Return to Headlines

Future Ready Project Showcase Features Innovative New Lessons

Teachers from the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda and City of Tonawanda school districts have teamed up with the NYS Education Department Smart Start Program to explore and develop innovative new lessons which can be modeled in elementary/middle school classrooms. These exciting and creative activities incorporate technology, engineering, or computer science topics in order to inspire students to become “future ready.”

The first-ever Ken-Ton School District Future Ready Project Showcase, which was held on Thursday, March 9th, was the culmination of months of hard work by a dedicated team of educators who set out to design their own innovative lessons. Teachers had engaged in professional development and lesson design in their spare time, receiving grant support to help bring their ideas to life. Eight different Future Ready projects, which demonstrated design thinking and instructional innovation to prepare our students for the future, were on display at the Future Ready Project Showcase, which took place at Kenmore Middle School. Grounded in the new NYS Computer Science and Digital Fluency Standards, these projects leveraged instructional technology to engage students in critical thinking and collaborative learning.

“It was amazing to see how these projects developed and the unique direction each teacher took in designing their future ready project,” said Dr. Anne Martell, Director of K-12 Education who is spearheading the SmartStart initiative. “It is exciting to hear how these projects engaged students in learning.”

For example, one activity challenged students to create and program a device capable of monitoring the water level in soil and self-watering plants. A second project involved programming an Ozobot to help students retell a beloved story. Another empowered students to create their own world and models and then explore them in virtual reality. Presenters and the titles of their projects were:

  • Alex Bianchi, Ken-Ton UFSD: Comparing Systems to Augment Plant Growth

  • Patrick Carr & Mary Beth Flatau, Ken-Ton UFSD: Caring for Plants through Technology

  • Kim Honeck, Tonawanda CSD: Squishy Circuits

  • Andy Lueth, Ken-Ton UFSD: Understanding Electricity and Using COmputers as an Engineering Tool

  • Amanda Martin, Ken-Ton UFSD: Story Retelling with Ozobots and 3D Printing

  • Dave Rogalski, Ken-Ton UFSD: VR in the 3rd Grade Classroom

  • Laura Schmidt, Tonawanda CSD: 6th Grade 3D Printing Project

  • Kerry Smith, Ken-Ton UFSD: Code Your Story!

These projects, plus other instructional resources created as part of the Smart Start grant program, will be available on our district website for all NYS educators at

This exciting program was one small part of a five-year $1.1 million grant secured by the Ken-Ton and City of Tonawanda school districts through the Smart Start Program to give teachers the skills needed to educate students how to live safely and productively in a digitally-dominated world; how to effectively utilize technology to create, research, communicate, and collaborate; and to increase the number of students graduating with computer science skills. The local Smart Start collaboration program began last year with 76 teachers joining the first cohort of educators who focused on digital literacy and digital citizenship as well as future-ready learning to promote workforce readiness.

The purpose of the program is to develop, implement, and share innovative programs that provide professional development and support to increase expertise in computer science, engineering, and/or educational technology among teachers for grades K-8. The goals of the program are to increase digital literacy and digital citizenship skills in preparation for the regional workforce and inspire students to enroll and graduate from the Career & Technical Education (CTE) pathways programs that include computer science and information technology.