Montrose Elementary School of Innovation | Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose Schools
March 1, 2016

Montrose Elementary School of Innovation

Just 10 years ago, the world didn't have app designers or social media managers. Who created and filled those jobs-students.

Montrose Elementary Principal Tony Steffes and his staff have started to challenge the "traditional" educational experience. They have found new ways to engage students in learning that is relevant for today's world and the unknown future to come. Little by little they are infusing more and more technology into the classes, which has allowed kids to be more creative.

Steffes is excited about the new changes. "Staff have worked hard to set aside specific time for innovation as well as infusing technology and innovative concepts into the regular school day."

The following is a snap-shot of some of the new innovative experiences Montrose has to offer, in addition to its already outstanding arts program featuring orchestra and choir.

Infused Technology-

All classrooms have about one device (iPads/laptops) for every two students making it easier for teachers to integrate technology in relevant and meaningful ways. For example, many teachers are using an app called Seesaw for reading, writing and math activities. The student uses the app to show their thinking and record their voice explaining their work. Both teachers and parents can view the child's work from any smart device and provide feedback.

Student experiences with the basics of coding/programming is a regular part of the learning experience.  Creating code or learning how to program develops critical skills such as logical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, communication and persistence. Basic coding/programming is introduced as early as kindergarten. As students progress in their learning, coding experiences evolve and become more complex. Students at more advanced levels are coding a Sphero (programmable robot) to complete challenges.

Montrose Students with a Sphero Fourth grade students Zoe Ellwoods and Tysen Johnson work to program a Sphero.


What can you create with a random selection of household items?  Give them to a Montrose student and watch the creativity unfold. Makerspace is a time when students can create, invent, tinker, and explore using a variety of tools and materials. Teachers provide both challenge-based and open-ended experiences for students. Students have already created launchers, wind-powered vehicles and more.

Genius Hour-
Every child has something that he or she would like to learn more about-but when do they find the time in school? In grades 3-5, students can explore a topic of interest during Genius Hour. Students are allowed to research a topic they choose and document their learning in a way that can be presented to others.  Staff also have a Genius Hour. Rather than "traditional" monthly staff meetings, teachers use this time to research practices. They explore new apps or programs that they could eventually use with their students. Fourth grade teacher Kate Volk describes it as, "We are preparing our students to be thinkers and Tony is giving us the time to think during staff Genius Hour."

Montrose Green Screen Montrose Elementary teachers Katie Swendra (left) and Kate Volk (right) experiment with a new app using green screen technology. 

There is a reason Montrose was named a Reward School by the Minnesota Department of Education this school year. Students are finding success in the classroom that is translating into success on state standardized tests. The changes that have already been made are changing the face of learning in the classroom. Students are working in smaller groups and teachers are able to give more individualized attention to students.

Fourth grade teacher Katie Swendra says, "It's motivating as a teacher. For some students, this is the first time they have felt comfortable in the classroom. The kids are excited to learn. "

While Steffes emphasizes traditional books, pencils and paper still have their place in schools, "We would be doing an injustice to our students if we didn't equip them with the skills (critical thinking, creativity, etc.) and tools (iPads, Chrome Books, learning apps, etc.) to be successful for an ever changing future."

With support from the school board, Montrose Elementary-School of Innovation will acquire more learning tools that will enhance the innovative learning experiences provided for students.  They will also be remodeling some common learning spaces, such as the media center, to reflect a more innovative environment. Families are encouraged to reach out to Montrose Elementary to set up a tour to learn more about the unique learning opportunities provided for students.

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