BLOOMFIELD — For James Olivas, Naabi Ani Elementary sixth-grade teacher and one of this year's Golden Apple award winners, his teaching goal is to engage students with project-based learning in a manner that allows them to become creators instead of just passively learning rubric.

Presented by the Golden Apple Foundation of New Mexico, the award was presented to seven teachers to recognize the quality of their teaching being the single most important factor in their students' academic success, Executive Director Brian O'Connell said.

Olivas was excited to win the award after the intensive review process where multiple interviews were conducted with students, their parents, co-workers and the principal before his two and a half hour interview.

"It kind of validates what I am doing in the classroom with the students is significant and notable," Olivas said. "It's pretty neat they can see what I do and the passion that I have and be able to recognize it and see it's genuine."

O'Connell said the review team which interviewed Olivas were impressed with his ability to be creative with technology and merging them together into project-based learning.

"They were fascinated with my use of technology," Olivas said. "They got to see me using the SMART board and other things."

For pre and post-testing, Olivas' students enjoy using a clicker system, where they answer questions via a remote control and get to see the answers projected on the SMART board as they respond.


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As a sixth-grade teacher, Olivas is able to leverage the fact he is required to cover a variety of subjects and combine them into a single lesson.

"I like to not just require them to do a worksheet, not regurgitate the material," Olivas said. "If i am integrating social studies and language arts, i can tackle two things together and have the kids use the skills in language arts to explain and discuss what they learn in social studies.

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Students previously had the ability to produce a mini-movie for a project on ancient Egypt, one of many choices listed on a poster board in the classroom. Olivas said it gives the students options on how to report their learning to him.

That's the nice thing about project-based learning, you can go in-depth and the students have great questions," Olivas said. "I turned them loose and asked them, where do you want to go with it,' and they set their sights on the target and they go in and start discovering things."

Lining the classroom walls are a number of K'Nex structures, an plastic toy construction system, built by former students as part of a lesson covering the exploration into forces of motion.

Students would examine how motion is affected by friction and the angle of drop of a toy vehicle would increase or decrease the speed at which it traveled.

A solar panel helps provide insight into how solar energy is harvested and hydrogen fuel cars will be used in lesson about electrolysis, where the stripping of hydrogen from the oxygen to make a gas to power the car.

As a science lesson, Olivas would take his class on a field trip to the Bloomfield water treatment center and the students would learn to build their own water filtration unit using sand and rock.

"They would use a PH sensor and test it (water) before," Olivas said. "Then they would filter the water and see the colors change on the PH scale."

Olivas was proud to show off a robot a group of students built using the Lego NXT programmable robotics kit which was programmed to travel and stop when it detected a magnetic field.

For the future, Olivas was prepping a lesson comparing and contrasting the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome.

"We can compare and contrast their art and even though they were so close to each other, we can talk about how they are different and how they are the same," Olivas said.