Category Archives: ThisIsVTED

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?


How to do a library diversity audit

7 tips for educators

Create a place where all students lives are seen and valued.

Ottauquechee students with new books purchased based on their research. High interest!

Expand the idea of what is possible in your classroom or school library.  Every student should be able to see aspects of their lives reflected in the books, media and resources they interact with. But they should also be exposed to stories from different perspectives.  Rudine Sims Bishop describes the role of diverse literature this way:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.

One way to do that is to have learners lead the inquiry charge by analyzing what books are in the collection, and whose stories might be missing. And then? They can do something about it.

One way to learn about library audits is by seeing one in action. Change-agent and book hero Becky Whitney shared how she launched a full-fledged library exploration with her students, the Diversity Detectives. Now read on to learn how YOU can do a library diversity audit. This is meaningful and critical work with students.

1. Remember the WHY

One look at this data and it is easy to remember WHY this work is so critical.

Becky reflects on the deep purpose of why it is important to expose students to a variety of texts from historically underrepresented and marginalized authors and topics.

There’s so many people in Vermont, in Hartford, who grew up in Hartford, and go to Hartford schools, and they still live in Hartford, and now they teach in Hartford, and that isn’t — it’s not enough exposure to the wider world.  If they don’t have those life experiences, then where else can they get that information? So students and teachers have to get it through books.

In fact, as author, educator, and producer Tananarive Due says,

‘Diversity’ should just be called ‘reality.’ Your books, your tv shows, your movies, your articles, your curricula need to reflect reality.

Diverse collections provide us with the opportunity to see ourselves in the books, and also to see others.  Study after study shows that reading (especially fiction) builds empathy and emotional intelligence.  Libraries then are key to developing these skills in the learners they serve, and developing robust collections that are representative of our larger culture are imperative!

But diverse collections have other positive impacts as well.  Studies have linked them to increased academic performance, social-emotional learning, career and college readiness, and engagement in reading. Diversifying your collection is a win on all counts, and this is real work that your students can do!

2. Find the leaders of this movement

Many activists, scholars, and educators have been leading the way in promoting a diverse books and the auditing of school libraries. Educators beginning this process can find allies and experts who are doing the work, daily, and sharing their knowledge. On Twitter, search out the hashtags #disrupttext and #weneeddiversebooks. Find authors, literacy advocates and scholars to connect with and gain inspiration from (find Dr. Debbie Reese, Dr. Lara M. Jimenez, Mike Jung and Lyn Miller-Lachman to start with!). Remember you’re not the first person to tackle this issue. Listen to the people who’ve already been putting in time.

3. Give students choice – then share with each other

Becky noticed that students were not uncomfortable with this project, and she thinks it has to do with the level of choice she was giving them. Students were able to pick the area they wanted to explore, and then learned from others. The focus could be based on their interest, but expand to include what they are learning from the data and each other.  Students could explore a topic such as gender representation in different ways: Do we have any female protagonists in the action/adventure section? Do we have any mysteries that have female protagonists? Or you could even look at the authors. How many women are writing sports books? 

This questionnaire focused on cultural responsiveness is one way to consider choices for your learners:

Here are some additional lenses through which students could choose to focus their work:

  • Holidays: which holidays are represented in our collection? Which ones are missing?
  • History: what historical events are represented?  Where are there gaps?
  • Science: what scientific innovations and scientists are represented?  Who and what might be missing?
  • Biography: whose life stories are on the shelves (gender, race, nationality, ability, sexual orientation, etc.)?  Whose stories would make our collection more representative of the larger world?
  • Sports and hobbies: what sports, hobbies, and special interest areas show up on the shelves?  What’s missing?

There are so many ways to examine the collection. Allowing students to choose their area of interest increases engagement and focuses their work.

4. Treat learning about diversity just like any other learning


Critical text analysis, creating and analyzing data, and deep dialogue are part of a robust education, and this project is an example of that. Becky used her normal way of communicating with families about this unit: the Facebook page, the blog, and the newsletter. This way, she wasn’t framing this work as “controversial” but just part of the library curriculum and learning. And in fact, examining a library collection for bias isn’t controversial.  Fewer than 2% of librarians surveyed find building diverse collections “unimportant,” while 94% find this work important or very important.  If you are concerned about negative parental feedback, host a parent night to provide information and answer questions or concerns. 

5. Find school and community partners in this work

library diversity audit
John Hall (kneeling, right), chair of the committee for Racial Inclusion and Equality in Hartford VT, joined Ottauquechee students for their discussions around inclusion and equality in their school library catalog.

A student-led library audit is an excellent opportunity for engaging local community partners! Becky shares:

I would recommend incorporating as many people as you can. It would have been really nice if I could have worked out a way to incorporate more people in the school, so that more people are aware of what I’m doing, and maybe — those conversations could trickle out into other areas. It’s like a conversation-starter if they’re studying something else. And then bringing in the gentleman from the Hartford committee, that was really powerful, and it helped open, potentially open a door for this further conversation about this entire idea in schools.

Students can work with experts to develop recommendations for weeding and adding to the collection.  Local historians, scientists, and professionals can share their expertise.  Discipline-specific experts in the school district might help students as they examine discipline specific books.  And Vermont organizations can weigh in on increasing diversity about specific issues.  Consider this list of possible partners:

6. Your students CAN do this

Book purchases based on students’ research and a desire to make the library a place where all students can see themselves and others. Click or tap to enlarge.

Many people think that younger students are not ready for this kind of inquiry and these issues. But Becky finds them eager and open participants and researchers in the work, and finds this age to be the perfect time to engage in inquiry and discourse:

It’s kind of like the whole goalkeeper thing, too, when you say to them “who’s going to solve this problem?” They’re like “us, we are, we’re going to solve this problem. We are the goalkeepers, we’re the game-changers. We’re going to solve this problem.” I just think that they are — they’re really, they’re very aware of what is right and wrong. They are very passionate about justice.

Studies show that kids are aware of differences from a very early age.  Work like this helps them make better sense of the world and build their capacity for understanding difference and taking action when they notice bias and inequity.

7. Remember to ask: what do the students think?

library diversity audit

Students are key partners in this work. They are learning to navigate information, representation, and are often grappling with their own identities and societal norms, pressures, and current events. Be sure to check in with them frequently, and provide many opportunities for reflection. Becky shared about her students:

I think that they are just so much more accepting. They see the world as this diverse place, and I just don’t think they have the hang-ups yet. I would like them — to go at the world with curiosity, and fairness, and — drive for justice. And if they leave the library with that, and the understanding that libraries are not just mirrors, and not just windows, and not just doors — but I love the idea I read about them being maps. All of those things.

But I’m hoping that this is going to spark them to be inquisitive and find — if I have questions, if I don’t know, then we’ll figure it out in the library. Let’s go figure it out.

Here are a variety of tools to have students reflect on their learning through an audit experience.

The role of the librarian as change agent

Libraries are often the places where societal shifts happen, are cultivated, and explored. As the hub of a school (and some would say, the heart), libraries foster critical thinking, empathy, connection, and imagination How about we add creating the world we would like to see?

Becky considers the role of the librarian in helping students understand what it might be like to not see yourself reflected in the library:

Especially in Vermont, since it’s predominantly white, you have to make students feel what it’s like to not have your story be told. If you don’t say that, if you don’t make them feel it, they won’t care.

These boys are looking around the room, and they see Hatchet and they see Holes, and they see My Side of the Mountain, and they’re just like “Oh yeah, look, white boys and dogs, they’re everywhere.” But people who aren’t white boys, or white girls — where are their stories?

So, they have to realize that that’s a problem. If they don’t get that that’s a problem, then — you missed it. Great that they can do research, great they can use Canva to create an infographic. You improved their skills. You missed the opportunity to create good humans.

Deep exploration and expansion of library collection is possible and can be lead by students. By becoming researchers of the library collection, students learn to look for biases, dominant narratives, and who’s story is missing at their own level, with support. This work opens their eyes to systems of power in our society in clear ways and allow them to learn and then follow that up with action.

How might you engage in an exploration of your school’s library and who’s story might not be included (yet)?

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?

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!