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Teachers share excitement with board

Castle Rock educators say new style paying off


Teachers at a Castle Rock elementary school told the school board they are seeing the results of a new style of teaching.

“We're not the sage on stage anymore,” said Nancy Mann, a third-grade teacher at Sage Canyon Elementary. “We're guides on the side.”

Sage Canyon's curriculum focuses on project-based learning, in which students learn by doing. The style of teaching makes a project the central teaching tool, which ideally prompts students to question and investigate, and work collaboratively. It dovetails with the Douglas County School District's focus on education that is more student- than teacher-led.

Five-year-old Sage Canyon adopted project-based learning a year after it opened in 2010.

Its staff also has been working with district leaders to implement DCSD curriculum and instructional changes, with teachers using backward lesson planning and coaching one another as they transition to new teaching methods.

“It's changed our lives,” Mann told the school board during a Nov. 18 presentation. “Everyone knows where our district is going, and it's all making sense. Every single year it makes more sense. We've gone from a set mindset to a growth mindset. Everyone in the building has it, so it's really powerful.”

The teachers' shifting focus is trickling down to the students, who have learned to set goals, Mann said.

“All the kids are thinking, `I need to grow. I need to reflect on what I've learned and what I'm doing and I need to keep on pushing myself toward excellence,' ” she said. “That's what I'm seeing in the entire school. The kids are advocating for themselves: `What's in my way? Is it attention? Am I talking too much?' They're keeping data. They're making graphs. They're writing reflections. It's just so cool.”

Teacher Heather Pepper said the approach is completely different from her own elementary school education.

“Nobody ever told me why I was learning something; they just said, `Because I said so,'” she said. “It feels good as a teacher to say, `Today we're going to talk about this because, and these are the reasons you need to know this.' They get it and they love it. It just makes teaching a lot more fun.”

School board members and Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen congratulated the teachers on their success.

“I do want to emphasize, after over 10 years of thinking about, `How do we move American education forward in the best needs of students so we are moving their future needs and not their past?,' I'm convinced there's only one way, and that's through teacher leadership,” she said. “And you all demonstrated tonight why that is the reason, and the only way we will move our profession and this American institution to the next century.”

Board member Craig Richardson praised teachers for urging students to take “cognitive ownership of their own progress.”

“It's revolutionary,” he said.

“What makes me more excited than just getting a distinction or certain rating is knowing we organically are building a system that's taking each child and moving them so they can have an upward direction in their learning, no matter where they are on the spectrum,” board president Kevin Larsen said.


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