The gold standard: How a 3rd grade teacher at Asbury Elementary is going beyond the standards to teach life skills


Hannah Robbertz



Asbury Elementary

To teach students life skills they can use outside of the classroom while pursuing rigorous learning objectives

Learner as Lead, Teacher as Facilitator, Strategic Space, Strategic Community, Demonstration of Learning

Everyday Personalized Learning


"I have this philosophy with the kids where if something isn’t working for them or they want to do it a different way they can advocate for their needs. [...] So we kind of have that shared model that this is the work you need to get done but if you can find a different way to do it or to show me your learning and understanding then I’m totally fine with it."

-Hannah Robbertz

Hannah Robbertz, a 3rd grade literacy teacher at Asbury Elementary, is one of many teachers at the school who is committed to personalized learning (PL). For Hannah, it is important that her students play an active role in their learning and are able to tailor it to their unique needs, interests, and strengths. She encourages students to speak up when something doesn't meet their needs or when they have a new idea they want to test. To her, PL means that "students are getting what they need and what they want every day [through] choices about how they're learning, choices about how they're showing their learning, and [...] the resources that they need."

Hear Hannah talk about the PL practices she uses in her classroom:



Some of the practices that Hannah uses to infuse PL into daily classroom life include:

  • Goal setting:
    • Hannah wants students to be working toward objectives that are relevant to their lives while also learning the important skill of setting goals. Students set goals that connect to their current career aspirations or to a skill they want to work on.
  • Flexible seating:
    • Students choose where they're going to sit each day to be most successful in their learning. There are a variety of options throughout the classroom from which students can choose.
  • Curiosity projects:
    • Students work on one curiosity project every six weeks. Instead of traditional homework, they research something that they're passionate about. At the end of the six week cycle, they present their research to the class in the method of their choosing.
  • Project based learning:
    • Hannah uses the standards to create project-based learning (PBL) units designed to teach real-world skills alongside academic content.
  • Community engagement:
    • Hannah draws upon local resources by inviting guest speakers to the classroom and taking students on field trips. Hannah's class has also contributed to other communities through initiatives such as a shoe drive.

Scaffolding voice and choice 


Hannah works intentionally to scaffold voice and choice for students. Giving students too much freedom at once can be overwhelming and lead to irresponsible choices. At the beginning of the year, she gives them several concrete choices for how they can demonstrate their learning. This introduces students to the idea of being able to show their learning in different ways and gets them thinking about how they like to show their learning. As the year progresses, students have more freedom to make decisions about their learning and advocate for what they want. 

Learn more about how Hannah sets up the classroom for student voice and choice:

Classroom in Action

Students choose their seat each day, deciding for themselves where they can focus best and who they will work with best. Most of the room is set up to support collaboration and idea sharing, but there are also seats for students who prefer to work alone.

Each year, the classroom is personalized with pictures of students' families and loved ones. This provides opportunities for the class to get to know each other and share about life outside of the classroom.

The class created a charter, detailing the rules and expectations for their class.

All of the students signed the charter, agreeing to uphold the expectations of their grade.

The Big Bad Wolf Unit: How it Works


One of Hannah's main PBL units focuses on the big bad wolf and how wolves are portrayed in different books. Throughout the project, students learn about literary concepts (protagonists, perspective, point of view, etc.) and have discussions applying information from the texts they read. At the end of the unit, students put the wolf on trial to decide whether or not he is guilty of being bad and take on different roles from the texts that they read. Hannah brings in guest speakers from the Defenders of Wildlife and the Rocky Mountain Wild Animal Sanctuary to enhance the lesson. The class also takes a field trip to the Sanctuary and uses a courtroom at the University of Denver to bring the trial to life. In past years, they've taken a virtual field trip to the International Wolf Center in Minnesota instead of going to the Rocky Mountain Animal Sanctuary.

Hannah designed the unit by starting with the standards and then creating an over-arching question and adding in real-life connections. By drawing upon community resources and engaging students in the trial process, she hopes to teach them how to form arguments and consider other perspectives.

Hear Hannah talk about the goals of the unit and her approach to bringing the standards to life: 

"I think what's made kids so engaged is taking lessons where they were just reading a book and answering questions and making it more real world. They’re learning about the trial system and they have to take on perspectives that might not be theirs and they have to argue and try to prove something they don’t think. That's what I love about PBL: it’s teaching them these skills that they’ll use in their lives."

-Hannah Robbertz

This board captures the main idea of the wolf unit, reminding the class the overarching question, "Is the big bad wolf really bad?" and listing the concepts that they will learn during the unit.

The unit was launched with a gallery walk in which students toured different representations of wolves: Videos, images, and audio clips. Some were positive while others were negative. 

During the gallery walk, students read through different information to gain a better understanding of wolves. They then discussed whether they believed wolves are good or bad.

Next, students explored how wolves are portrayed in fiction by reading several books that included wolves as a main character. While reading these texts, students wrote about and discussed how perspective can impact how a character is portrayed. 

Students also read nonfiction books about wolves to learn about wolves in the real world and how they are endangered and misunderstood.

Hannah connected the unit to life outside of the classroom by bringing in guest speakers, such as a representative from Defenders of Wildlife and an animal keeper. 

The class went on a field trip to the Wild Life Sanctuary to see wolves.

Students explored the Wild Life Sanctuary and learned about other animals that are portrayed negatively. 

The unit culminated in a final demonstration of their learning--the trial of the big bad wolf. Students had to make a case for whether or not the wolf was guilty of being bad.

For the trial, students walked across the street to the University of Denver to use the campus courtroom to make the experience authentic.

For the trial, Hannah rents costumes from the DPS Costume Shop to help students get into character.

Each student had a different role to play. This student got to be the wolf and take the stand in his own defense. 

Some students took the perspectives of other famous literary characters, such as the three little pigs or Little Red Riding Hood. They had to step into the shoes of their character and think about that person's point of view.

Volunteers from other schools, as well as the Imaginarium, stepped in as jurors. 


Impact on Students

Hear Hannah talk about how PL has affected her students. She believes that her students are learning more applicable skills that they will use regardless of what they want to do later in life. She also sees students wanting to get engaged in causes they care about and take action to advocate for themselves and others.

Student Response

We talked with two of Hannah’s students from last year to get their opinion on the big bad wolf unit. Hear them talk about how they liked the unit, the skills they learned, and the advice they have for teachers.

Lessons and Advice

Hannah talks about the lessons she has learned in doing this work and the advice she has for other teachers. She believes that students should drive this work and teachers should facilitate this by being flexible and open to trying new things. She advises other teachers to take small steps in getting started and aim to gradually spend less time teaching at the front of the room.

If you want to try this…

  • Start small. Pick something manageable to make personalized, like the classroom setup or a station, so that you and your students can both test it out.
  • Expect messiness. Things won't always happen like you anticipate, so try your best to remain flexible and open.
  • Draw upon resources in your community. Invite parents and other members of the community in as guest speakers and try to visit local places that enhance your lessons when you can.
  • Plan what you want to accomplish. Take some time at the beginning of a unit to figure out what you want to accomplish with the common core curriculum, then work it into the PL framework.
  • Spend less time in front of the class. Make learning less about disseminating knowledge and more about engaging students in experiences that they can design and customize. 
  • Let the kids drive it. Try to think of yourself as a guide or facilitator and not the director of their learning.

More about Hannah

After student teaching at Asbury, Hannah was hired on as a full-time 3rd grade literacy teacher, which has been her job for the past three years. Hannah always knew she wanted to be a 3rd grade teacher. From the moment she understood what a job was, she had her sights set on this career. Her lessons began small, often occurring in her basement to an audience of stuffed animals, and have grown into student-driven units that engage community partners.

To connect with Hannah, email her at



Thank you to Asbury teacher Hannah Robbertz, PL lead Desi Kennedy, and principal Alicia FaJohn, Imaginarium staff Sophie Gullett and Elisa Bowers, and the students taking ownership of their learning.

Thank you to Karin, Caitlin, and Ryan from the Defenders of Wildlife and Kristen from the Rocky Mountain Wild Animal Sanctuary.

A huge thank you to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation whose Next Generation Systems Intiative (NGSI) grant has been instrumental in helping Denver Public Schools design, study and scale personalized learning.