In the 19th Century, the London Bridge was a marvel of technology and an example of artistic creativity, and nearly a century later, one innovative American town dismantled the original masonry of the London Bridge and rebuilt it to handle modern traffic.
Today, four miles from where the bridge now sits in Lake Havasu, Az., Nautilus Elementary is using a 21st Century technology and art to help improve teaching and student learning. For all its success, the U.S. Department of Education named Nautilus Elementary School a 2011 Blue Ribbon school.
At the school, technology is helping teachers use performance data to improve education for their students. “Nautilus stands out because from the very beginning, we took standards-based education very seriously,” said Margee Chieffo, a kindergarten teacher. “We taught…to the standards, measured student achievement…then went back and re-taught things that were not comprehensively learned by students.”
To do this, students use “electronic clickers”—small remotes, with which they can answer questions in class—and other tools that give immediate feedback on whether or not individual students and the class as a whole understand an idea or process. With this information, a teacher can focus on particular areas that students are having a hard time grasping. The school also uses an online program to track student performance and keep teachers and parents up to date. This management software allows teachers to post and parents to see their child’s grades online at any time. Through this system, parents can also view video tutorials, and teachers and administrators have access to educational tools.
While performance measurement and its data is key to designing lessons, the faculty sees teaching as an art to reach each child as an individual person. “My philosophy is this: I don’t teach subjects. I teach children,” said Chieffo.
Carolyn Myers, a 4th grade teacher, expands on teaching as an art: “We know which teachers are better at technology, which are strong in reading strategies, phonics, math. We say, ‘Can you help me with this? I’m just not reaching this child.’ ”
Nautilus Elementary’s students are enthusiastic when giving their perspectives. Andrew, a 6th grader, said, “We have…great teachers. They encourage us to do our best.” Gabby, also a 6th grader, gave her view on why the school succeeds. “Everyone’s like a family…we’re all really close.” Laurel, a 3rd grader, agreed with her 6th grade friends and gave the bottom line on going to school at Nautilus. “We get smarter by the minute.”
Christie Olsen, who teaches a 5th and 6th grade-blended class, recognizes that a school needs the community. A desert town with the London Bridge and a school named after a sea creature would be expected to have a school that is innovative. That’s the case with Nautilus Elementary—bringing technology and art together to win the Blue Ribbon Award.
Joe Barison works in ED’s San Francisco regional office.