THE FWSU STORY: Georgia Elementary Invited to Join National Networked Improvement Community

Recently, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) invited Vermont to participate in a Networked Improvement Community for improving early learning in Literacy and Mathematics. Georgia Elementary was invited to participate, along with three other supervisory unions, and has started the collaborative project in which participants have the opportunity to work on common problems of practice and build knowledge with colleagues from other states (Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Maryland) researchers, educational experts, and other partners.

School leaders convene at the VT Agency of Education.

School leaders convene at the VT Agency of Education.

In collaboration with the Vermont Agency of Education and three other SU’s the Georgia Elementary and team will identify common problems of practice (POP) and initiate interventions for improvement while collecting evidence-based data for review.

States have implemented many policies, practices, and programs to increase the ability of educators to provide high-quality instruction, but very little research and movement have been done in the early grades. To increase the effectiveness of instruction and student achievement in the early grades, states need to test the impact of innovative strategies to increase teacher knowledge and capacity to deliver evidenced backed instructional practices in math, literacy, and other content areas in prekindergarten through third-grade classrooms.


Leaders from around the country collaborate with Networked Improvement Communities.

Georgia Elementary is excited to participate and learn from other educational colleagues within our state and country from the current research and data that is collected.

THE FWSU STORY: Students Speak Out on Solving Environmental Waste with Design Thinking

On today’s FWSU STORY, students in the “Solving With Design Thinking” class at GEMS use their voice to share solutions to a common environmental waste problem.  

Students investigating the parts of a k-cup.

Students investigating the parts of a k-cup.

Billions and billions of disposable coffee pods known as k-cups are tossed into garbage cans each year. This year’s Solving Problems With Design Thinking class at Georgia Elementary Middle School identified the problem and designed a solution.

K-Cups are a common, everyday item contributing to environmental waste.

K-Cups are a common, everyday item contributing to environmental waste.

Our solution was to find a way to separate the k-cups and direct each material to the best place to avoid waste.

In 3 weeks we collected nearly 400 k-cups.

  • Plastic cups mostly went  to the Art room sculpture center
  • 8 lbs. of coffee and filter paper were composted
  • A very small quantity of aluminum was recycled
  • No part of these k-cups entered the garbage

For three weeks we tested our solution at GEMS, made adjustments, and created an exhibit in the C-Building Lobby to share our work. The following is an FAQ about the project in the words of students from the class.

The problem solving process steps we use in the class.

The problem-solving process steps we use in the class.

Why are k-cups a problem at GEMS and in the world?

“They are a problem because you can’t recycle them easily so we took them apart to figure out how to use them.”

“They are  just a very big waste and you can only compost some of the parts.”

“They are not environment-friendly and can’t be recycled all together, causing waste.”

Students designed a tool for cleaning k-cups.

Students designed a tool for cleaning k-cups.

“The plastic cup part is not compostable or recyclable.”

“The K-cups are not recyclable after being used so they get thrown away. This is not safe for the environment. They are wasteful.”

How did you formulate a plan to solve the problem here at GEMS?

“We had a group brainstorm and we built things to make the process go faster.”

“We brainstormed a plan on what to do with each part of the k cups, and we formulated different tools to help us do so.”

“We made a system to take a k-cup apart to be used in other ways that is not the trash.”

“As a team, we decided to make a tool that helped when cleaning the K-cup. Two to three people would work in a group that would focus on K-cups in a different way.”

A k-cup light fixture. Really!

A k-cup light fixture. Really!

Was your solution effective? 

“Yes, it was effective, because we had a quite easy job cleaning the k-cups and creating different uses for them, and what we could do with each part of them. What we could not reuse was composted or recycled.”

“I think that it was very effective, and recycling the k-cups was fast and took minimal effort.”

“Yes, it was effective because we got 396 k-cups and we made a lot of crafts.”

“Yes. We came up with about 400 k cups, throughout three weeks of hard work and designing. We also made different things with them.”

Working as a team - cleaning out and separating k-cups.

Students collaborate and work as a team to clean out and separate k-cups.

Could the solution be used elsewhere? Could all k-cups be recycled? 

“Yes, if we could find a place that could combine the grounds into fertilizer and we could have the plastic melted into different objects, recycle the tin foil and the filters could be composted. This could save our landfills from overflowing with k cups and would help with keeping landfills in check by recycling.”

“I think that it could definitely be used elsewhere. If enough people were willing to participate, then they could be recycled.”

“Yes, but that would mean that everyone would have to lend a hand to the project to make boxes and also to collect dissemble and clean.”

“We found a way so that each part of the k cup could be used for something in a useful way.”

Separating a k-cup into its materials

Separating a k-cup into its materials

What have you learned from this project in terms of problem-solving, teamwork, or k-cup waste and recycling? 

“I learned that little things that we use in everyday lifestyle can have a big thing in waste problems.”

“When you work as a team, projects get done faster and more efficiently.”

Making a light up sphere out of k-cups!

Making a light up sphere out of k-cups!

“I have learned that people can solve most problems by putting their heads together and finding out a solution.”

“I learned that if we work as a team we can get many things accomplished.”

“I learned that you sometimes have to work with people you find annoying and k-cups are super wasteful.”

Our Exhibit in C-Building at GEMS.

Our Exhibit in C-Building at GEMS.

Today’s FWSU STORY first appeared on the GEMS Innovation Lab blog

THE FWSU STORY: GEMS Inventors Share Reflections on Iteration in Prototypes and Designs

As the Prototyping and Inventing class winds down in the Georgia Elementary Middle School Innovation Lab, students are eager to share the great work they have been doing. You can read more about the class in this post

GEMS Innovation Lab

In the video below, a student talks about the concept of iterations in the inventing and design process. This foundational understanding is crucial to the class.

Another student discussed a breakthrough in 3D printing — a coin cell battery holder.

Enjoy this gallery with the latest iterations created by our student innovators!


Fun with circuits and lights!

Light-up Fingers

Light-up Fingers!

Cell Phone/iPod Holder

Cell Phone/iPod Holder

Proud Inventors!

Proud Inventors!

A work in progress.

A work in progress.

We might store our printing filament this way!

We might store our printing filament this way!




A student shows off a design prototype.



Student-designed marker holder.

The master list - How we organized our inventing sessions.

The master list – wow we organized our inventing sessions!

THE FWSU STORY: Students Explore World Traditions and Celebrations in GEMS Innovation Lab

As part of a recent unit focusing on traditions, first graders in Mrs. Dattilio’s class, under the guidance of their student teacher, Jeannine Bissonette, combined many areas of study into one great culminating event.

A student creating with KidPix in the Innovation Lab.

A student creating with KidPix in the Innovation Lab.

After reading books and having group discussions about how different traditions that are celebrated around the world, the students each spent time writing about their own special family traditions.

Students explore traditions around the world.

Students explore traditions around the world.

They took their writing to the Innovation Lab where they used KidPix to create an illustration for their pictures, as well as to create a voiceover recording of their writing.  This work was then compiled into a slideshow presentation. The slideshow, as well as a Thanksgiving Reader’s Theater, were then presented to the families at a holiday breakfast event in the classroom.


Students collaborate in the Innovation Lab to record the voiceover for their writing.

It was a fantastic way to combine so much learning into one very successful family event showcasing student work and the capabilities of the technology available to us.

GEMS students are able to express their learning in the innovation lab.

GEMS students are able to express their learning and creativity in the Innovation Lab.

THE FWSU STORY: Dome Theatre Comes to GEMS


Last week, the Dome Theater presented several shows to kindergarten through sixth grade and opened up their show to families to experience the 16 x 16 foot wide, 10-foot tall dome. Some of the shows presented were Into the Deep, Habitat Earth, Passport to the Universe, The Secrets of a Cardboard Rocket, Dinosaur Prophecy, Saturn the Ringed World and Future Moon.


The Dome Theater is a portable HD Planetarium developed by Rice University & the Houston Museum of Natural Science with the support of NASA. This theater travels all over the nation featuring highly innovate, educational entertainment with crystal clear, wrap around images and digital surround sound. The Habitat Earth show dives the viewers into a world of hidden relationships that show what it means to live in a connected world. Into the Deep explores the depths of the oceans. Dinosaur Prophecy explores what may have killed the dinosaurs. Passport to the Universe brings the viewers into outer space and back to earth through a black hole. Another outer space ride is taken with two young children aboard the Cardboard Rocket, which takes a close-up look at the planet.


The GEMS students who were able to participate were enthralled and excited with this fabulous interactive show. As they entered the theater in small groups throughout the day, they were treated to stunning visuals and out of this world knowledge!

THE FWSU STORY: UVM Student Teachers Join GEMS

Georgia Elementary School has had the pleasure of working with four student interns this fall from the University of Vermont.

UVM Student Teachers at Georgia Elementary Middle School.

UVM Student Teachers at Georgia Elementary Middle School.

They started their journey by attending inservice days in August and have been an integral part of first and second-grade classrooms for 4-and-a-half days each week.  They have observed, collaborated, and taught mini-lessons up to this current date and have responded professionally to the feedback they have received from GEMS staff and UVM professors. Each day they arrive early to greet children entering our school and have built wonderful relationships with students in their classrooms. Children love working with our interns and have expressed their feelings continuously. Our school is fortunate to work with UVM and to be part of the development of future educators of the world.


The core mission of the Elementary Education Program is “to teach all children strategically in diverse communities of learners.”



Full-time internships provide an opportunity for each prospective teacher to:

  • Have the knowledge and skills in the content area(s) of the endorsement at a level, which enables students to meet or exceed the standards represented by the Common Core State Standards, The Next Generation Science Standards, and the Vermont Grade Level Expectations
  • Understand how individuals learn and grow and provide learning opportunities that support intellectual, physical, social & emotional growth
  • Understand how individuals & groups differ and create equitable instructional opportunities that respond to the needs of all students


  • Use a variety of instructional strategies to provide opportunities for students to meet or exceed the standards listed above
  • Create a classroom climate that encourages respect for self and others, positive social and emotional growth
  • Implements, adapts, revises, and, when necessary, creates curriculum based on standards, and student’s prior and current knowledge, needs & interests
  • Use multiple assessment strategies to evaluate student growth & modify instruction to ensure the continuous intellectual, social, physical & emotional development of every student
  • Assess student progress in relation to standards, modify plans and pedagogy accordingly, and demonstrate student learning over time as a result
  • Use research, data, including student performance data, and other resources to improve practice
  • Understand and integrate current technologies in instruction, assessment, and professional productivity


  • Work as a team member and form professional relationships with colleagues as part of a system and actively implement the school’s goals and articulated curriculum
  • Establish collaborative relationships with school colleagues, parents, agencies, and others in the community at large to support students’ learning and well-being
  • Understand laws related to student and educator rights and responsibilities and treat students and colleagues fairly and equitably
  • Grow professionally, through a variety of approaches, to improve professional practice and student learning
  • Maintain useful records of student work and performance and knowledgeably, effectively, and responsibly communicate student progress in relation to standards

We are pleased that this partnership with UVM has offered student teachers an opportunity to experience rural communities and support future educators in their careers.

THE FWSU STORY: GEMS Second-Graders Become Nature Explorers in Four Winds Trip

Today’s on The FWSU Story, we are pleased to feature a guest post by Julie Ferguson, a second-grade classroom teacher at Georgia Elementary Middle School. 


GEMS students experience their first field trip to the Senesac property in Georgia.

Earlier this month, the second graders at GEMS enjoyed their first field trip, organized by Four Winds volunteers.


Students learn about trees!

It was a wonderful trip to the Senesac property in Georgia which provided children with the opportunity to learn about trees in one of the best flexible learning environments around: the great outdoors!


Students talk about their learning.

Students started off their morning with a puppet show about what a tree does and why it’s important. Then the students broke into classes and visited three stations.


Students loved exploring the outdoors!

The children learned how to identify different trees and about the parts of the tree and their jobs. These students were proud to share their new learning with their families and classmates!

Julie Ferguson Teacher


Julie Ferguson is a second-grade teacher at Georgia Elementary Middle School.