Learning That Lasts

Tuesday, March 17, 2015
More than five months after they interviewed Hartford voters at the polls and amassed, analyzed and reported their findings in class, teacher Franklin Burns’ fifth-graders at Dothan Brook School last week were describing what they’d learned about elections.

“I was surprised that a lot of the people hadn’t voted before,” Makenzie Arnold remembered. “I was upset that some people thought the presidential election was a lot more important. I learned that really it was so important. It got stuck in our minds, I guess.”

Burns, and the group of aspiring teachers from the Upper Valley Educators Institute (UVEI) who were visiting his class to hear about project-based learning, were taking the news — or rather the way his students were delivering it — much better.

“This proves to me that this kind of learning stays with them,” Burns, a 1997 graduate of Hartford High School, said while the students spoke in small groups with the UVEI teacher-interns. “Hearing them recall things from October and November, it’s hard not to clap.”

For Aimee Toth, UVEI’s associate director for elementary education, it was hard not to cry.

“The fact that they remembered something from October just brought tears to my eyes,” Toth said. “(The lessons) actually transferred. They transcribed their data, they analyzed it, they used different skills in different disciplines to analyze it, and they’re starting to care about having a real-world community impact. … There’s a lot of talk in education about how over the summer, (students) lose a lot of what they’ve learned. Maybe it isn’t the summer. Maybe it’s how we’re teaching.”

Burns figures he started thinking about different ways to teach while attending the former Wilder Elementary School.

“I would have loved to have something like this back then,” Burns said. “It was very different then.”

Alternate ideas for teaching kept evolving while Burns earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Vermont and his master’s in education at New England College, and he tried more of them out during more than 10 years in the Atlanta school system.

“My classes there were as many as 35 kids,” said Burns, who averages 16 at Dothan Brook. “I figured if I could do it there, I could do it anywhere.”

This past summer, Burns refined his ideas further during a UVEI workshop. He developed the unit on voting and elections for a course in government and citizenship, with the stated goal in his outline of leading students to “demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of how their actions integreate with the broader society. … Through research, inquiry and a hands-on approach, students will be able to better understand how voting, and their role in a government directly impacts their lives.”

In addition to exit-polling, tabulating answers on iPads and comparing voting data from 2014 with previous years, students used video equipment to craft public-service announcements about the importance of voting.

“I’ve always believed that we need to do more hands-on learning,” Burns said. “Kids need to learn speaking skills, listening skills.

“It’s also nice to see kids enjoy the project. Teaching to the test, rote memory, just doesn’t work. It’s nice to see them laugh.”

Seeing and hearing them at Dothan Brook inspired UVEI intern Veena Reid to think more creatively as she embarks on her career.

“It’s great to be around students, hear things from their perspective,” said Reid, who’s student-teaching third- and fourth-graders at Pomfret Elementary School this academic year. “What they do here is obviously very collaborative. … It’s amazing to see any student in any classroom get real-world learning to take home, and apply to their everyday life.”

Next Wednesday , Burns’ students will be sharing what they’ve learned through studying the biographies of people ranging from Queen Elizabeth II and Joan of Arc to author Laura Ingalls Wilder and Olympic sprinter Wilma Rudolph at the school’s annual Biography Fair. Each project is viewable by scanning quick-response (QR) bar codes on mobile devices.

Thanking Burns’ class at the end of last week’s visit, Toth asked what advice the students would share with teachers, new and veteran alike, who aspire to keep their young audiences engaged.

“You might want to be a little fun,” Makenzie Arnold said. “Not straight serious all the time.”

Parental Guidance

As part of Woodstock Union High School’s Vermont Teen Leadership Program, bullying-prevention expert Jamie Utt will lead a discussion Wednesday night on the role of social media in bullying. Admission to the talk, which will run 6:30 to 8 at the high school, is free. For more information, call 802-457-1317.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Cells

Among the 17 scholarships it announced this week for the children of employees around the world, The Timken Co., awarded $10,000 to Hanover High School senior Zoe Yu for her freshman year at Princeton University. Yu, whose father Zai Zhang is a manufacturing technician at Timken’s Lebanon plant, plans to study engineering. Her scholarship is renewable at $10,000 a year for three additional years.


During its Veterans Summit on Saturday, Lyndon State College dedicated its student veterans center in the name of Gary W. Moore of Bradford, a 1971 graduate of the school who served in Vietnam. Moore, a longtime outdoor columnist and consultant in emergency planning, recently completed 24 years of service on the Vermont State Colleges Board of Trustees, the last eight as chairman. Lyndon State conferred its Distinguished Alumni Award on him in 2008 and its Presidential Medal of Distinction in 2014. In Bradford, he is the chairman of the police commission, the emergency management director and former fire chief.

Middle School Achievements

By winning the “Feary Tales” competition for middle-schoolers during the regional meet in Swanzey, N.H., Lebanon Middle School’s Destination Imagination team of Molly Neu, Caitlin McHugh, Julie Sentman, Astrid Rentel and Anna Hill qualified for the New Hampshire championship on March 28 in Hampton.

In competition with nine other teams, the Lebanon squad presented an eight-minute story, including a song and a tap-dance routine, about a girl who overcame the fear of losing a love one. Their coaches are Anne Neu and Carmen Rentel.

High School Honors

Lebanon High School recently named senior Josh Fontaine as its student of the month for March. Gregory Pa r thum, the Lebanon Police officer who serves at the school’s resource officer, nominated Fontaine, describing him as “a self motivated individual” and “a leader in both classroom and extracurricular activities.” As a distance runner, Fontaine helped the Lebanon boys track team win New Hampshire Division II championships during the 2014 indoor and outdoor seasons by finishing second in both the 3,000- and 3,200-meter races. As a senior, he finished second at the state Division II cross-country championship in October and second in the 3,000-meter race at the 2015 indoor championships.

College Recognition

Simmons College in Boston recently named Alexandra Vutech of Woodstock to its dean’s list for the fall 2014 semester. She is a junior majoring in psychology.

∎ For their academic performance during the fall 2014 semester, Rebecca Young of Plainfield, Andrew Varney of Woodsville and Jesse Williams of Wilmot earned spots on the dean’s list at the University of Maine-Farmington.

∎ Dan Morganelli of Norwich was named to the dean’s list at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, for maintaining a grade-point average of 3.3 or better out of a possible 4.0 during the fall 2014 semester. A 2009 graduate of Hanover High School, Morganelli is majoring in athletic training.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.