Category Archives: Stories from VT Students

What Orleans students want you to know about student voice


On this episode of The 21st Century Classroom:

It makes me happy to come to school every day, because I show up and I’m like, I know I’m able to do this because I changed the way it was. Like I’m happy that I feel like I’m being heard, like appreciated.

Today we’re going to listen in on a conversation between three students from Orleans Elementary School in Barton, Vermont.

I had the honor of interviewing these students in a very open-ended format that starts with the question “What do you find meaningful about school?” and lets it flow from there. These students talk about about the importance of community, the empowerment of student voice and choice, and offer some brilliant insights about how and why schools can adapt to serve the needs of so-called “troublemaker” students.

Before we start, a little bit about Orleans Elementary School.

It’s home to 125 students from kindergarten to eighth grade, with grades 5-8 considered the middle school. It’s nestled in the part of Vermont referred to as the Northeast Kingdom, within a few miles of the clear cold deep waters of Lake Willoughby. The middle school sits on the second floor of the two story building, with math taught by Shannon Laliberty, science taught by Sarah Hisman, and humanities taught by a two-person team of Andrea Gratton and Kyle Chadburn. These teachers have worked hard to move toward personalized learning practices such as project based learning and increasing student voice and choice.

Personalized learning does not mean individualized learning, though. While you are listening to the conversation, consider this question: How do students see relationships and community as keys for supporting personalized learning? 

Annabelle, an 8th grader at Orleans Elementary School.

Annabelle: I guess I can go first. The most meaningful thing to me about school is probably like, community? Because I feel like I learn better knowing that there’s people there for me? And like, who will help me if I need some help or I don’t understand something. It’s nice. Like, academics are what you’re there for, but it’s nice to have a support system and people that you know you can go to if you have trouble with something.

Braden: One of the things that I find really important is being able to work at your own level. Because you don’t want to be stuck back with things that you know how to do? But you also don’t want to be way ahead of what you know how to do.

Bianca: I think that what’s most important is like… what Annabel said? It’s that you know that there’s people that can help you when you need help or something? When you need to talk to someone or something. I feel like that’s a nice part of it, yeah.

Life: I’m hearing two different things. Help me understand it. Are they in opposition or is there a way they go together? Because Annabelle, you said ‘community’ and ‘working with other people’ — and Bianca, you said that too — but Braden, you said being able to go ahead or behind sounds like individualistic to me. Do these things not go together or what? 

Braden: They can go together. If you’re working at your own level, you may still need a little bit of help understanding something, and if you don’t want help, then you don’t need help, you can just go by yourself.

Annabelle: Yeah. I feel like it’s nice not always having someone like, *there* with you so you can be by yourself and it’s nice that you can go at your own pace. But it’s also nice to know that there’s always going to be someone there if you need to step back and get some help. Or you don’t know exactly what to do. You are an individual but there’s always someone that you know is going to be there for you if you really need it.

Bianca: I like that we can like… we can be independent and we can do stuff by ourselves? But like, there is someone that you can meet to get help from.

Life: Does ‘community’ mean something other than just getting help from somebody with your learning? Are there other ways that you see community in schools being important?

Braden: You can get support from your community, but community will also not only help you, but it’s possible that they’ll try to stop you from doing something that you want to do. Community can be good, but it can also be bad if the community you are around isn’t good.

Life: Yeah I’m gonna need an example.

Braden: I’m talking about a classroom community. You’re in a class, right? And there’s always going to be those couple of troublemakers in your class. And some people will choose to listen to them and it’ll hold them back. Because they are around a good community, they’ll hang around these people that misbehave, then they’ll start misbehaving, then that group sort of grows. And as it grows, there’s less people that will actually behave and listen.

Annabelle: I feel like it’s… another thing that’s for community in school is not just like teachers and students, it’s like students and students. I know that I don’t always need to ask a teacher a question because I know that there’s going to be like, “Oh, I know this kid’s really good at science.” So, since the teacher is busy, I’m going to ask [that student] my science question because I know he’ll help me.

And then also, I feel like teachers are part of your community because when I come into class, they ask me questions like, “Oh, how was your basketball game?” or “I heard that your brother had a concert the other day, how was that? How’s your weekend go?” And it really makes you feel like, welcomed and that they actually care about you. So that’s nice to know that they care about you. That’s community for me.

Life: Is that important for your learning? Or just for like… just feeling good about stuff? ‘Cause I was a math teacher and I definitely knew other math teachers who just say, ‘You know, math is math, and we got to know the math. We’re going to focus on the math, and I don’t necessarily have time for a lot of soft stuff and that kind of thing.’ So, are you saying that when your teachers know you and care about you, that helps you learn? 

Annabelle: Yeah. I feel like because I feel comfortable around them because they know about me and they are curious to know about me, that I feel comfortable asking them questions or telling them stuff that might be preventing me from learning? Like if I go through something that’s like really frustrating or rough, I feel like I can tell them. Because it might be stopping me from learning. Like, if my pet died and I was really upset about it, and I couldn’t focus because I was just thinking about it. I feel like I could tell them about it and they’ll be able to help me and be like, “Oh, it’s okay, we’ll just figure this out and then I’ll help you focus back on your learning.”

Braden: No matter who you are or when you walk through the door, they’ll ask you a question like, what Annabel was saying like, “How was the basketball game?” and stuff like that. I’ve seen them do it to every student.

Bianca, a 5th grader at Orleans Elementary School.

Bianca: Like, in the morning, not when we’re in class, but when we’re outside about to go in? Someone will always be like, “Hey, how was your weekend?” Or “Good morning.” It’s always just good to feel that way, get a good start of your day. 

Life: That’s cool. Are there other things that happen to help community happen other than just teachers going out of their way to check? Are there certain things within school that you feel bring you together as a community?

Annabelle: We do have Town Meeting. Which is basically when we all come together, all the middle school, and the middle school teachers. And we talk about what’s going to happen for the afternoon — because we have afternoon activities about team-building and stuff like that. And we give the teachers suggestions on what we think should change, and–

Braden: –there’s recognitions. 

Annabelle: Yeah, recognitions. We talk about recognitions where they… students and teachers can recognize you for something. So, a week or two ago, there was a kid who recognized someone else just for like holding the door open and just always being kind to them. And so they recognized that. After that, the kid steps forward and everyone claps for him and stuff like that. It’s really nice to feel like everyone can see the good things that you’re doing? And it feels nice to be noticed by everyone.

Braden: Well, also in Town Meeting, we have privilege of the floor. Basically, you go up share whatever you want. And it could be something like: can we try this out? It’s nice to have your own voice in the community as well. Because those ideas will be brought up to Miss Hastings. Then, a couple of students will go talk to her about it, and then we’ll see if it works. We’ll do our trial period, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Annabelle: Like, we used to have a no-gum rule? And a lot of students talked about it, and shared how we wanted to have gum in school again. Because we thought that we were responsible enough to take care of it, and throw it away and be appropriate. So, we talked to the teachers about it, and then they said, ‘Well, get some information together, and then talk to the principal’. And so we talked to the principal, and we shared our feelings and why we thought it would be different this time? And we ended up getting a trial period, and after the trial period, we still are allowed to chew gum in the middle school now.

Life: Whoa. Seriously? That happened this year? 

Annabelle: Yeah. That happened this year.

Life: Nice. So, do you think that student voice is big here? And why is that important?

Annabelle: Student voice is definitely big here because we have changed a lot of things, because not only with Town Meeting, like our classroom, some of our classrooms upstairs, we have couches and beanbag chairs and stuff like that because the students *voiced* that comfortable seating would help us learn. So we helped design and changed all that.

It makes me happy to come to school every day, because I show up and I’m like, I know I’m able to do this because I changed the way it was. Like I’m happy that I feel like I’m being heard, like appreciated. I feel like, I come in everyday — like I’m proud the rooms changed I’m like, now everybody gets to have a good time, and sit on the beanbag chair and read because my class decided that we wanted to change this thing. It makes a better experience because of something that I said and the teachers listened. 

Our last project was about community and we designed our own spaces of how we wanted the room to be and then we picked out the materials we wanted to have. We saw what we could reuse and change? And we created a new learning space for everyone and we researched for a while for it to figure out what would work best for our class, for the rest of the class, for the rest of middle school. And like what would work best to help people learn as well, so we made sure that there were tables, so people could work and sit and there were comfortable sitting spaces where people could read or talk, discuss, kind of thing.

Braden, a 6th grader at Orleans Elementary School.

Braden: You… come to school knowing that you help changed, improved something. But what else is important about student voice is, things aren’t just going to stay the same forever. Things are going to keep changing and improving. And if things just stayed the same forever? Most people say they don’t like school because it’s boring, because they do a bunch of learning and don’t get to have fun. You really come to school to get educated. But here, you get a lot of student voice. So you shouldn’t come to school thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to have to sit down and listen to the teachers all day.’ I get to talk to the teachers and see what I want to change, and bring it up, and if it gets changed then, yay. but if it doesn’t, I’m still fine because I know that other people can still change things in our school.

But what happens when the needs of an individual are not being met?

What happens when the official process isn’t working?

In our democracy we are supposed to leave room for public dissent and protest. What John Lewis famously calls “good trouble.” 

Life: I’m just wondering how this fits in with the troublemakers that you mentioned earlier.

Braden: The troublemakers, people are friends with them who still behave. But over time, they start actually doing what the troublemakers say, and then they are one of the troublemakers. Student voice. And the troublemakers. If one of the troublemakers tries to change something but nobody else agrees, he’ll keep trying. And he’ll keep annoying people. And they’ll keep bugging people until it gets changed. That could definitely get annoying.

Annabelle: I feel like also because we have student voice, some of that like people getting in trouble happens less often than it used to? Because I’m an older kid and I remember when we didn’t have as much choice. And there was kids that used to get in trouble every single day. Because they are a certain type of learner, like they’re a hands-on learner. And they just get talked at every single day. And so couldn’t learn and so they’d get in trouble a lot.

Now that, like, some of the kids that are troublemakers or that don’t learn the same way as others can voice their opinion? And really change how they learn so they don’t get in trouble as much because they kind of are able to understand better? Because of the way it changed. They would have been happy if that one thing was changed. And they probably wouldn’t have gotten into as much trouble.

Life: That’s so interesting. Because it seems like you two have like slightly different views on it, right? I’m wondering, Bianca, what do you think about this idea of troublemakers?

Bianca: I think that the student voice has made the troublemakers, probably who learn different, not get in so much trouble because they get to change things. They actually get to voice what they want to change. Like what Annabelle was saying, I think that they’ve gotten a lot less trouble than they would because they get to change what they want.

Life: Is this convincing you at all, Braden?

Braden: A little bit, but I still think that sometimes they just do it for the attention. So student voice may have no impact on some of the troublemakers at all because they just want attention. But yeah what they said has changed my opinion on it.

Life: Nice job. That means a lot. Not many people can actually be open and listen, and change when they got something.

Amazing, right?

Engaging in dialogue and allowing your opinion on something to change because of it?

More great modeling of what we hope for in a democracy.

This last exchange also connected with the research of Carla Shalaby. She presents it in compelling terms in her book Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School.

Her thesis, drawn from intensive observations and extensive interviews with elementary students, is that we have a lot to learn from students who don’t fit well with school. That they offer insights into how we could transform schools into more humane and democratic environments. It is a powerful and influential study that is well worth reading for educators of all grade levels and roles. At the end of her book, Shalaby adds a letter to teachers. It’s titled “On teaching love and learning freedom.” In it, she says:

“These are times to remember our power as teachers. In no other profession do people have the opportunity to literally create a parallel world – a world that is safer, fairer, freer. The four walls of your classroom can be the world we want, hope for, dream of, rather than the world we have now. It can allow children to practice the skills they need to create and to sustain a place where people are neither shunned nor labeled; a shared, public space in which every community member is treated as a free person, an invaluable person, a gifted and good and loved person.”

Annabelle: I feel like it’s kind of… it’s their job to teach us, but also, it’s our job to learn kind of. Snd if you don’t really listen to us, we’re not going to want to learn from you. Snd we’re honestly probably not going to like you. If you give us the opportunity to try feedback, we’re more likely to listen to you and… we’re more likely to respect you a lot. I respect my teachers a *ton*. Because they listen to me and they make me feel like I’m important and I’m a good human being. So I feel like I respect them a lot and they’ve really like changed my life. Because they let me… say what I think.

Braden: It’s kind of like you respect my opinion and I’ll respect you, in general, because if our opinions don’t get heard like Annabel said, we’re probably not going to like you. If everything is decided by students though, then school wouldn’t be school. It’d just be: you sit and play on phone all day.

Bianca: I think that teachers should think about it like this way: so, if you have a student voice in your school, then it’ll most likely make it easier for you when you grow up because you feel like you can put your ideas out there.

Annabelle: Also, like think of being in our spot, like how great it would feel for you if you were our age and you were able to like change something about your schooling, like if you had one thing that you want to change, and you are able to change that, that would feel really cool and really good, and they might like affect your whole experience. 

Just thank you, literally. Because, before, it was really difficult to learn, so thank you for trying. Like, even if you’re going to get there and even if you’re like you’re trying to figure it out right now? Like thank you for trying and thinking of us. Because it’s really helpful, and yeah. 





Narrator: The 21st Century Classroom is the podcast of the The Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont. This episode about student voice was produced by me, Life LeGeros. Huge thank you to Annabel, Bianca, Braden, and their teachers at Orleans Elementary School. Our theme music is “Sunset” by Meizong and Yeeflex, the Argofox release. The series producer is Audrey Homan. Thank you for listening everybody, and don’t forget to make some good trouble out there.


Connecting Vermont students with dairy farms

There’s more math, biology, and chemistry than you’d think.

It’s a wintry morning in one of the coldest Februarys in recent memory, with the temperature hovering around five degrees Fahrenheit. A cobalt-blue hatchback slowly navigates icy slush on a dirt road, heading toward two silver grain silos. The rutted road winds between deep snow berms, and the small car is packed with local students. At the wheel? The school librarian.

Tiny West Danville, Vermont barely registers on a map. A long gray two-lane highway bisects a landscape of rolling green hills, dotted at intervals with tiny shapes that, if you squint, look a whole lot like cows. Down a dirt road leading off the highway sits one of the state’s oldest dairy producers, Molly Brook Farm. It’s a small organic operation that has a big impact on middle school students from the Cabot School, 10 minutes away. Twice a month, students self-select to go out to Molly Brook and help out with the cows. But who’s helping who? While students get to shoveling, Molly Brook dairy farmers Myles and Rhonda Goodrich have their own lessons to impart.

There’s a lot of learning in the dairy business, and students say even the shoveling keeps them engaged.

Founded in 1835, Molly Brook Farm produces organic milk for a local dairy cooperative, as well as selling Jersey cows famed for their superior genetics. And all of that takes a lot of work.

Down the hill at The Cabot School, the middle grades have been building a service learning project called Cabot Leads. Students apply for any number of jobs in and around the school or community, based on the needs of the school community and their own interests. Jobs like gardener, assistant chef, school photographer, library advisor, or grant writer. And now, cowhand. Students began their work at Molly Brook by each choosing a calf. They’ll follow the calf’s progress as it grows, checking in on it with each visit. At each visit, they work and learn at the same time.

Image: Peter Stratman and Nene Riley. Click or tap to enlarge.


Among the many lessons students learn at Molly Brook:

  • calculations for converting feed to cows (math)
  • temperature considerations for successful storage of bull semen (biology)
  • tracking genetics between cow and calf (genetics)
  • the role of calcium intake in post-partum cow care (chemistry)
  • administration of vital nutrients in emergent cow care (anatomy)
  • cleaning calf pens & filling sawdust bunks (life)
  • safe handling of liquid nitrogen (lab science)
  • potential impact of differential calf evaluation to profit margin (economics)
  • barn design for cow satisfaction and efficiency (math, environmental science)

Did we mention the shoveling?

On one of their February visits, students’ first stop was to check on their pet project calves, ensuring each was eating well and gaining weight. They also posed for updated photos with each calf.

Next stop: a cow who had recently calved. Myles Goodrich explained the symptoms the cow had shown — lethargy, lack of appetite, weakness — then demonstrated how to mix a calcium solution and administer it intravenously.

After that, students visited the main barn, where cows milled around munching on winter hay. Where there’s hay, there’s… post-processed hay… so students got to shoveling. The barn features an opaque roof, designed to maximize the amount of light entering the main area, and students had learned the science behind it in detail on a previous visit.

After shoveling came a brief snack break. Rhonda Goodrich took the opportunity to use that downtime to share the recent results of a visit from the dairy inspector. He’d previously graded some of the cows to a certain standard, but recent marks differed, and Rhonda went over the percentages involved, including the potential economic impact of the change. Students munched crackers and cookies, and sipped hot cocoa, hanging on Rhonda’s every word.

One student, Denver, lives on his family’s dairy farm, and was particularly interested in how Molly Brook’s techniques are different. The two farms contribute milk to different dairy co-ops as well, and Denver can talk at length about the differences that entail. Especially for economics. “Conventional doesn’t pay as much as organic,” he began, “two years ago, in the fall, instead of going down a dollar per hundred pounds, we went down ten, twenty. But then we raised our cow percentage.”

The students’ only complaint?

They wish they could go out to Molly Brook Farm more often.

How could you connect your students with local businesses, organizations, or industries?


Can Minecraft save the world?

These 4th graders say yes.

With a little help from the UN’s Global Goals.

Students at Ottauquechee Elementary School took Minecraft, the popular video game platform, and turned it to something serious: saving the world. They paired Minecraft with the UN’s 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and started creating towns that are innovative, sustainable, and focused on helping communities thrive.

They started by pondering two great big questions:

  • What is a community?
  • What do we value in a community?

As students contemplated these driving questions, they also considered what towns need. They thought about how their ideal community would function. And what it would include. For Ottauquechee students, a Sustainable City or Community includes:

  • a hospital
  • a school
  • green spaces
  • clean water
  • renewable energy sources
  • solar panels
  • an animal hospital
  • a grocery store with fresh fish
  • a farm
  • a beach

Which community asset ties in with which Global Goal?

Students knew they needed more information, so they decided to pull in a community partner with expertise in this area. Who better than someone who does this for their job?

Meet your town planner

Paige Greenfield is the town planner for Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission in Woodstock, Vermont. She visited fourth and fifth grade students to explain first what town planners do. They talked about accessibility for food sources, and how to manage waste and recycling. And at that point, had concrete, real-world information on what makes a town work.

For the younger students, librarian Becky Whitney shared this YouTube video describing the role town planners play in community development.

If you build it, it will work

The students started designing their towns by looking at maps and seeing where towns and building are laid out and what they wanted their towns to look like. Then they applied what they know about Minecraft, the Global Goals, and their 2D designs. Per Ottauquechee librarian Becky Whitney,

“Students used large grid paper to make a 1:1 model of the building they were responsible for making in their community. Then we laid out their plans as they would appear in the Minecraft world, making sure to make intelligent choices as to where everything is located based on our conversation with Ms. Greenfield.”

Staying focused on the big picture

Students had conversations about their values aligning with their design. In Minecraft, your plants keep growing even when you’re not logged in. And so do the animals. And as we learn about resource access, we have to talk about what to do with the excess animals. We have to talk about having an Animal Control Officer in-world. But students and teachers came to the : if we believe in life on land, and life under water if we are creating things for the sake of killing things that is not in line with our values. Big discussions for these elementary school students!

Culminating event

When I showed up in the Ottauquechee library, the place was pulsing with energy. Up on the big screen were the Minecraft worlds that the groups created.

On one side of the floor was their younger buddies: students in grades 1/2 who were there to learn about these projects. Students in K, 1, and 2 paired up with students in 3, 4, and 5 and each group had a chance to present to their buddy grade.. The students took the stage and described the features and buildings they created, along with what Global Goal they were focused on, to the younger students (and vice versa!). Parents, community members, and district administrators looked on, and had the opportunity to assess students on their communication skills. The students were proud of this work, and they excitedly pointed out what they made and why. It was truly using this technology for good — to promote creativity, purpose, and communication skills, not just more screen time.

One of Ottauquechee’s student designers presents to a full room of Vermont educators at Dynamic Landscapes 2019.

In another opportunity to share about this work, students at Ottauquechee had to write a compelling persuasive essay to join the Dynamic Landscapes conference, a statewide education conference, to present about STEAM. A team of eight students came and presented their Minecraft projects to a full house.

Authentic audiences? Double-check!

Tips for teachers

Since Minecraft was designed to be a video game, it takes a bit of finagling to make it useful for this kind of learning and project. Here are some of librarian Becky Whitney’s tips for using Minecraft for education:

  1. Line up  your experts. Here is a real chance to make a connection to careers and local communities. By connecting to the Town Planner, or other community groups, you create relevance and ground the experience in the community, instead of existing solely in the virtual world.
  2.  Create a high-trust environment for students. Establish student-led rules for the Minecraft world. Once students learn that they are using Minecraft for education, and expectations are created for what students can and can’t do as digital citizens, place a high-trust in students. This builds their ability and confidence about engaging in technology for learning.
  3. Present to each other. This is a great opportunity for students to role model using technology collaboratively and positively for other students. Students can present to younger students to foster digital citizenship, empathy, and transferable skills.
  4. Open up assessment. This is an opportunity to invite school staff and community members to help assess students on their communication skills, and to connect with the community about shared goals, such as a healthy, thriving town.
  5. Minecraft hacks (via librarian Becky Whitney!).
  • Understand how to use “cheats” to have more than 5 people join one world
  • Mark which iPad is the “master”
  • Make roads before the students log on so they have somewhere to orient themselves. It’s possible to make street signs or use different color rock to help them locate where they belong on the “street”
  • Make note of defining characteristics to help students remember where they are working

Find out more at the  OQS blog!

How could you use Minecraft to change the world?

What do curiosity projects look like?

“I think every school should do it!”

Soup to nuts, curiosity projects — Genius Hour, 20% time or passion projects by any other name — work for students. At Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School, in South Burlington VT, this year’s Curiosity Projects ran the gamut from robots to cooking shows, electromagnetic studies to YouTube economics. Educators on the Polaris team provided the support and structure, and students put in the work.

The result? Students shared what they studied, what they made and what they learned! The Polaris team hosted an exhibition to showcase the projects. Polaris team families and 5th graders from schools across the district showed up to learn. Students also added the projects to their PLPs and shared them with families in the more intimate setting of student-led conferences.

How to make real, sustainable change in the Northeast Kingdom

Think Global Goals, make local change


The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals are ambitious goals that countries, organizations, and institutions are committed to. They provide a framework that inspires students to connect local issues with global movements, to care deeply, and to make their own a plans for positive change. They include things such as:

  • No Poverty
  • Zero Hunger
  • Good Health and Wellbeing
  • Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • Cleaner Water and Sanitation
  • Gender Equality
  • Affordable and Clean Energy

While these may sound pretty daunting, students around the world are finding them useful in designing projects to improve their own communities. At Burke Town School, in West Burke VT, 8th graders have spent the past year putting the Global Goals into action around their school and community. Here’s how it worked.

Sustain your community garden

Last year, one of the projects the 8th graders at Burke did for Global Goals was to plant a garden — outside the Burke Town Offices. The garden continues to thrive, and Burke’s students continue to stock it with plants and seedlings. Burke Town School has a greenhouse on campus, and this year’s 8th graders have been hard at work planting new seeds and establishing how to add them to the community garden, and who will be responsible for them. They’re hoping to teach their community to take what they need from the garden and contribute to the planting cycle. In addition, the 8th graders are teaching Burke Town School’s kindergarteners the fine art of gardening, passing the message on. It takes a village to sustain a community garden.

Put a beehive on campus

Believe it or not, it is possible — with a few caveats. Burke students worked with principal Stacy Rice on what it could look like to install and maintain a beehive on school grounds. Rice helped students get in touch with the district’s insurance agency, to talk about how they’d need to amend their coverage. And here in Vermont, it’s a state law that if you’re going to put a beehive anywhere, you must inform the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. They just like to keep track. Additionally, whenever the students are outside working with the bees, Burke’s school nurse must accompany them, just in case. “I just want it to be part of the school’s culture, just to be normalized to have a beehive,” said Burke 8th grader Wisteria.

Build bike trails

The Northeast Kingdom boasts some of the best mountain biking trails in the country, including the famed Kingdom East trails system. And most of the Burke students are themselves avid riders. So they decided to build their own trails on school grounds, including berms and jumps. The eventual goal is to connect the Burke Town School trails with Kingdom East. Students believe that having readily accessible bike trails at school supports Global Goal #3, “Good Health and Wellbeing”. They hope it will inspire students and the community to be more active.

Make good art — and help people go see it

One of the concerns Burke’s students have is that their community could use more support with mental health issues. Depression is an issue they see a lot in the area. So to raise awareness of mental health issues and more importantly, to get their community talking about them, students contacted some local artists about installing murals around town. They hope the murals spur conversations around mental health, and normalize asking for help when you need it.  In fact, they are planning a community walk/run between these murals to raise awareness. This group also worked with Up for Learning to learn about restorative practices. They then taught the teachers and younger students how to support each other’s mental health needs.

Plant trees for the future

Concerned about plants in the future? Take action now and get some trees in the ground! Partnering with the Connecticut River Conservancy, Kingdom Trails Association, and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Conservation Group, and “Mad Dog” chapter of Trout Unlimited, (“If you take care of the fish, the fishing will take care of itself.”) students picked up some shovels and got to work, lining a section of the Kingdom Trails bike path with new maples and dogwoods.

Fight hunger at home

Project HOPE is a food shelf serving more than 30 towns across the Northeast Kingdom. In addition to holding a food drive and donating two laundry baskets *full* of food to HOPE, Burke’s 8th graders rolled up their sleeves and turned bakers. Students in the younger grades don’t have a ready source of snacks on Fridays. So with a grant from King Arthur Flour, 8th graders have been making pretzel bites to hold the younger ones over at the end of the week. They also made a huge vat of homemade minestrone soup for Project HOPE’s food pantry. The pantry feeds 15-20 people in the Kingdom each day.

This project-based learning packs a punch

By using project-based learning as a framework for Burke Town School’s Global Goals, educator Morgan Moore provided students with elements key to the impact of the projects.

  • Start with an exciting entry event: At the beginning of the school year, students attended the Cultivating Pathways to Sustainability conference at Shelburne Farms, nearly 100 miles away on the shores of Lake Champlain. They met other Vermont students working on Global Goals and worked with community leaders on strategies for implementing change.
  • Create a driving question: After choosing the most meaningful Global Goals for their local contexts, students brainstormed how those goals could answer a question in the community.
  • Enter the research and creation phase: Students researched how to connect with community partners, and wrote grant applications to fund their projects. They learned from the school how to properly process purchase orders. They made calendars to make sure the work got done on time. Then they did the actual work themselves, digging holes for trees, rolling out pretzels, clearing bike trails, designing murals, assembling a beehive, and planting seeds. Along the way, they documented evidence and reflected on their growth on their PLPs (personalized learning plans). They also considered transferable skills of self-direction, responsible citizenship, and collaboration.
  • Finish with an authentic community sharing opportunity: Burke’s students are returning to Shelburne Farms at the end of the year to share what they’ve accomplished with the same cohort of students from the fall. Additionally, they presented to students from other schools in rural Vermont at the VT Rural Education Collaborative.

How have your students worked on the Global Goals this year?

We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Equity and the in-school business

Mettawee Community School, in West Pawlet VT, loves tradition. They’re a small, tight-knit school in a rural area, and home to two very important traditions: the annual Christmas holiday fair, and the sixth grade trip to Boston. And in order to address inequity in one tradition, they developed a unique solution that tied the two together. Mettawee’s sixth graders staff pop-up stores at the holiday fair, selling handmade items. To make the items, students can draw a loan from the in-school “bank”, of up to fifty dollars. They learn about contracts, and legal signatures, and take it very, very seriously. They know the bank must be paid back by 11am on the day of the fair, and that at the end, all profits from the day are pooled together and divided equally between all students as Boston spending money. 

Economics, equity, pop-up stores and group tie-dye. Here’s how it all fits together.

Leveling the field trip experience

Students in the rural Vermont towns that make up Mettawee’s school district eagerly anticipate the annual sixth grade trip to Boston. For some of them, it’s their first time in a big city. But as anyone who’s chaperoned a field trip can tell you: students have access to wildly different amounts of spending money. And that can cast a pall over the experience. It’s an equity issue. So Mettawee’s sixth grade teachers put their heads together and figured out how to level the field trip playing field in an authentic, learning-appropriate manner. Teachers tell the sixth graders:

“You will all have the same amount of spending money. What’s more — you will earn it.”


As students advance through each grade, the annual Christmas holiday fair is the event of the season. It’s a genuinely joyous occasion. It features an intriguing rummage sale of goodies ranging in price from twenty-five cents to a full dollar, and a hallway of sixth grade pop-up shops. The shops all feature handmade items: tie-dye shirts, candles, birdhouses, dreamcatchers, baked goods, wind chimes, jewelry and tea lights. Holiday carols pipe gently from a side room, and each classroom of Mettawee students takes turns perusing the available goodies. Many students do their full holiday shopping that morning, finding trinkets and baubles at incredibly reasonable prices for family members. Teachers and community volunteers even provide on-site gift wrapping.

But as every small business owner knows, in order to sell product, you have to make product.
And that’s where the bank comes in.

Educators Patty Lea and Alison Zylstra serve as the in-school savings and loan department. Each group of sixth graders can borrow up to fifty genuine American dollars from the bank, with which to produce their products. However, the process is very formal, and ties to learning goals. Students first arrange an interview with the two bankers: a specific time and date to sit down together and talk business. The students must arrive with a business plan, specifying what they’re going to produce, what materials they’re going to need, how much materials cost, what their sale prices will be, the name of their business, and their proposed advertising. Lea and Zylstra review the business plan with students at the appointment, asking questions and prompting deeper consideration.

Once the business plan meets with the bank’s approval, everyone signs a formal contract, specifying how much is being loaned, and that the students understand they have until 11am on the day of the holiday fair to repay the funds. Not all groups take out the full amount on offer, and watching the students realize they should take out only as much as they really need, is part of the process. So too, is the idea of the contract itself. For most sixth graders, this is the first exposure they’ve had to contracts, and a lengthy discussion on the nature of legally binding contracts and who and why you enter into them is provided free of charge. Students sign their names — and for many of them, they have to practice their signature in advance, to meet with approval.

After that, they get to work.

The students have time during the school day to work on their holiday sale products. Part of the bank’s requirement for a loan is that each group must maintain a calendar, indicating when they’ll be working on which parts of the process, and a journal, documenting what they accomplish at each workshop. Additionally, the bank arranges for consultations from the library media specialist on the language of a good advertisement, and from former sixth graders, who offer advice to the new crop of business owners.

The sixth graders have all shopped and participated in the holiday fair as younger students, and that makes them aware just how much is riding on a successful table.

December rolls around, and excitement builds for the holiday fair. The sixth graders begin setting up their tables early that morning, laying out their wares, setting up their signs, putting up decorations and eagerly awaiting the crush of first customers. Shoppers begin to arrive, and the fair gets underway. It’s a mad whirl of students digging for treasures, punctuated by the sharp tear of wrapping paper and the squeak of scotch tape.



Eleven a.m., the golden hour, approaches. Every so often a student darts away from their table, cash in hand, hot-footing it over to find Lea. Lea is the day’s banker-in-charge. She counts out their cash and checks it against the loan paperwork. Then double-checks it.

As younger students who have shopped the student marketplace, these sixth graders are ready. They’ve eagerly anticipated their turn behind the tables, and they’re ready to take it on with the utmost seriousness. And inevitably, every student that we talked to said, “It’s so much more difficult than it looks.”

But it works.

At the conclusion of this year’s holiday fair, all student groups repaid their loans. Then  the bank gathered all the remaining profit into one pool and divides it equally between all 25 sixth graders. This June, when Mettawee Community School descends on the Boston metropolis, each student will be carrying thirty-three dollars in spending money. And they’ll all know they earned every single penny of it.

“Trickledown empathy”

Students learn a ton about economics over the course of the unit, and pick up a number of transferable skills. But they also learn something else: empathy. Says Patty Lea,

“Many kids will say that they have more respect, at the end, for their self-employed parents. Because they have small businesses. And they understand that it takes a lot of organization, time, patience and money, to run a business.”

How do you address field trip equity?

Very few units can school can accomplish so much. Sixth graders learn necessary economics and math concepts. They engage in authentic and purposeful learning that levels the socio-economic playing field on a class trip. And their efforts culminate in a community-level tradition that sparks pride, ownership and efficacy for the whole school.

Educator Patty Lea offers some advice to other teachers looking to try out the in-school bank experience.


Tell us about your school wide traditions that fuel student motivation across the years.

Who are the keepers of your town’s history?

Reviving Manchester’s past through oral histories & 3D printing

place-based learningWith support from the local historical society, 7th graders in Manchester VT set about documenting the history of individual buildings during the town’s 1910 heyday. They went on walking tours, interviewed longtime residents, dug through old historical documents and photos, produced a documentary for each building and even created 3D-printed scale models of each building, for their ongoing town map. And community members, in return, appreciated the interest these students took in the town’s history.

All of which begs the questions: What does it really mean to know your town’s history? And who knows your town’s history?



When the seventh grade team at Manchester Elementary Middle School designed this powerful place-based learning experience, students were highly engaged and motivated by the authentic task. They learned to see town elders as storytellers, keepers of Vermont’s history. They learned cartography, math for 3D printing, interviewing and video production skills. Plus they leveled up on their transferable skills by having to set up the interviews, and manage their project timelines.

But then something unusual happened. Community members became intrigued by the project. They stopped and stared at the collection of young Vermonters busily measuring buildings and shooting video interviews. And they wanted more information about the project. The dialogue expanded, until Manchester’s whole community rallied round the project, and involved themselves in supporting it. Longtime residents and newcomers alike began to see the town — and its young Vermonters — with new eyes. Local legends received validation and recognition for sharing stories of their town’s past. And the two groups, the students and the townspeople, came together in actively documenting a dormant part of Manchester’s storied past.

“These are the people in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood, in your neigh-bor-hoooood”

MEMS educators Kraig Hannum and Scott Diedrich had run the project several years ago, focusing on a different area of Manchester. They began this round by again reaching out to several local historians, including the director of the Manchester Historical Society. The director, Shawn Harrington, recommended that students focus on Manchester’s “Depot district”. At the turn of the 19th century, this neighborhood was bustling due to the railroad and businesses associated with the region’s marble industry. The Historical Society then led students on a walking tour of the district, and provided them with access to photos, maps, blueprints and other documents that could help tell the story.


As students became acquainted with the town’s history, they got into groups and each focused on a particular building or structure.

One group, for example, focused on a still existing building that once housed the town’s steam laundry. It now contains a thirty year-old fixture in the town, Kilburn’s Convenience Store. Manchester resident Cynthia Kilburn opened her store and her stories to MEMS students. She showed them around the building and told them everything she knew about the steam laundry’s vivid past. Her recollections and memorabilia formed the heart of the students’ short documentary film. They combined information from her interviews with the historical society’s archive of documents to produce a heartfelt and compelling video. It was a gift to the town and its residents.

What started as inquiry using local resources became a true partnership between the people of Manchester and the seventh graders in the town. It created a connection and sense of pride between school and community. Teacher Kraig Hannum reflected,

“I’m hoping the community will see that we still value local history – that the kids are out there still learning these things. They are not just on their technology and focused on the here and now.”

Teachers on the team worked overtime to facilitate and coordinate this unit.

Scott Diedrich teaches math and science at MEMS; Kraig Hannum teaches social studies. But for the two of them, combining the disciplines for this authentic integrated unit made sense. After all, the real world doesn’t separate out your math from your history, so why would students’ schoolwork?

As students explored the buildings that made up this important historical period, they learned about scale and measurement. When students went out into the community to interview and research the history of buildings, they also used measurement tools to capture the approximate dimensions of the existing structures.  In their groups, they entered the measurements into free Tinkercad software to design a scale miniature replica. Once they had the scaling correct, students used school 3D printers to create physical models of their buildings. With all of the students working together, the team recreated a largescale map of the Manchester’s Depot as it existed back in 1910. The map currently resides on one wall of Hannum’s classroom, but will soon be on display at the Manchester Community Library.



When all is said and done, this is a project about belonging.

It’s about the sense of belonging that students can feel when they learn more about their town – from its people. That students can feel like a part of that history that matters. And that there’s a sense of mutual respect and honor when we allow young Vermonters to learn and tell its town’s precious stories.

  • How could you engage your students in learning about their local history?
  • In what ways could you collaborate with your historical society?
  • How could 3D printing bring something to life for your students?

Be sure to check out the rest of MEMS’ hyperlocal documentaries! We can’t wait for the next installment in this vivid look at Manchester’s past.

What other ways have you helped your students dig into Vermont’s rich and fascinating past?

How does your district hear from — and listen to — students?

Burke students share their learning with district leaders

How many school board meetings have you sat through where the only voices you heard came from adults? When was the last time your community — in school or out — asked students what they liked about school? And what would you do with that information if you had it? Would it make you a better school leader?


Students at Burke Town School, in Burke VT, had the opportunity to present to leaders of their school district on exactly what makes *their* learning so engaging. They spoke with the school district administrative team and gave presentations based on their work incorporating the UN’s Sustainable #GlobalGoals. As a result, they felt more valued and heard by the district’s leaders.

And the district leaders loved hearing from their students.

At Burke Town School, students tackle project-based learning through the lens of taking the #GlobalGoals and applying them to their school and community. They’re:

  • building a mountain biking trail;
  • preparing an art walk for mental health;
  • learning how to eradicate invasive species;
  • planting a community garden;
  • teaching first-aid to the younger grades;
  • and examining water quality for sustainable fishing.

And they’re finding the work incredibly engaging, and satisfying. So the next logical step was to share their ongoing work — and their satisfaction — with district leadership.

Students prepared slide presentations explaining the work along with slides that stated bluntly exactly what they find engaging and meaningful about the work.

We got to teach classes to the younger kids about our project. And do hands on activities with them …

We got to pick a topic that you cared about and then make a project to help our town. And you cared about this project so whatever you did was engaging.

School boards and other district personnel can be incredibly receptive to this kind of feedback from their students.

Don’t *you* like to hear that what’s working well in projects *you* care about?

Former Burke Town School district board chair Tony DeMasi encourages this kind of student voice at school board meetings and beyond. He helped bring in a student advisory group to the school board for many years, and is a big fan of student voice in district decisions.

How can your students provide feedback to district leaders?

Student-led conferences come to Leland & Gray

Change is hard!

And changing a school procedure that has been the same forever is even harder! Leland and Gray Middle School teachers started planning a transformation this past summer. Their goal? To increase student engagement through student-led conferences.

(Click or tap to enlarge)

The Process

Start with identity.

Middle school students began the year by focusing on identity. Educators charged them with answering the question, “Who am I?”  Specifically: who am I as a learner, a family member, a community member, and a citizen?

Identify strengths and challenges

And learning more about themselves helped students think about their areas of strength and areas for growth. While the original plan was to have students write goals in advance of student-led conferences, time ran short.  Instead, students asked their parents for feedback on their strengths and challenges and used then that feedback when formulating their goals.

Communicate the change

And change is especially unwelcome if you aren’t expecting it!  It’s crucial to communicate the change in plans to parents and community members.  Leland and Gray middle school teachers sent out a letter to let parents and guardians know that conferences would look and feel different.

Prepare and practice!

The first round of student-led conferences can be scary, for both students and teachers.  Scaffolding the process can help.  Students used a script to prepare for the conversation.

And they practiced, a ton, in pairs.  So when the big night arrived, students explained their learning to their parents with ease. (Because they had practiced explaining it to their peers!)

Ask for feedback

Parents AND students were asked for feedback on the new format.  How will you know what went well and what might be improved if you don’t ask?  Leland and Gray middle school teachers know that this process will grow and improve over time, and they plan to use this feedback to revise the student-led conference process.

Celebrate success!

Student-led conferences received amazingly positive feedback from parents.

I liked that my child is engaged in his progress and aware of it. Loved seeing him voice his strengths — good confidence builder!

It involved the student to the point of accountability. My child was not able ot “zone out” from the meeting, and claim ignorance on subjects.

This format forced [student name] to think, process, and articulate who and where he is academically and personally.

Participation in conferences was higher than it had been in recent years.  And students took ownership of their learning!

The athlete, the artist & the PLP

How Passion Projects can fire up a student-led conference

Julia is a student at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School, in South Burlington VT. She’s an athlete and an artist. So for her Passion Project, she found a way to combine the two disciplines.

And embracing these two important parts of her identity gave her a lot more to talk about at her student-led conference than in years past.

For her Passion Project, Julia transformed a photo of herself at a gymnastics competition and reproduced it using buttons. She took Tuttle’s button mural, depicting their new mascot, as inspiration. In addition, her parents had worked on a portrait of Julia using spray-painted pennies. This too served as inspiration.


Tuttle Passion Projects


Once she’d completed her personal button mural, she discovered that she had much more to talk about at her student-led conference with her family.

As Julia herself puts it,

“When you enjoy doing something, you want to talk about it.”

Several teams at Tuttle Middle School are taking a project-based approach to Personal Learning Plans to “hook” students into the goal-setting, planning, and reflection cycle. Check out Julia’s project reflection sheet, below. There you can see how she documented her journey.

Julia's planning document

How can you help students enjoy PLPs and student-led conferences?

What does service learning look like in Vermont?

Leland & Gray students take on a school community makeover

At Leland & Gray Union Middle High School, students decided to make their school a more inspiring place to learn. They put in flower boxes, painted murals, planted a garden, assembled a forest nature walk and built an outdoor classroom — all in one week.

Here’s what it looked like.

Service learning can take many forms, but in Townshend VT, it took the form of adding light, paint, trees and butterflies to the school community.


  • wrote grants;
  • collected supplies;
  • researched flora & fauna;
  • designed murals;
  • cleared trails;

and built an outdoor classroom. All with an eye to making the school a more inspiring place not just for themselves, but for their community. And for the future.

I think maybe the most satisfying part was, like, knowing at the end we’re gonna have a lot more beautiful things, like, on the school campus? And outside in our community.

So, like, later on, when we’re like, seniors or juniors in high school we get to look back and say, like, ‘Oh, we did this.’ And it’s beautifying the community.

–Ansley, Leland & Gray 8th grader

Throughout the process, students planned what roles could look like in their groups, and consistently focused on how each individual contribution could better the school — and surrounding community — as a whole. Seventh grader Enzo explained the goals of the group focused on adding flower boxes to one of the school’s rear entrances:

We’re doing it to make this area beautiful. To make the parents who drop off the kids know that we like the community.

So exciting to see all this hard work come to fruition! Congratulations, Leland & Gray!

What does service learning look like at your school? What could it look like?

Building a chicken coop at The Dorset School


How do you get fresh eggs on a school menu? Students at The Dorset School, in Dorset VT, did it by researching, designing and building their own school chicken coop. They crowd-sourced donations for materials and had some hands-on help from community members, and now The Dorset School is home to some very happy chickens. We talked with some of the students involved in this project, about what they learned.


Any other schools out there with advice for new coop builders?

How to create empathy with your community

Meet the Compassionate Faces of the Shires

community-based learning the humans of burkeHow do your students recognize compassion? Do they recognize it in the faces of your community?

In Manchester VT, one educator set about teaching her students to recognize and honor compassion in community members.
Continue reading How to create empathy with your community

How to build up STEAM

Making time for making at Ottauquechee

makerspaces and project-based learningSTEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics — gives students the opportunity to create. To make. Maybe to fail. To try again! And to make something that improves a condition, solves a problem, or makes the world a better place. But if your school currently doesn’t offer a STEAM time, it can be daunting to figure out where to begin. And that’s where we pick up our story of Ottauquechee School, in Quechee VT, where we used Design Thinking, a portable makerspace and one amazing library space to figure out how STEAM Time could work at this school.

Welcome to Ottauquechee STEAM Time.

Continue reading How to build up STEAM

One mural, multiple legacies

Beyond the Passion Project: Clara wanted to do something amazing for her final Brainado project. She wanted to push herself and leave a “remembrance,” as she called it, commemorating the sustainability program at her middle school. She envisioned painting a Crossett Brook mural on the newly constructed, pristine greenhouse. She only had one small problem: “I have no artistic ability.”

But she went for it.

She found a partner, a community mentor, and unexpected help. She made mistakes and fixed them. And she worked far beyond the project period, up until the last week of school. The mural is amazing to look at but has impact far beyond the visual. Clara thought she was painting her legacy but she was also expressing the legacy of the educators who cared for her.

Continue reading One mural, multiple legacies

Battle Physics at Green Mountain Union High School

Come for the math, stay for the slingshots!

practice for proficiencyGreen Mountain 7th graders and HS physics students apply math and science to a real-world problem: hitting targets.  They collaborate in multi-age teams to design and build projectile launchers.  Then they calculate trajectories and calibrate their creations before taking aim.

Each spring the students take over the Green Mountain Union High School cafeteria to stage an epic competition: Battle Physics. The tournament is a test of their skills: designing, building, computing, and calibrating. The winning team will have to do all of these things well to hit the most targets.

Continue reading Battle Physics at Green Mountain Union High School

Developing empathy for your community

Meet the Humans of Burke

community-based learning the humans of burkeSo many schools operate in isolation from the very communities they are situated in. Do your students know community members? Does your community see your students as young community members?

One small school in Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom interpreted the popular “Humans of New York” project to foster connection between their 8th graders and the town’s community. Meet the Humans of Burke.

Continue reading Developing empathy for your community

Why host a whole-school exhibition?

Providing an arena for powerful family feedback

sharing STEAM projects with familiesSchool exhibitions take work. They take work to organize, schedule, promote and pull off, and they can feel overwhelming from the teacher side. But they also provide a very specific opportunity for students to stand proudly next to the results of all their hard work and say, “Yes. I did this.”

And that can be the best time and place for families to hear the pride in their student’s voice.

Continue reading Why host a whole-school exhibition?

Using student TED Talks to showcase learning

why digital composition mattersTED Talks are short, personal powerful storytelling. Now: how can students use this medium as motivation to learn, to explore their purpose, extend their perspectives and understandings, and develop strong storytelling and presentation skills?

Let’s find out.

Continue reading Using student TED Talks to showcase learning

Should Vermont host the next Olympics?

Manchester’s 6th graders weigh in… to their Selectboard.

Real World PBLTeams of 6th-grade students from Manchester Elementary Middle School researched this question and put their arguments to the town.

Should Manchester VT put in a bid to host a future Winter Olympics?

Continue reading Should Vermont host the next Olympics?

What if you could have Town Meeting Day every week?

A Vermont tradition comes to the classroom

Town Meeting Day is a Vermont tradition: once a year, everyone in towns across the state pack into the town hall and talk face-to-face about the issues affecting their community.

But Warren Elementary School, in Warren VT, holds Town Meetings on a weekly basis, using the tradition to cultivate citizenship and community.

Continue reading What if you could have Town Meeting Day every week?

Green Mountain’s Wilderness Semester

Take student learning outside

Wilderness SemesterStudents at Green Mountain Union High School demonstrate learning in Science, Social Studies, Health, and Language Arts over the course of a semester. But for one group of students, there are no barriers between subjects, no bell schedule, and no borders on their classroom.  Much of their learning happens out of doors, either in the 200 acres behind the school, on the Long Trail or in other outdoor locations.

Welcome to Wilderness Semester.

Continue reading Green Mountain’s Wilderness Semester

How can students teach educators about social identity?

A trio of Tuttle 6th graders led educators from around Vermont through activities in bias-awareness and social identity at the 2018 Middle Grades Conference. And what they learned from those educators is every bit as powerful as what the educators learned from them.

Continue reading How can students teach educators about social identity?

Sharing your school’s Passion Projects

Does your community know you as a learner?

taking Genius Hour school-wideFlood Brook School buzzed with excitement. Students brought in their projects on tables or on carts, the weight sometimes shared with friends. As they set up their displays, parents, teachers, younger students and community members milled about, waiting for the opportunity to learn more about student projects and process. One student fired his trebuchet in the center of the room to great fanfare.

And over the course of the hour, these students described their learning to an eager and curious community. Continue reading Sharing your school’s Passion Projects

The value of a community mentor

How did an 8th grader turn his passion project into a summer job?

the value of a community mentorI found Connor in the tech ed room during the first session of Brainado, a school-wide Genius Hour at Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, Vermont.

He was taking apart a lawn mower. When asked why, he shrugged and mumbled something about how another student might need an engine part for their project. His Brainado project was undefined. He didn’t seem to have much of a plan other than tinkering.

Fast-forward four months and Connor is getting paid to work part-time at the Waterbury Service Center garage. He knows his way around the shop, has learned about persistence and problem-solving, and gleaned plenty of life lessons from Albert Caron, the owner and lead mechanic. But how did Connor get from Point A to Point B?

Continue reading The value of a community mentor

Race Against Racism VT

It all starts with an idea. Races Against Racism have taken place around the country, and last spring, a community member and organizer Henry Harris suggested that 15-year-old Hope Petraro organize an event in her community. He said she might be interested in having this event in Montpelier. That was just the spark she needed.

Since then, Hope, with the support of her teachers and community mentor, has created an important event to fight back against racism during a time when our country is seeing a resurgence of racial conflict.

Continue reading Race Against Racism VT

The student architects of Shelburne VT

Making math real-world relevant

real world project-based learningWould you tell the school board how to redesign your school? Students at Shelburne Community School, in Shelburne VT, did just that.

They were tasked with redesigning the school’s outdated “kiva” space. Using Google Sketch-Up, they created three different designs for renovating the space, and presented those designs to a panel of local architects, and their school board.

Continue reading The student architects of Shelburne VT

The #everydaycourage of trying again

Seeing failure as iteration

#everydaycourageA trio of students at Crossett Brook Middle School, in Duxbury VT, have spent the past two years building a go-cart. When their first cart snapped in half on its maiden voyage, the students took that incident as a challenge, and the next year, they figured out what had gone wrong, and better yet, what would make it go right.

And the results have to be seen to be believed.

Continue reading The #everydaycourage of trying again

Study National Parks with digital tools

Student-created virtual park tours

With access to online and tablet-based tools for digital curation and content creation, students can research the history, challenges and attractions of one of our nation’s 58 (!) National Parks. Under the rubric of planning a visit to them, students can answer an essential and timeless question: What features make National Parks special and worth saving?

It’s almost as good as being there. Especially if you’re trapped in snow and/or don’t have your driver’s license yet. Let’s roll!

Continue reading Study National Parks with digital tools

Making a difference with watershed science data

Students partner with local scientists in collecting, analyzing & disseminating water data

interpreting watershed science dataA group of 7th and 8th grade students took a trip through the full cycle of scientific study this past year. Edmunds Middle School students partnered with the UVM Watershed Alliance to study the Lake Champlain Direct and Grand Isles Basins, very specifically, the Potash Brook that runs close by the school.

At the conclusion of the project, they presented the outcome of their studies in a variety of different ways, leveraging online tools to maximize the impact of their dissemination.

Continue reading Making a difference with watershed science data

Global storytelling with a green screen and iPads

Send your students around the world to tell their stories

global storytelling with a green screenThese 6th graders found a way to do some digital global storytelling with a green screen and their iPads.

They also managed to bust Tellagami’s animated personas out of the tablet, sending them around the world with a little green-screen magic.

Continue reading Global storytelling with a green screen and iPads

How to: showcase community interviews with digital tools

Meet the digital anthropologists of Cabot, Vermont

In fulfillment of their project-based learning research this past spring, this pair of middle school students decided to learn more about different regions of the U.S. by interviewing members of their small, rural Vermont town who had lived in those communities. They took the resulting interviews and embedded them in this Thinglink:

We recently had a chance to sit down with these students and get them to share how they pulled this amazing project together.

Continue reading How to: showcase community interviews with digital tools

Authentic cell biology with Notability on the iPad

This spring, Nancy Spencer and her class discovered something amazing about their cheek cells.

The students discovered that by placing the lens of their iPad cameras directly against the eye-piece of a microscope, they were able to take photos of cells that had, until five minutes earlier, been a part of their bodies.

And Spencer discovered that by letting her students lead and giving them the freedom to experiment with technology in their hands, she could still be surprised by what they came up with.

Notability on the iPad

“It’s very exciting that, in all these years I’ve used microscopes, this is the first time for combining the microscope with technology on a personal level,” Spencer commented. “Sometimes I’ve had one in class where I’ve been able to project it onto the screen. But to enable the students to really capture the cells, and put it on Notability? I was able to have them label it and have them write the structure and function of that organelle.”

In this classroom, educator and students discovered that authentic cell biology was possible. It makes a difference when the data you gather is about yourself.

What they did:

  • Students swabbed the insides of their cheeks and prepared the cells on microscope slides;
  • Then they placed their iPads’ camera up against the eyepiece of the microscope and took a picture of the slide’s contents;
  • They used the Notability iOS app to mark the different parts of the cell on their digital image, write up the experiment and share it with the educator;
  • Finally they saved their Notability notes to their digital portfolios. The students had previously prepared and examined plant cells, so they were able to compare the cell structures of animal vs. plant cells.

Connect with them:

Mrs. Spencer’s 7th grade scientists would love to hear from any class who replicate their cell biology experiment.

If you and your students elect to take the cheek-cell-Notability challenge and are willing to share your experience with Mrs. Spencer’s class at Harwood (Skype! G+ Hangout!, Facetime!, just a blog post!) please get in touch.

Who cares about copyright?

These VT students do.

As you can see from the video below, users care, creators care, this class of 6th graders from Hunt Middle School cares, and they’ll tell you why you should care too. A big thank you to Kathy Hevey and her students for being willing to share their work.

We promise to cite you appropriately, every single time.

who cares about copyright

A great reminder about respecting copyright while remixing source materials in the classroom. This video was originally created in partnership with local public access station RETN.