Boulder Valley School District

The sky's the limit through innovative learning

Randy Barber
Project-based learning is fueling engagement, joy in BVSD classrooms

The world is changing rapidly. Given the advances in technology and the speed of innovation, it is hard to imagine what Boulder Valley School District’s youngest students will face when they graduate high school in nearly two decades.


“We are preparing kids to work in the ever changing world, knowing that the majority of the occupations that these kids will occupy don’t even exist today,” Meadowlark School Principal Brent Caldwell said.


“We have no clue today what we’re going to be doing two years from now,” explained Ed Schwalenberg, a product manager at Google Boulder. “Today, a lot of people at Google are working on the Google Assistant -- This little box that you talk to and say things like, ‘Ok, Google give me directions to the airport’ or ‘Ok, Google. Turn on my TV.’ That wasn’t something that was in the plans two years ago. -- but we have a lot of project managers working on it now.”




“If you’re a freshman in high school and you’re looking at an average of eight years in education before you go into the job market, what does that mean? What are people going to be doing in eight years from now? We haven’t a clue,” Schwalenberg added.





One thing is certain, education must adapt in order to keep up with the changes.



“They used to say that adaptability was one of the top skills that students needed, but they’re moving away from that, because adaptability has the assumption that you know what the problem is,” explained Lisa Lovett, University of Colorado Boulder’s associate director for employee relations at CU Boulder Career Services. “Technology, life, business is moving at such a fast pace that we don’t know what tomorrow’s problem is, so we are now focused on agility -- because it is not knowing the problem, but knowing how to adjust what you’re doing, so you can find those problems or the solution to those things.”



VIDEO: Sir Ken Robinson - Changing Education Paradigms

The traditional model of education was founded during the industrial revolution in the image of assembly lines.

“Our [nation’s]  traditional schools were designed in which teachers delivered the knowledge and skills people would need to work in factories. Now all the knowledge you need is available through Siri or Google at any point. It is no longer about memorizing knowledge and mastering routine skills. It is about being creative and being able to collaborate and how to communicate and how to think critically,” Caldwell said. “Some of the most innovative and high tech companies in the world are moving to Boulder because of the quality of life. They are giving us feedback that really the kids who are even coming out of college are not prepared to work in the ever-changing, adaptive and creative work world now. It is so different even than it was 5 or 10 years ago.”

“If we think about the way the world is like right now, there are still ‘9-to-5’ jobs, but it is changing, it is evolving, right?” added Katie Gambardella, a third-grade teacher at Ryan STEAM Elementary. “When these eight-year olds or nine-year olds are adults -- it is going to look very different. We have to make sure they are able to adapt and live in that world of uncomfortability and be able to have some grit and be able to problem solve, communicate with each other -- that is what they will need to be successful.”

For this reason, educators across BVSD are reworking the way they teach. While students are still learning content, the focus is now on developing skills like critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication -- that will serve them their entire lives, regardless of any changes -- through experiential learning, like problem or project-based learning.

“I think one of the most impressive things I’ve seen happen is the tight integration of strong and rigorous academic content into these projects in meaningful ways,” said Kiffany Lychock, BVSD’s director of Educational Innovations. “That is not just our older high school students … Our youngest learners are also engaging in rigorous deep thinking along with these engaging learning opportunities.”

During these projects students are encouraged to take the lead in their learning, while their teachers guide and support them. The result is learning that captivates students’ attention and sets them free to be empowered explorers.

“It gives students a sense of purpose. It has this deep sense for them of impact and doing something bigger and broader than just themselves,” Lychock said.


BVSD’s six Innovation Guiding Principles
A few years ago, Boulder Valley School District worked to define the key components that define this type of instruction for BVSD. More than 200 educators participated in the discussion, which eventually resulted in these six Innovation Guiding Principles. LEARN MORE

As shown in the accompanying videos, these principles are demonstrated in schools new and old across BVSD and in every level from kindergarten to 12th grade.



Recent Stories