Kristin Donley

Teacher of the Year 2012 - Colorado


Make learning relevant.

“Education is the most powerful weapon you have to change the world.” (Nelson Mandela). Connecting learning to careers, applications, and global problems makes learning relevant for students. Students are more motivated and retain information longer if it is connected to their lives. For example, cognitive learning research states that “effective teaching helps students recognize patterns and put new information in context with the old -- a crucial part of passing new working memories into the brain's long-term storage areas.” Studies published in the journals Nature; Science; and Mind, Brain, and Education support this idea, and a solid amount of research also links personal relevance and emotional engagement to memory storage. Furthermore, research suggests that using suspense and “keeping it fresh” activate emotional signals in student’s brains and keep interest piqued. Ways to do this are to drop hints about the lesson without actually revealing the intent right away, changing up the environment or starting with a cognitive dissonance activity. Additionally, making learning more student directed through choice and connecting the lesson to their lives or what they already know helps students become more emotionally invested in the lesson, thereby, creating more motivation, focus and retainment of the information.


Integrate technology in transformative ways.

“Technology should be like oxygen, ubiquitous, necessary and invisible.” (Chris Lehman). Educators need to integrate technology. Research supports that the misuse of technology can lower student achievement; subsequently, technology needs to be employed with best practices in mind. Technology integration needs to not be employed just for achieving literacy, but it needs to be employed in a transformational manner. Students should use technology to create novel products that analyse information in unique ways. Transformative uses of technology ask the learner to use tools in a novel way to critically examine information and put it together in ways not yet explored. Transformative uses of technology ask learners to engage in collaboration and production not for spitting out facts and confirming knowledge of a subject area, but for real-world problem solving and application. Students need to be flexible and adaptable to any situation they encounter. Thus, students need to be exposed to different platforms to analyse and problem solve in novel ways. Integrated transformative technology lessons can help students be prepared to use technologies that are yet to be invented and solve future problems. Educators need continuous resources, support and training to accomplish this. Technology in schools should then be “like oxygen, ubiquitous, necessary and invisible!”


STEM is vital and should be integrated into all content areas to create out of the box thinkers.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” (Albert Einstein). Our country’s future success and stability relies on improving literacy and STEM achievement. In order to accomplish this, schools should teach reading, writing, mathematics and critical thinking through STEM applications. This makes learning relevant and gives the essential learning’s/standards a context. Too often, schools focus on teaching reading, writing and mathematics separately in an attempt to increase state standardized test scores. Teaching these content areas separately, divorced from any context, has created unmotivated, bored students who cannot understand the importance of what they are learning. Integrating STEM concepts throughout the curriculum provides relevance and context, which reinforces the importance of learning the content to our students. We need to produce students who can think critically, solve global problems, and respond to an ever-changing environment. A focus on integrated teaching in combination with the common core will help us prepare students who are workforce ready and able to compete and collaborate on the global market.


Students don’t only learn during school hours - Flipped or Blended Learning is critical.

“Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire!” (William Butler Yates). The structure of schooling needs to change. We should not be caught up in an 8-3 model just because it is tradition. We need to rethink the structures of schooling. The question becomes, “How can we offer 24-7 access to our curriculum in a differentiated manner to all of our students?” Teachers can rethink access to curriculum by offering flipped and blended learning structures in their classrooms. Students need help with the tasks that they are usually sent home with as “homework.” This practice frustrates many of our students and leads to a perception of lack of motivation and uncaring when they return to the classroom with nothing accomplished. Students typically have a hard time with transference and practice activities, but watching a basic content introduction video with a graphical organizer is something they can do easily without much support. By switching up what is sent home with the student and what is done in class, remarkable changes in motivation and achievement of students can and have been documented. Additionally, giving students a platform to continue their classroom experiences outside of school creates a community of continuous learning that is not bound by traditional school schedules. Students learn at different rates and times of the day. Flipped and Blended learning classrooms accommodates all learners and allows them to take what they are learning inside the classroom to the next level, lighting brighter and brighter fires along the way.


Teachers need access to be involved in pilots to grow in best practices and offer resources to their students.

“An investment of knowledge pays the best interest.” (Benjamin Franklin). Teachers around the country do not have equity in access to technology and business partnerships. Often times, teachers are asked to write grants for their own equipment, but they have little training, resources, and time to be effective in this endeavor. A system needs to be developed to give equity in access. Businesses need to partner with schools to offer pilot opportunities. Both parties can benefit from these partnerships, as teachers will have more resources to provide relevant and engaging lessons. I have been involved with many pilots from Einstruction clickers to Take My Teacher Home (iPod pod/vodcasting initiative) to currently, 3D projection with Texas Instruments and Designmate. All of these pilots have enriched my teaching practices and opened up opportunities for both my students and myself. I have actual research to back up my classroom practices, and I am able to share it with my colleagues and sponsoring companies. By investing in classrooms, businesses can help teachers create students that are workforce ready.

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.


Kristin Donley is certified in secondary science and STEM in the state of Colorado. She has 20 years of experience and currently teaches AP-University of Colorado (CU Succeed) Biology and Science Research Seminar at Monarch High School in the Boulder Valley School District. Kristin also serves as the Science Research Coordinator for the district. In this capacity, she has created a mentor program that connects high school students with middle and elementary school students to foster a love of STEM and encourage students to take more STEM related classes. SRS students work in internships in local businesses and they compete in the regional science fair and symposium.

Kristin is an active member of several district and state committees. She serves on the district curriculum council and the technology advisory committee as well as the State's Education Leadership Council. Kristin has been honored with the 2011 Colorado Top Technology Teacher of the Year, 2011 Best Should Teach Award, 2012 Colorado Teacher of the Year, and the 2012 CEA/NEA Excellence in Teaching Award.

Kristin works as a researcher currently pursuing her Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction. She is passionate in her pursuit of technology integration and has won several grants and participated in pilots such as integration of Einstruction Clickers, Take My Teacher Home (science vodcasting with iPods), and 3D projection. She is currently in the third year of a study that is focusing on the impacts of 3D images and projection on motivation and learning of abstract concepts.