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Years into changes, Colorado schools still struggle balancing discipline

The Denver Post – Yesenia Robles

“Peace circles, mediation and refocusing. They’re tools that teachers are now using in most districts as alternatives to sending students to the principal’s office. It’s a shift away from zero-tolerance policies that became the norm after the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, which left 13 dead. Those policies had some parents upset when schools suspended students who missed too many days from school or chewed gum in class, or they called the police on children with toy guns. Researchers say the strict policies were unevenly applied to students of color and served to disengage students from school without looking into why they may have been acting up.”(more)

Rube Goldberg machines teach students physics

The Denver Post – Ann Butler

“Families of freshmen at Animas High School have found it difficult to make breakfast during the last month or so. The students borrowed coffee makers, toasters, waffle irons, pancake griddles and even cereal and milk to create their Rube Goldberg machines — a complex and creative way to achieve simple tasks. The project was part of teacher Brian Morgan’s physics and earth sciences class. To make their machines, they used springs, gears, pulleys, wheels, dominoes, ramps, levers, mousetraps, funnels, ball bearings, marbles, golf balls and parts from games, not to mention duct tape, lots of duct tape. But the lesson wasn’t the task; it was a hands-on way to see how different physics principles work. “We learned about acceleration, force and transference,” said Emma Poitras, who, with partners Sierra DesPlanques and Ella Brown, created a 14-step toaster process. Their machine included a cellphone set to vibrate that kicked off the steps by pushing a ball bearing down a tube. “We also learned construction skills,” Emma said. “I didn’t even know what a drill bit was, and we used an electric saw, too.” The complexity of the machines reduced the effectiveness of the task completion. Some teams said their machines failed completely. Emma, Ella and Sierra’s machine managed to toast four slices of bread.”(more)

How a School Project Made City Planners Out of Teens

The Atlantic – Jackie Zubrzycki

“Last spring, Chris DeRemer, a geography teacher at Manual High School in Denver’s Whittier neighborhood, found out his district was considering opening a new middle school in the same building as Manual. While Denver Public Schools’ enrollment is growing quickly and the district is pressed for space, most of the first floor of Manual’s three-story building is used by administrators, not students. The high school also has no middle school directly feeding into it, which has led enrollment to drop steadily in recent years. But filling that space with preteens and a brand-new middle school would inevitably change Manual’s academic and social environment. “For [the students] to not have a voice in that, that was not okay,” DeRemer said. DeRemer decided to use the district’s plan as a teaching opportunity. He outlined a project for his Advanced Placement Human Geography class, aimed at fulfilling course goals such as reading and interpreting data and defining regions.”(more)

How To Get Students To Stop Using Their Cellphones In Class

NPR – Anya Kamenetz

“Almost all college students have a cellphone. They use them an average of eight to 10 hours a day and check them an average of every 15 to 20 minutes while they’re awake. Heavier smartphone use has been linked to lower-quality sleep and lower GPAs — oh, are you getting a text right now? I’ll wait. Anyway, as I was saying, one professor at the University of Colorado Boulder has come up with a solution to smartphone distraction in one of his astronomy classes. “I was stunned how well it worked,” Doug Duncan wrote in an email to fellow astronomy professors, which he shared with NPR Ed. Duncan is part of a group at UC Boulder that works on applying learning research to improve teaching in science and engineering fields. He is the co-author of a paper showing that, at his college, more than 75 percent of undergrads reported texting while in class, and that in-class texting was linked to an average drop of half a letter grade in the course.”(more)

Douglas Co. school board to take voucher ruling to U.S Supreme Court

The Denver Post – Kirk Mitchell

“The Douglas County school board will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to allow it to use taxpayer money to send children to private schools. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in June that no public funds can be used to aid or support any “sectarian” institution. “The ruling by Colorado’s highest court paves the way for the U.S. Supreme Court to evaluate the constitutionality of Colorado’s Blaine Amendment, which is an ugly part of no fewer than 37 state constitutions,” Douglas County Board of Education President Kevin Larsen said in a news release Wednesday.”(more)

Evolution of teacher evaluations is leading performance pay reforms

The Denver Post – Yesenia Robles

“Colorado’s three largest school districts are pushing to reform the way they pay teachers based on new measures of performance despite disputes with unions and mixed data about what it achieves. The nationally watched school districts in Denver and Douglas and Jefferson counties have been trying to reform their versions of performance-pay systems but have faced challenges that have landed in court. Following new state laws, districts have updated teacher evaluations, and officials want those pay systems tied to the evaluations — generally also closely tied to student test scores. In the process, collaboration that once existed between teachers and districts is crumbling, and the definition of performance pay has changed.”(more)