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Trending Topics in Education: Fountain Valley School [Podcast]

Posted by Carrie Watkins on Oct 3, 2016 8:00:00 AM
Topics: K-12, podcasts
Toni Olivieri-Barton, library technology educator from Fountain Valley School of Colorado joins the podcast to talk about hands-on learning with and without technology. Fountain Valley School provides students with opportunities to explore the world around them, both outside their window and across the globe. Toni talks about how being a connected educator helped her grow while also setting a good example for students.

Trending Topics in Education with Carrie Watkins


Welcome to the MBS Direct Podcast where we talk with some of our partners who are doing interesting things with content and education. I'm Carrie Watkins, the senior digital consultant with MBS Direct and today we are talking with Toni Olivieri-Barton, the library technology educator from Fountain Valley School of Colorado. Thank you, Toni, for joining us.

Toni Olivieri-Barton: Thank you for having me.

Carrie: You are the library technology educator and so there's a couple things going on there, working at the library, working directly with students as an educator. I know from past conversations that you are very heavy in global collaboration and getting students to recognize the world at large, partially because of some of your experiences outside of the United States in your past. Tell us a little bit about your roles leading up to what you do at Fountain Valley School of Colorado and what you do there at Fountain Valley School of Colorado.

Toni:I started, right after college I was a paralegal for few years but then I was the computer expert at the law firm so I became a computer trainer for adults 22 years ago, probably. 21 years ago. That's kind of how I got into the computer side. As I was doing computer adult training, I started doing a lot of school districts and as I was doing the school districts, I realized how fun it is to teach younger people, also, about how they can use the computers and I got into a school district teaching computers. I actually started on the technology side of my current job, but 2 years teaching high school technology to mostly freshmen with some personalized learning built in there, so we had some self-study kids who would create their own classes that they would do at a self-study class with me.

I got into global collaboration while at the high school level, so my husband and I decided to teach in China for a year so we went overseas and at that school I was actually a technology coordinator for an elementary school. After a year there we came back and I stayed in elementary schools for a year but I found a job as a library person but they wanted me for my global experience. Met with an IB school, international baccalaureate school, and they were interested in getting more of those connections. So while I was there I was able to get second through fifth grade, all of the classes, all of the students really having connections somehow overseas or even in South America we worked with. We went as far down as kindergarten but not all the kindergartners always got it, and that was really fun to do.

When I heard about this job opening here, it was just a librarian job before but it had been kind of morphing into more of the technology aspects and the librarian before kind of had told them you really need to change the name to library technology educator because that's what we do now. We do so much and we have for many years. We did so much with databases online but it's also getting into more with creating online and not just doing a paper but doing different types of presentations online for technology.

Carrie: Great. You work with the students to really help them understand how technology impacts the rest of their curriculum and academics?

Toni: Correct. I don't have any classes. I just work with students and teachers when they need assistance with the library or resources or technology. For instance, when I first came at the beginning of the year, some of the teachers wanted to do some joint lessons with me because they knew of my expertise. The teacher and I would usually sit down ahead of time and talk about what their goals were and talk about what technology we could use to reach those goals, and then I would come into the classroom while he had his class and team-teach with him regarding the technology aspects of it because he wasn't as familiar with those as I was.

Carrie: Can you give some examples of maybe a project or two that you've helped work with?

Toni: In the science classroom they had a project of locating a specific tree in the world and so it had to be an actual tree and then doing a project based on what kind of tree it was. We used Google Maps to map out the class set of trees so everyone we shared a Google Map with, the whole class, and they added where their tree was and had a picture of their tree. We are a boarding school so we had kids from around the world so it's pretty cool. Some kids were able to choose their tree in their hometown, maybe in this country but maybe in a different country. Then what they had to do was they had to find information and research about the tree and then create a VoiceThread, which is an online website that they use that you can use pictures and you can draw on the pictures and you can talk over the pictures to explain whatever you're trying to present to them. They use VoiceThread. Then, after they created their VoiceThread they went back to the Google Map and they added the link on the Google Map of their VoiceThread about their tree. Within this one map, you had all the different students and all their different presentations.

Carrie: Though you were talking about before your transition into education was because you found it so enjoyable to work with these students. Tell me a little bit more about what that was, what you found interesting. It sounds like maybe you're still experiencing that with some of these projects that you're doing.

Toni: When I was teaching educators, I was teaching adults at first but when I started teaching the educators and trying to figure out how they can use the technology with their students, I really like helping people do their job better. Even as students, it's fun to show them how they can do their homework or their research or whatever's easier. Showing them new tools that are out there just kind of excites me. It's just fun that a lot of kids do think that they're the tech wizards in the world, which a lot of times they are but they don't know everything and being in the technology world, I consider myself a pretty connected educator meaning I connect with a lot of different educators from around the world to be able to know what the current, latest and greatest best practices are. I'm able to give my whole school kind of on-demand PD when they need it based on what their needs and goals are for the students.

Carrie: Fountain Valley School of Colorado is a really interesting one because obviously you guys are very focused on the technology side but you're also very focused on the whole child and ecology and lots of different things that the students face on a day-to-day basis.

How do you balance the need for technology versus helping students really understand their footprint in the world?

Toni I think that I would say we're really not heavy into technology here. I think we have a really good balance, like you said. I'm going to back a little and say, I think at Fountain Valley, we use it when it's appropriate. I love technology, but it is just one tool. It's just one thing that we can use. Even though I'm really passionate about it, I think what excites me more is where you really learn how to fit it in correctly into the curriculum and not just add it to add it for technology's sake and I think that's really important.

We do a lot with outdoor education here. Our campus is on 1,000 acres and we really try to get the students to understand that their environment is important, that the earth is important and that we are caretakers of this earth and because we have so much land, it's a simple thing for us to be able to do here. We also have a mountain campus that we use for retreats. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, we have a cabin that holds 70 students and adults that we can go to for weekend retreats. Again, just connect with the land and make them understand that there is a love of the land and that we need to take care of it.

Carrie: You've been teaching for close to a couple decades now so you've probably seen things shift, definitely from the technology standpoint and also just from the schools that you've worked in. What's kept you in education throughout all of those changes?

Toni: I started really with adults and I was with adults for many years. I've only really been in the education sector for nine years now and I feel like it is always evolving and there are always new things to learn and I do pride myself in being a learner, that I want to learn the new stuff, and there's a lot of old stuff that I still know but there's always different best practices that are out there and different how software works and how we interact with it.

I just think the idea of how education is changing, good and bad, is very interesting but also, especially at an independent school, how we can try different things like the aspect of the environment.

We also have a global scholar diploma here where we really try to get the kids to focus on the global world, not just our little world here in Colorado.

Carrie: With all of those different things that you guys are looking at, you as an educator and then the school as a whole, terms of, we talked about personalization a little bit earlier, technology in general, environmental, global citizenship.

What do you think education in general needs most right now?

Toni: I think when you think about it you do think about all the crazy standardized tests that again, being an independent school I don't have to worry about that. What I notice here is we do have the small class sizes and we're able to do some of those kind of fun, different projects that, because we don't have all those other things to worry about. I think connection is such a huge thing. Connections with students from around the world gives our students a global perspective and hopefully more empathy for others who are different than themselves. I also think students learn so much when they're helping others. For example, our school does a one week interim with all students and all students have to go somewhere else. Our freshmen have to stay in Colorado and kind of learn about Colorado, but we have lots of different trips throughout the state.

I was actually fortunate enough to take 13 students to the Dominican Republic where we actually did a service learning trip where they were the English teachers in an elementary school. When I think about how much those kids grew in the ten days we were down there and how much that probably changed their experiences and what they want to do when they grow up and how much it empowered them to know that they can make a difference in the world, I think connections have a lot to do with that. Not everyone can do that, but it's so easy now to connect your students outside of your classroom and get them more of an authentic experience in many different ways to just open their eyes to the outside world.

Carrie: That exposure is so important for students. They're still trying to figure out where their place is in the world and you want to make sure that they know that it is in the world and not just in this tiny little bit of land that's here in Colorado and exposing them either through service learning projects or even, like you said, just the other students, the boarding students and making sure that there's a good collaboration among those students, though very important. It's very exciting for what you guys are doing there.

Toni: I think one thing would probably be personalized learning. Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey have written online a lot about personalized learning. On Monday nights I usually try to go, when they have it, their Twitter chats, which is #plearnchat, Monday night. I think that's really interesting because it really talks about getting kids choice and voice with their learning and how to make it more authentic for them. The one thing that I think is really interesting in the independent school movement is the green school movement. Independent schools have kind of charged themselves with this idea that no one else is doing it. Schools can save so much money being a green school. Being friendly with the environment, having solar panels or doing more recycling and food, farm-to-table kind of initiatives, that I think that's pretty powerful because again, I think it's an authentic learning process for kids to be involved with a green school movement.

Carrie: Absolutely. We have a number of schools that have started some aquaponics and gardening and just getting their students, like we talked about earlier, that exposure to things that they might have a chance to learn within the traditional curriculum environment. Has any of that happening at Fountain Valley School of Colorado?

Toni: Yes. I just applied to become a Green Schools Alliance school which is just kind of like an online community that kind of focuses you what you can be doing. Our kitchen is run by FLIK Organization but they try to do all local and organic foods within our kitchen. We also have a very large composting project going on right now which is the back end of the kitchen is now composting all of their food so that we can use it for fertilizer. We have, again, a lot of land here but we also have horses so we have to feed the horses hay and to create the hay. We do little things also like raptor poles to bring different kinds of birds to our areas. We have a butterfly garden and we're actually going to grow that more during Earth Day this year to get more butterflies in the area, and we're just always looking for different ways to work on that. We do have some solar panels, two of our buildings that we use, and just little by little, looking for those ways to make our school more green

Carrie: Are most of those projects student-led or student completed?

Toni: Many of them are. We have an amazing ranch manager who's very passionate about the environment so he leads it with student involvement. We do have a student group on campus that's always looking for those projects. We have trails on our property for our biking team and our runners, our cross country runners and our students are definitely very heavily involved with maintaining those, whenever there needs to be trail work done on those also.

Carrie: You talked about being a connected educator.

What exactly does that mean for you as a library technology educator, somebody who does technology as well as teaching?

Toni: I think for any connected educator, it's interesting because, especially in my position, I am the only librarian at my school. I don't have a team to work with like the English Department or the Math Department. I am kind of by myself. Becoming a connected educator was really important because then I could talk to other librarians or technology coordinators to hear what's going on at other schools and to keep in the loop of what, even what books to buy that are coming out that are the best books for our high school students. The benefit really is that I'm able to share the knowledge that I have but I'm also able to get a lot of different ideas from many different people from around the globe.

I started, again, when I was at the high school six years ago, I did a flat connection certification program with Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsey who started the flat connections movement and they did a class for teachers and I met a lot of teachers through that, had the same passions that I had, care about the environment, that cared that our students should be connected and that we shouldn't have closed classrooms. I've actually maintained a large friendship with them and call ourselves the global friends because we try to meet on Sundays once a month to talk about what we're doing. We used to all be at the elementary level so we met a lot more then to do projects together because we kind of found our tribe in that we found people that were like-minded like us. Not at our schools but at other schools that we could connect with and connect our students with to get your students to be connected correctly into this age, you need to be the one that's connecting also. You need to be modeling that for them and having those connections already setup.

Carrie: Being that role model is so important for teachers, not only because you get some really great resources that you can then pull into your classroom, but like you said, you become an example for those students of how to do it and on occasion it may not go quite exactly the way you want it and that's a good example for the students as well. If somebody was wanting to learn a little bit more about Fountain Valley School of Colorado in terms of what projects you're doing or to get in touch with you directly, what would be the best way for them to find you?

Toni: I am on Twitter so you can do the at sign, Toni, T-O-N-I, OBarton, but I also have a blog that I'm not totally consistent with but I do try to put some of the fun things that we're doing on there and that's at

Carrie: Well thank you very much for your time, Toni. I appreciate learning a little bit more about Fountain Valley and what you guys are doing out there.

Toni: Great. Thank you for having me.

 For more information on any of the topics discussed in this podcast, or any other questions you have about digital content options, contact your Account Manager or you can reach out to me, Carrie Watkins, Senior Digital Consultant, on Twitter, @CarrieJWatkins.

About Carrie Watkins

Carrie is a former digital consultant for MBS Direct, who specialized in traveling around the country to learn about new products and services MBS Direct can provide to partner schools and bringing those ideas back into the office to work on with the digital solutions team.

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