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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)

Environmental learning program puts grade-school kids in outdoor class

The Denver Post – Joe Vaccarelli

“Courtney Armstrong asked her 44 fourth-grade students about the traits of an owl. After answers rolled in ranging from hunting at night to acute vision and hearing, Armstrong told them that at the end of their weeklong outdoor day camp they would be wise like an owl and learn about the environment. Armstrong is a supervisor for the Eagle’s Nest and Owl’s Roost Environmental Discovery program which, for the past 40 years, has given students in the Jefferson County area an opportunity to spend a week learning outside during the summer. “I just love that kids can get outdoors, experience being outside and really involved with being in nature,” Armstrong said. The ENOR program, as it’s called, was started in 1973 by B.J. Meadows, who was at the time the environmental education director for Jefferson County Public Schools.”(more)

Education Secretary Duncan learning lessons from DPS programs

The Denver Post – Yesenia Robles

“Denver Public Schools is a source of inspiration for the federal government. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan finished a two-day trip to Denver on Thursday and said his frequent, just about annual, visits are not a coincidence. “Not that Denver is doing everything perfectly — nobody is. But there’s some pretty significant macro-level lessons that I think other large urban districts would do well to really spend some time and look at what these guys are developing,” Duncan said. The secretary spent Thursday morning at McGlone Elementary in Montbello, where DPS officials highlighted the use of teacher leadership roles, enrollment zones and innovation status that gave principal Sara Gips autonomy in the school’s budget. Duncan also participated in a roundtable discussion where he listened to three teachers and two school parents talk about the turnaround they’ve seen in the past four years. “The biggest thing for me is having a team,” teacher leader Amy Lovell said. “We see everything as ‘our kids’ rather than ‘these are the students that were assigned to me.’ We’re not flying alone in our classrooms.” McGlone is one of several schools in Denver that is piloting a “differentiated roles” program where teachers are able to spend half of their time teaching in the classroom and half of their time coaching or leading other teachers in shared planning.”(more)