club membership sales occur in January.  And those reasons are very similar to the reasons a makerspace can help you stay on track with your instructional shifts in 2020!

Health clubs provide support and remove barriers towards reaching your goals. They’re stocked with tools you might not have at home (due to cost or space).  They’re filled with inspiration and community working towards their own personal goals.  And there are personal trainers with expertise available if you need a little help getting started or getting ‘unstuck’.

Are you working on a  shift towards a more constructivist learning environment? 

We all know that “they who do the most work, do the most learning”, yet so often we as teachers feel we need to know ‘how’ to do every tasks we expect our students to complete.  Sometimes our inner voice prevents us from moving forward with a new idea. “If we don’t know ‘how’ to do it ourselves, how will we help them when they get stuck.”  It’s hard to shake the imposter syndrome that comes when everyone in the room looks to you to be the expert.  Sometimes our students expect us to have the answers.

In a makerspace, the expectations shift.

The tools are not the same ones found in traditional classrooms. The understanding is that these are “new” tools and “old” tools with new possibilities and that we will be learning together. We will be learning ‘just in time’ as we need, rather than “just in case” we might need this skill someday. Students step up to the plate to figure out how to use a new tool or process  and are happy to show you what they figured out.

Are you trying to make the shift towards more project based learning?

making with cardboard
Game Design Prototypes at Proctor Elementary School

Do you have an idea for designing a project based learning experience, but wondering where you will get the tools or expertise to pull it off?  Are you concerned about the space for creating and making projects, or perhaps for storing projects in progress? Are you wondering where you might find the supplies you’ll need?  A school makerspace might not have every tool or supply you need, but they can remove some of the barriers. When you need a hole punched in a plastic bucket, someone pulls out a hand drill. Or someone adds it to the list of tools that you need to get.

Sometimes a quick shout-out to our school community brings in just the tools or expertise you need.  Many parents, grandparents, and community members have tools they no longer need or skills they’d like to share. And many would be more than willing to share their skills or be an extra set of hands during project time. Engaging your community? Is using your makerspace for instructional shifts.

Are you looking for ways to include more inquiry based learning in your classroom?

Makerspaces in our schools are evolving. They are not a silver bullet.  You might not find all the “answers to life’s most persistent questions” — but what you will find is a MAKER MINDSET. In most school makerspaces, you will find design thinking at play, where both students and educators are asking questions that start with those powerful 3 words – HOW MIGHT WE?  

design thinking bulletin board
Bulletin Board at Grand Isle School
  • How might we store student projects in a way that makes it easier for them to continue their projects over time?
  • How might we create an artifact that uses light to helps us visualize the impact of our personal use of plastics across the world?
  • And how might we create a learning experience that plays to the strength of learners not currently being reached in our classroom?

Makerspaces provide some very tangible hands on ways to learn design thinking.

What starts off with a straightforward design challenge —  “How might we create a cardboard chair that meets the needs of a storybook character or puppet?” becomes a challenge for moving towards real-world problem-solving.

It’s the first question in an inquiry that winds up being more along the lines of: “How might we spend more time on the mountain and less time getting everyone on the bus that goes to the mountain on our school ski days”?

Do your goals include a shift towards more student choice and voice?

Grands Isle students
Students designing wearables at Grand Isle School

Makerspaces can provide your students with the inspiration they need to move beyond a PowerPoint presentation as a way to show what they know. As you walk through a school makerspace, the materials and tools available might be just what you need for them to come up with new options for student choice.

  • Does the green screen inspire you to create movies with settings in places you can’t travel to?
  • Does a microphone and wind-shield inspire an idea for a podcast episode?
  • Or does a 3D printer inspire your students to design a new solution to a pesky problem?
  • Does a sewing machine inspire an idea for designing a new wearable?
  • And that a pile of cardboard and some cardboard tools: can you imagine some new prototypes?

We all need inspiration!

Take a walk to your school’s makerspace and take the time to play with materials and tools?  Take on a few creativity sprints?  Something as simple as “How many ways can you think of for using a paperclip?” can reach a whole new level when you try them in a school makerspace..

Are you looking for tangible ways to reach more students through Universal Design for Language?

A makerspace can provide educators for new options for creating multiple means of representation. What if you could 3D print a calculus equation to students could feel it between their fingers?  What if you could laser-cut a puzzle that helps students learn new vocabulary?


Monkton Central School student includes a 3D printed prostethic in her science inquiry project

A makerspace can provide students with multiple means of expression.

Might students use paper circuits to illuminate a statement related to their current unit of study? Could students use micro-processors to create an interactive poster? Might they build a 3D printed model of a solution that might enable others.  Could they build a cardboard prototype of an  invention or design a 3D model of a tool from a historical era?

A makerspace environment is the perfect setting for multiple means of engagement.

Just as a health club might be the perfect place to help with your personal New Year’s resolution, a makerspace can help you with your professional resolution. Use your makerspace for  instructional shifts you know are good for kids. A makerspace can provide support and remove barriers towards our goals.

maker burke school
Community mentor and school board chair Anthony DeMasi working with students at Burke Town School

What are you waiting for?

Is there a makerspace in your school or community that could help you meet your goals in 2020?  If not, why not make your new year’s resolution creating one in your classroom or school?

How making supports integrative and informed thinking

Makerspace learning at Proctor Elementary

makerspaces and project-based learningIn this final post of our series on how maker-centered learning can help students develop transferable skills, we take a look at Integrative and Informed Thinking.

During EMMA’s visit to Proctor Elementary School, in Proctor VT, the potential for maker-centered learning to support students’ integrated and informed thinking really came to life. Once again, the Design Thinking process was used to guide the making, providing a structure within which students could build knowledge and systematize their thinking.

Continue reading How making supports integrative and informed thinking

How making supports service learning

Responsible and involved citizenship in Grand Isle

a model for service learningWe’re looking at how maker-centered learning and makerspace activities can help support students in developing Vermont’s five transferable skills. We’ve looked at clear and effective communication, self-direction, and creative and practical problem-solving

In this post, we recount EMMA’s visit to Grand Isle School, where teachers and students used making as part of service learning and provided evidence of responsible and involved citizenship.

Continue reading How making supports service learning

Maker-centered learning and transferable skills:

Making as evidence of problem-solving

makerspaces and project-based learningIt’s quite easy to see how making often takes students on new journeys, where their imagination provides opportunities to exercise the transferable skill of creative and practical problem solving. 

After a visit by EMMA, students at Malletts Bay School, in Colchester VT, were inspired to use their new skills to create an interactive display for their whole school community.

Continue reading Maker-centered learning and transferable skills:

Making as evidence of self-direction

The Maker Movement & Transferable Skills, Part 2

makerspaces and project-based learningWe’re looking at how maker-centered learning provides opportunities for students to develop the Vermont Agency of Education’s five Transferable Skills, starting with Clear and Effective Communication.

Today we continue our series with more examples. Our mobile making lab’s visits brought forth evidence of students taking charge of their learning. Students became more and more self-directed as their capacity and confidence around making grew. This was particularly evident during EMMA’s visits to the so-called “Northeast Kingdom,” the most rural area of Vermont.

Continue reading Making as evidence of self-direction

The Maker Movement and transferable skills

Making as evidence of transferable skills around Vermont

makerspaces and project-based learningDuring the past year, EMMA has visited schools around Vermont to fuel the conversation about maker-centered learning.

As we reflected on each of EMMA’s visits, we continually noticed that maker centered learning provided evidence of students applying cross-disciplinary transferable skills.

Continue reading The Maker Movement and transferable skills

Beyond Bling: how do we deepen Makerspace learning?

How do we move all new learners to the deep end of the pool?

how do we deepen Makerspace learning?
Photo by Cecilia Denhard. CC 2.0

As I walked through an innovation showcase at SxSw 2015 (one of the the largest convergences of creative and critical thinkers last March) I was struck by the juxtaposition of two tables that were adjacent to each other.

One offered “Creative Circuit kits provide girls with all of the materials to make 10+ arts, crafts, and fashion projects with technology” the other offered “opportunities for students to replicate experiments you perform in your classrooms using an Arduino kit and a sensor kit on a nano-satellite via Nasa’s CubeSat Launch Initiatives.”

As a long time advocate for initiatives that increase the confidence and skills of girls with technology, I appreciate that the “creative circuit kit” might provide a great opportunity to engage girls with technology, but I find myself concerned that it would be easy to gain a false sense of accomplishment if we don’t move beyond ‘bling’.

I find myself wondering what are the steps that connect the excitement from “blink blink” to the curiosity that leaves you wondering “what type of sensor do I need to create an experiment that I can test in space?”

Continue reading Beyond Bling: how do we deepen Makerspace learning?