Erin Bahrenburg, Barbara Gill, and Kristine Harootunian

Innovative Teachers Advance Learning through Technology: Bahrenburg, Gill and Harootunian Receive Project Ignite Awards

Home » Education » Innovative Teachers Advance Learning through Technology: Bahrenburg, Gill and Harootunian Receive Project Ignite Awards

Thursday April 26, 2018

The mission of Vita-Learn IGNITE is to fuel innovation and transformation in schools for the purpose of “preparing today’s learners for the demands of tomorrow.” Recently, three South Burlington School District (SBSD) teachers received recognition for exemplifying innovative and transformative instructional practices. At the seventh annual IGNITE Day of Recognition, held in Montpelier April 3, Erin Bahrenburg, Barbara Gill, and Kristine Harootunian each received a 2018 Project Ignite Award. Featuring close to 100 of Vermont’s most innovative educators, the event was co-sponsored by Vita-Learn and Vermont ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development).

South Burlington High School’s Kristine Harootunian, a math teacher and lead tenth grade advisor at South Burlington High School (SBHS), said, “It felt great to be recognized for the work I have put into teaching.”

Her award nomination reads, “Kristine has not only created a website for our school, for all staff and students to use as a resource for building their PLP (personalized learning plans) but has been crucial in developing the framework for the four-year outline for our students.” Harootunian notes, “I am hopeful that the changes we make will help students see that they are designing their own path through high school, which in turn could get them to buy into their education more. I hope that one day I won’t have to answer, ‘Why do we have to learn this?’ because the students will have developed the plan for what exactly they need to be learning.”

SBHS Principal Patrick Burke says, “Kristine is one of those teachers who is on the cutting edge of experimenting with new tech tools, she is a leader in SBHS PLP work in such a way that she not only models effective use of tools for teachers, she routinely shares her expertise and provides guidance to other teachers.”

With a passion, not just for math, but for her young scholars, themselves, Harootunian reports, “I have seen students put in so much thought, time, and effort into projects, not for a grade, but because they are truly enthusiastic about what they are learning,” adding, “In learning about function transformations, I had students create art on Desmos (online graphing calculator) and one student spent some sleepless nights recreating an image of a Nordic skier - she used 544 different equations to create this. Other students have done research about issues that strike a chord in their hearts for statistics. I have seen the amazing way they are able to weave statistics in with storytelling. I had another student, just today, come sit in on a different section of the class so he could get more practice in before the upcoming test on Tuesday. I could go on, but they are impressive.”

Regarding math, a subject which can be challenging for many, this teacher is not just optimistic, she speaks to the core of all learning. “I think everyone can be good at math – a lot of times I think people don’t understand the hard work and practice math takes and just assume that thinking mathematically is a ‘gift.’ Nonsense,” says Harootunian. “I often will let students in on the struggle that I go through to solve a problem, or learn something that is foreign to me, and let them know that the struggle is what is going to get them to where they need to be.”

Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School’s Barbara Gill

Barbara Gill has been teaching at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School (FHTSM) for over 30 years. A resident of Charlotte, the teacher says, “South Burlington is my second home. I am so grateful to teach in such an educationally driven community.”

Gill is the middle school French teacher and uses technology to enhance her students’ learning experience. She notes, “Technology sparks student creativity and engagement. Students interact in French and film themselves in front of a green screen. They are then able to edit their video and insert French backgrounds to make their films more authentic. Through using technology as an educational tool, they not only learn French but can access their imaginations.”

Regarding the Project Ignite award, Gill reports, “I was thrilled and honored to receive the award. However, my students are the true award recipients. The recognition celebrates their tenacious creativity and how they utilize technology to communicate and learn about themselves and the world, becoming a global force of next generation thinkers. Despite having the title of their teacher, I am always learning with them. We discover the latest technology as a team. I am so proud to share their incredible work to inspire others to do the same.”

Every summer, Gill spends the last few days in her classroom, decorating with a new French inspired theme, from a French café to the Louvre. “I want my students to feel like they aren’t walking into a classroom but taking a journey to another country to spark more memorable learning.” Committed to sharing a global perspective, Gill states, “Students need to study cultures around the world in order to gain a better understanding of their own and open themselves to different ways of thinking.”

FHTMS Principal Karsten Schlenter describes Gill as a veteran instructor with “a passion for her profession and a heart for middle school students.” He continues, “Barb has an inherent aptitude to integrate technology in a very purposeful and engaging fashion. Students are provided with numerous opportunities to create meaningful projects that allow students to apply their knowledge. This is an award well deserved!”

While learning another language can be daunting, Gill sees its value for creating engaged citizens and notes that the school’s exchange program with Périgueux, France has been evidence of the connections language forms. “My students are now learning with Elsa, a 19-year-old French business student who wants to improve her English. She is staying with the South Burlington family that her father stayed with when he was an exchange student years ago. She helps my students with their French and they help her with her English while discussing education, politics, school lunches, etc. That’s global learning.”

After three decades of a devoted and evolving teaching career, Gill remarks, “I am extremely lucky to have been in the passenger seat on so many of my students’ journeys as they discovered new opportunities at home and abroad. I can’t wait to see what they are up to next!”

Orchard School’s Erin Bahrenburg

Erin Bahrenburg teaches fourth and fifth grade at the Orchard School. In her ten years there, she has taught younger grades as well. “It was an honor to be recognized and nominated by a colleague in the district. I know a lot of teachers are doing similar innovative and creative projects and lessons, so I was proud to be representing my school as a Project Ignite teacher.”

Bahrenburg says she enjoys finding ways for her students to share their learning with others, as well as pushing them “to create projects that can go beyond the classroom walls and connect with the world outside.” She adds, “This past year, I was able to do a workshop on two programs, Voice Thread and We Video, which allowed the students to create videos to teach each other about Westward Expansion. They were then able to give each other feedback and questions through the Voice Thread. This helped them take ownership of their learning. Their creativity amazed me. It is often experiences like this, that students remember, more than a traditional report.”

Orchard School Principal Mark Trifilio says, “Erin is a thoughtful teacher who is frequently learning and experimenting with technology to enhance student learning. She is always upping her game so that students are more engaged in their projects and understanding of how technology can augment their interests and achievements. I am really proud Erin is an Ignite recipient.”

Bahrenburg comments “I always try to build a strong rapport and community in the classroom. I find in order for students to take positive learning risks, they need to feel comfortable and supported by their teacher and peers. I always hope they see the individual strengths they bring to the group and learn to respect others’ differences.” She continues, “I love to create an environment where the student’s passion for learning is what drives others around them to get excited.”

Passionate about teaching, Bahrenburg says, “I love the students! I love how each class of students is unique, so I try to push myself to find new programs, technology tools, and projects to meet the needs of those students. It brings me a lot of joy to see students become excited about their learning.”

Each of the three SBSD teachers spoke highly of the Project Ignite event. Gill remarked, “The energy and creativity in the room sparked some great new ideas for innovation and collaboration.

It was truly inspiring to be among so many gifted education innovators.”

Bahrenburg concurred, “One of the best parts of this event was being able to talk with other educators from around the state and share ideas. I came away inspired and excited about new ways to engage my students and excite them about their learning.”

Harootunian adds, “I loved being able to meet kindred spirits. Receiving this award brought together teachers from all over the state who are also attempting wonderfully creative, inspiring, and meaningful change in their classrooms. I loved being able to meet kindred spirits.”


SOURCE: Carole Vasta Folley, The Other Paper