Knela Newton’s 3rd-grade class doesn’t look like a typical classroom.

Some students sit at cafe-style tables; others at old wooden desks. Five lean back against a white sofa in the middle of the room. Everyone’s attention is focused on their Chromebooks.

Just after school began in Smith River on Friday, Newton’s students wrapped up a reading assignment using the program Epic and were creating interactive stories using Google Slides about tornadoes.

One student, Nevaeh Rhoden, demonstrated to the classroom a method of adding sound to her story. Newton said Chromecast allows her students to show the work they’ve done to their classmates.

“These are 3rd-graders,” Newton said. “They know how to do more on technology than most adults. They can open a Chromebook and use Google Apps for Del Norte County and navigate Google Drive like most adults can’t.”

Newton, whose students use technology constantly for their daily assignments, is the North State Computer-Using Educators 2018 Outstanding Teacher of the Year. Rae Fearing, the district’s director of innovation and special programs and principal at Mountain Elementary School, said Newton is a technology legend in Del Norte County Unified School District.

“She has her 3rd graders doing the most amazing work using numerous apps including Flipgrid and KidBlog,” Fearing said in an email Thursday. “She is also willing to train every teacher who will listen in the effective use of Hyperdocs, Google Classroom, Flipgrid, KidBlog and more. She is a tireless advocate for the effective use of technology in education.”

Computer-Using Educators, or CUE, is a nonprofit organization founded in 1978. Fearing said she and other educators in Northern California formed the North State CUE about a year and a half ago. It’s CUE’s newest and largest affiliate in square miles, Fearing said, comprising Butte, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Plumas, Shasta, Siskiyou, Tehama, Trinity and Del Norte counties.

Newton’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year award is the first the North State CUE has awarded, Fearing said. Newton competed against other teachers in the North State but won because she is constantly learning and innovating on her own and she shares that with her colleagues in Del Norte, Fearing said.

“She’s very connected globally to other educators and participates in connecting with other classrooms in other parts of the state, other parts of the country and other parts of the world through video hangouts,” Fearing said. “She shares her learning with other teachers and helps them implement new processes and technology. There’s a whole global and innovative mindset to her practice as a teacher.”

Newton has been teaching in Del Norte for 21 years. For 15 years, she taught fourth-grade at Joe Hamilton Elementary School. She said she remembers receiving her first class set of iPads about five years ago and having to figure out how to integrate them into her lessons. For the most part, Newton said, it was having her students click on an app to practice math games or read a book.

But since being part of CUE and working under Fearing for the past two years, Newton said she has kids create content rather than just consume it. One of the first things her students do when they arrive at school is break out the Chromebooks, she said.

Newton said she’s also able to use Google Classrooms to enable students to work on assignments even when they’re not able to be at school.

“One girl is on independent study and it’s almost like she’s not missing school because she can get online,” Newton said. “She can do everything the class is doing.”

Newton also developed monthly breakout games for K-8 classrooms in the district, her games being published on BreakoutEDU, according to Fearing. Newton’s students learn story elements with Ozobots, global design from NASA and use FlipGrid to connect with other classes, Fearing said.

Newton said her students make videos and send them to youngsters around the world, giving their viewpoints on topics related to what they’re learning. On March 2, Dr. Seuss’s birthday, they discussed their favorite Dr. Seuss book with other students using video comments, Newton said.

“I’m all about student voice and choice through the use of technology,” she said. “They have a back and forth conversation; it’s connecting outside of the small world we live in in Del Norte County.”