Tech Camp boost skills for teachers

Originally posted in the Times-Call


Coal Ridge Middle librarian Karen Hoppis on Monday shared how she put together a code-a-thon, or hack-a-thon, at her Firestone school.

She invited all students to participate in the half-day problem solving event, held at the school to remove participation barriers, and told them they were expected to fail at first.

For the 35 kids participating, she set up team norms, gave them a theme — how to increase happiness at Coal Ridge — and had parent volunteers judge the teams on multiple measures that included creativity and technology skills.

"They had to solve the problem through coding with whatever technology tools they wanted to use," she said.

Hoppis is a presenter at the St. Vrain Valley School District's two-day Tech Camp. Attended by about 400 teachers at Thunder Valley K-8, the professional development camp wraps up today.

Now in its fourth year, the tech camp's focus has evolved from how to operate the new devices to fostering student creation, said Diane Lauer, St. Vrain Valley's assistant superintendent of priority programs and academic support.

"Now, it's about how we're really going to get kids to create and produce and solve problems with technology.

St. Vrain finished the initial, four-year rollout of its technology plan, funded through a 2012 mill levy override, in the fall.

The district spent $2.2 million a year to give all students in sixth through 12th grades their own iPad minis over three years. This past school year, each elementary classroom received a set of six iPads for students to share.

The technology plan also included updates to computer labs, distributing Chromebook "carts" to schools that will serve as mobile computer labs, and updates to classroom desktops.

With the rollout complete, the district plans to start refreshing the devices on a similar schedule.

"We're used to the iPads," said Skyline art teacher Carolyn Root. "How do we now start building a classroom where we use the technology well? It's about giving students more control over how and what they learn."

Session topics at this week's annual Tech Camp for teachers include "Engaging Student Learning with Digital Escape Rooms," "Go Green! Using Green Screen Technology to Transform Your Instruction" and "Everything Your Students Always Wanted To Know About Cybersafety."

Lauer said about 90 percent of the more than 60 presenters are St. Vrain Valley teachers.

"That's really important to us," she said. "You're going to learn something you can use yourself. It's real practical knowledge."

Erie Middle School social studies teacher Katelynn Ryan shared her experiences with project based-learning, saying her students responded best to learning videos that she made herself instead of those she found online.

"In this digital age, who do they look up to," she asked. "It's YouTubers, not celebrities. It's people they have a connection to. Video is one of these things I found to be super duper powerful in how kids consume information."

Other suggestions included giving students more points for reflecting and revising their work than for the end product, as well as providing immediate feedback. Wait too long, she said, and they no longer see feedback as relevant.

Ali Garston, a second grade teacher, was part of a team from Mead Elementary leading a session on how teachers can use the extra time created by blended and personalized learning.

She talked about using Seesaw, an app to create student driven digital portfolios that can be shared with parents.

As an example, she said, she can work with a targeted group of students on a math concept while another group completes an assignment on iPads, verbally explaining how they got their answers so she can check their understanding.

"I can watch in real time what they're learning," she said.

She said helping second graders learn to use the app did require "a lot of upfront teaching," made easier by the fact that the Seesaw app is very visual and designed for younger students.

She signed up to both present at and attend the conference because of the opportunity to learn from teachers at other schools.

"It's being able to talk to other teachers and brainstorm," she said. "I can get ideas and add them in."