GEMS Teachers Imagine the Possibilities at Innovation Lab Open House

Today on the FWSU STORY, we are pleased to share a guest post from GEMS Educational Technology Specialist Eric Hadd which was originally published on the GEMS Innovation Lab blog. We are pleased to showcase all the exciting work happening in this new space. Learn more about FWSU’s wider initiative to create innovation labs in all our schools, here and here

The GEMS elementary faculty meeting on Tuesday, December 13th was a professional learning experience in the GEMS Innovation Lab.  Teachers were invited to visit various interactive exhibits such as 3d design, paper circuits, robotics, green screen video, coding, and new multimedia creation software.  Each exhibit contained the tools, supplies, and information available for teachers to tinker, explore, and generate new instructional ideas.


Some of the interactive exhibits that were available to teachers at the open house. Collaborating with teachers is one of the main functions of the Innovation Lab program.  Mrs. Payne and Mr. Hadd both work with GEMS teachers to plan new student learning experiences using a variety of tools and resources. The main goal of the open house was for elementary teachers to see what is available and to brainstorm possible future projects that can be supported by the lab.

Teachers were asked to complete an exit ticket indicating which exhibits they visited as well as their ideas.  The tickets contained many positive reactions to the experience as well as numerous ideas.


Working with LittleBits electronic circuit components.


Programming Ozobots with color codes.

“I didn’t know what to expect – but very cool!”

“This is so cool. Thanks for hosting!”

“Need time to think about it all!”


Creating paper circuits!


Creativity with copper tape, LEDs, and batteries.

“I am booking writing, I would love some time learning KidPix 3d.”

“First graders would love to use the hands on manipulative activities!”

“It would be fun to make a 3d version of a building.”

“Using the Green screen for where in the world? – famous landmarks.”

“Hyperstudio 5 – create project displaying knowledge from non-fiction text.”

“Robotics – create a map of setting from text according to description – robot follows map in sequence of events.”


Trying out new multimedia software.


Imagining the possibilities!

If the success of this open house can be measured by interest and ideas, the event was a home run! The lab has already seen an uptick in scheduling and Mrs. Payne and Mr. Hadd are busy meeting individually with teachers about upcoming projects.

The new year is certain to be exciting and busy in the GEMS Innovation Lab!

In FWSU, “Hour of Code” is Part of a Year of Computational Thinking

Hour of Code is an international movement established to promote computer science among millions of students in multiple countries regardless of their level of experience. Hour of Code has been named one of “the largest learning events in history.”

students engage in hour of code

Several celebrities, visionary technology leaders, and even the President of the United States has joined in support of this endeavor to advance the benefits of coding lessons with students.

a child discovers a beebot

FWSU pedagogy also embraces the belief that every child can and should have access to computer science skills. However, coding is practiced within our learning community on a daily basis and is not limited to just an hour during a week in December. For FWSU students, computational skills are deeply embedded into our entire learning ecosystem. The FWSU Action Plan casts a bold vision for the development of computational thinking in the context of proficiency-based personalized learning.

students solving problems with coding

innovation lab students engaged in projects to build computational thinking

During last week’s Hour of Code event, our schools were proud to participate. For us, it was just another hour of coding which is what we do all year-long. It was part of our sustained commitment to building computational skills and a deeper learning mindset through which students can solve real-world problems by designing solutions.

3D printing capability in the innovation labstudents code to solve authentic problems

We enjoy showcasing many examples of computational thinking throughout FWSU; these include experiences like Ozobot robots, Arduino’s, BeeBots, Game Design, E-textiles, Scratch, HP Learning Studios, Tinkercad, and much, much more. These experiences engage kids in authentic learning and foster student leadership and creativity.

students explore e-textiles

Target 1 – Proficiency-Based Personalized Learning:  FWSU students and staff design and engage in proficiency-based personalized learning that integrates collaborative inquiry, problem-solving, and creativity

Action Step:  Support proficiency for all learners in student-centered, collaborative, digitally-rich learning environments

Indicator of Success:  Teachers provide learners with multiple pathways for meeting standards so that students achieve proficiency in essential areas of learning.

Lights, Sound, Action: Coding with Arduino

Recently, the BFA Freshman Core have been learning about innovation with Arduino.


Arduino is an open-source project that created microcontroller-based kits that can be used to design, build and program a variety of things. It is like a little computer you can program to do things, and it interacts with the world through electronic sensors, lights, and motors. It allows electronics projects to be accessible, making it an interactive tinkering tool for innovation.


In a three-week unit, students have been exploring what they can design with the Arduino micro-controllers. To get started, students progressed through 10 Arduino tutorials at their own pace to test the capabilities of the software and hardware. At the end of each tutorial, students then reflected about their learning by completing a blog on Schoology.


In addition to the actual STEM lessons, students have reflected they have learned several skills throughout this learning process, including how to persevere One student shared in his reflection that he  “learned today that it is alright to spend all day on a circuit and it still not to work at the end of the day”.  Another was quoted as saying she and her partner “had many more success then challenges today.”


In addition to self-learning, the BFA students were able to connect with students from  the University of Vermont’s FabLab through video conferencing software to learn about the possibilities of using Arduino’s to design projects.


Now that students have begun to learn what is possible with using the Arduino’s, they can begin to plan and design innovative ways to use the hardware to solve problems.

Target 1 – Proficiency-Based Personalized Learning. FWSU students and staff design and engage in proficiency-based personalized learning that integrates collaborative inquiry, problem-solving, and creativity.

Action Step: Support proficiency for all learners in student-centered, collaborative, digitally-rich learning environments.

Indicator of Success: Students and staff collaborate to design authentic questions and solve problems.

FWSU to Launch “Girls Who Code” Club

downloadThis summer FWSU will offer an exciting opportunity for current seventh grade girls to explore the world of computer science. We are launching a Girls Who Code Club. The goal of the program is to heighten interest in this incredibly important field of study which is currently in decline, especially among women. Coding, or computational thinking, is a collection of skills that result from studying the nature of computation. It includes problem solving, creativity, the ability to explain, collaboration, and teamwork.


It also consists of some very specific problem solving skills such as the ability to think logically and algorithmically. It is also about understanding people and, even more importantly, finding and solving problems that will confront our world in the future. Computer Science is unique in the way it brings all of these diverse skills together. So why is this club being launched this summer? Why is this important for our girls? Check out these very sobering statistics: 

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  • Women remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, although to a lesser degree than in the past, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2014).
  • Female scientists and engineers are concentrated in different occupations than are men, with relatively high shares of women in the social sciences (58%) and biological and medical sciences (48%) and relatively low shares in engineering (13%) and computer and mathematical sciences (25%) (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2014).
  • There has been a 79% decline in the number of 1st year undergraduate women interested in a Computer Science major between 2000 and 2011. (NCWIT, 2012)
  • 21% of girls say their parents encourage them to become an actress, while 10% of girls say their parents have encouraged them to think about an engineering career. (Harris Interactive for the American Society for Quality, 2009)
  • Women earn…
    • 57% of all undergraduate degrees
    • 52% of all math and science undergraduate degrees
    • 42% of all math and statistics degrees and 40% of all physical science degrees
    • BUT only 18% of all computer and information sciences undergraduate degrees (Girls in IT: The Facts Infographic)


Clearly we must turn the tide and encourage young women to enter this essential career area. Such change will take time and effort. Fortunately schools across FWSU have been ramping up in this area for several years.

IMG_1317Our STEM initiatives, Engineering Day and Maker-Faires are good, but they only scratch the surface. Therefore we are expanding opportunities for all students in all of our schools. Next year InnoLabs will be introduced throughout our system (coding, robotics, gaming, making, fabrication), but this summer we will focus mainly on our middle school girls.

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Please stay tuned for more news regarding this summer opportunity as our planning has just begun. Learn more about Girls Who Code Clubs.

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If you have questions you contact Superintendent Ned Kirsch at or by phone at (802) 370-3113. You can follow him on Twitter @betaVT

Contents Extremely Imaginative at GEMS

This year, 13 GEMS middle school students accepted the NaNoWriMo challenge to participate in the Young Writers Program to create a novel. This is the eighth year GEMS has participated in this event.

National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo is an opportunity for young creative writers to complete an entire novel in 30 days with classmates and over 300,000 writers around the world. GEMS students signed up to take both an applied course and choice class offered by Mary Bove and Dayle Payne. During the course, participants set a reasonable, yet challenging goal of completing a 30,000 word novel by November 30th.

Word Count at end of NaNoWriMo on 11/30

At the end of the course, 4 students were able to validate their novels with the required 30,000 words. These students will be able to revise and publish their novels using Create Space.  If interested, you can visit the Georgia Public Library, and check out a copy of A Coven of Witches, a novel written and published two years ago by a former GEMS NaNoWriMo author.

The Winners from the 1015 NaNoWriMo Challenge

All of the participants and winners came to together to celebrate the month of noveling with a pizza lunch. Everyone received a certificate, pin, and sticker. In addition, students were able to reflect on all that they had learned and accomplished.

NaNoWriMo Stickers and Pins Awarded to Particpants

All of the students unanimously agreed that writing a novel is hard work. They have a new-found respect for authors. They had to overcome writers block, character development, and plot development. Often writing on their own time, including vacation, students persevered using each other for inspiration and support.

Celebrating a Month of Noveling

At the end of it, the students were thankful for the challenge. Even those who did not reach 30,000, still made achievements. It was a chance for them to explore and create on their own. In addition to learning about writing, they learned and developed organization skills.

 Quoting Mr. Hadd, “You can never be too prepared”.



Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Action Step – Make relevant and authentic problems become the focus of connected learning.

New Technology Provides Instant Feedback in BFA HS Science

Biology students at BFA were able to utilize a new technology that completely changed the way they looked at a traditional science experiment. The experiment involved a glass globe, a tray with water for sealing the globe and a candle. As the candle burns under the globe, the oxygen level decreases, and is replaced with carbon dioxide. While this chemical transformation is happening, the pressure inside the jar decreases as well.

The little black box inside the dome is a PocketLab
The little black box inside the dome is a PocketLab

BFA recently acquired a PocketLab sensor that measures temperature, pressure, rotation, acceleration and magnetic fields. The sensor is small and durable and wirelessly transmits data to an iPad. The device was placed under the dome and set to measure the pressure inside so students could observe the change. It was this extra information that transformed the experiment from passive observation to fully engaged participation and experimentation.


Students observed the pressure drop, but it didn’t drop in the consistent manner that the students had predicted. Students were curious about the why the changes was so inconsistent and began to offer theories and adjustments to change the outcome. Was the table that held the experiment responsible for the fluctuations? They moved the experiment and found the changes were less consistent than before. “The new technology in the form of the PocketLab changed the experiment and gave the students the opportunity to engage in the process with immediate real data to support their predictions” said teacher-observer Mark Ladue.

This was our first experiment with the PocketLab. With its compact size, ease of use and ability to measure a variety of phenomena, the possibilities to provide inquiry based learning seem endless.

BFA High School Students Access their Education with Schoology

BFA High School students and teachers are using the district’s new learning management system, Schoology, to access the resources they need for learning inside and outside the school walls.

BFA_Schoology1Students in all classes are accessing their daily agendas for each class. They can post comments to the their teacher or their classmates.


Students can take quizzes through the Schoology site. This practice provides instant feedback for both the student and teacher.

“It’s great to watch the students make progress through the quiz. It takes some time upfront to set the quiz up, but the grading portion is so much easier”   – Tom Pfeiffer, Science Teacher


Students have access to all of the resources for a unit (websites, additional readings, assignments) that their teachers have uploaded to Schoology. There’s no more searching through the backpack for an assignment. Open the Schoology app and the student’s classes are literally a click away.

Schoology allows a student who is absent to  make up the quiz, or see what happened in class. We are just beginning to realize the power that Schoology brings to our students. As the year progresses, students will be able to access their grades through Schoology. It will be a “one stop shop” for all of their BFA educational needs.


Parents (at all schools across FWSU) can also have access to the same information through their parent access code. If you need assistance accessing your student’s Schoology account, please contact the school.

Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Action Step –Provide students with access to content, resources, and methods for learning beyond the school day and beyond the school walls.

Indicator of Success – Staff, students, and community embrace the digital, social, mobile, and “always on” learning styles of 21st Century Students.

Schoology Arrives at FWSU!

Target 1 – Student-Centered Learning. FWSU students will engage in personalize learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities.

Target 2 – Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment. FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school
classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Target 4 – Engaged Community Partners. FWSU staff and students will collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize ideas and learning with local, regional, state, and global partners to make a difference in their community, state, and world.

The time for a full Schoology launch has arrived at FWSU. After a year of study, months of behind-the-scenes work, three weeks of teacher preparation and student introduction, the system is now ready for parents! Letters with unique access codes were mailed home this week.


Initial setup of accounts is easy to do with the instructions mailed home. If you have any trouble please feel free to contact your school of the district office for help. Once you are set up navigation is easy and based on the concepts of many social media sites. If you are stuck there are also lots of “how to” videos. Or you can always ask your student for help!

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We believe that Schoology will allow all of our parents, students and teachers to stay connected in a very user-friendly and safe environment. Only those with password access will be allowed into our system. Learn more about Schoology safety and privacy here.


Schoology on any platform that can access the internet. In addition to being available on a web browser, you can also download the free App for any phone or iPad.

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The time has come — let’s COLLABORLEARN!


#FWSU20DayTwitterChallenge a Success!

Target 2 – Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment. FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Step – Develop learning habits, communication and problem solvingskills necessary for collaborative learning and leadership

Indicator of Success –  Creativity and risk-taking will be evident and celebrated as learners embrace new technologies.

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Learning in today’s world should be more about joy, more about sharing of learning, and more about helping each other design learning experiences for our students that will make them highly successful. That is what we strive for everyday in FWSU. But how could we bring our learning, sharing and designing to a new level of collaboration? A level that was inconceivable before technology allowed us to expand our thinking? How could we connect educators with each other? It is with this in mind that we a started the school year with an inaugural #FWSU 20 Day Twitter Challenge.

20 Day Challenge

Twitter is a great place for educators across our schools, and across the globe, to learn together in a free 24/7 professional learning communities.  Over the last several years educators from all FWSU schools have been using Twitter with gusto to improve their learning and stretch their thinking.  They are connected educators. Thousands and thousands of educators from around the globe use it as well.   

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The FWSU challenge started the very first day of school with the simple prompt – share something you learned this summer. Here are a few of the responses

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The questions we asked each day kept coming. Our FWSU teachers kept responding! Check out some of today’s responses to the question, “What opportunities will PLPs give our students?” 

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Soon what started out as a fun learning event for FWSU quickly turned into an event that included educators from throughout Vermont and then the United States!

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The #20DayChallenge has been successful on so many levels. Teachers have learned together and the #FWSU has become known as a “place” on twitter that teachers know they can share their learning.  Anyone is welcome to join!

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Flexible Learning Due to A Strong Infastructure

Target 3. Flexible Learning Environments: FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Action Step 4: Increase access to resources for all students using digital tools making learning more accessible for diverse learners.

Indicator of Success: Staff, students and community embrace digital, social, mobile and “always on” learning style of 21st century students.

To provide students with the education they need to thrive in a globally connected world, we must find ways to design, fund, acquire, and maintain the infrastructure that will make connectivity a reality for every teacher and student in every classroom.” Office of Educational Technology, Future Ready Schools

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Our Informational Technology (IT) staff provides the underlying structure to meet the needs of all staff and students. They ensure that FWSU can perform all of the daily operations so all stakeholders can learn together as a networked community. It’s through their hard work and dedication that each of us can carry out each of the four targets in our action plan.


FWSU is fortunate to have a group of hardworking staff members that does all this and more. The IT team includes Jeff Smith, Carol Graves, Jason Smith at BFA, and and Chris Mayhue and Brendon Plant at GEMS.


In addition to providing a means of seamlessly sharing data and resources across the supervisory union and it’s partners, they provide year-round customer service to help troubleshoot and maintain the hardware and software.

Brendon Plant working with student IT helper at GEMS

FWSU staff have come to rely that the technology infrastructure is up and running without major issues. In addition to providing that all systems are in place and running, the IT staff are often tasked with major projects.

Boxes of new iPads

Thanks to the IT staff, outdated 2nd generation iPads were collected and replaced with over 1,650 new iPad Air 2’s across FWSU. During the summer the staff worked countless hours to unpack, set up and have the new devices ready to distribute before the first days of school.