Randy Wyrick

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June 12, 2013
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'E' is the key

GYPSUM — You know those nonfiction library books that no one has checked out in a decade, the ones that trumpet the coming wonders of the cellular telephone, then show you a picture of Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone?

There aren’t many of them left in the Gypsum Creek Middle School library. The school will be one of the first in the nation to convert some of its library space into what’s being called a learning commons.

Over the summer, the library will be reconfigured, and eBooks and eBook readers will replace printed books that didn’t make the cut.

Gypsum Creek principal David Russell and Barbara Romersheuser, the school district’s library media coordinator, are ramrodding the project. Russell was technology teacher and software is still part of his DNA.

Gypsum Creek is a STEM school — science, technology, engineering and math.

There’s a similar but less ambitious transition at Eagle Valley Elementary School. Like most resources, the library collection rotates regularly and Eagle Valley Elementary is adding eBook editions into its rotation.

What’s happening

Gypsum Creek Middle School’s learning center will look a little like an Internet cafe, only without the stuff kids can spill.

Students and teachers will have access to mobile technologies, digital and print resources and modular spaces for things like content creation, presentations and performances.

If it sounds like the future, the future is now.

Last year they had more than 300 local high school students enrolled in Advanced Placement classes, and they used nothing but Colorado Mountain College eBooks. The University of Colorado has warehoused most of their print to make room for a similar program, Romersheuser said.

“It’ll be OK,” Romersheuser said soothingly. “We’re trying something new and it might not be comfortable at first. We need to help them transition the way they’re learning and the way they demonstrate what they’re learning.”

Why it’s happening

Here’s why they’re doing it.

There was a time you could walk into a library and have confidence that pretty much everything in there was true. Now, people use out-of-context bullet points to create a graphic, post it to their Facebook page and expect us to believe it.

“Students need to be able to distinguish the difference between fact and fraud, truth and propaganda, and legitimate and illegitimate sources,” Romersheuser said. “They have to learn to protect themselves from scams, preserve their privacy and respect the privacy rights of others.”

A new study by the Pew Research Center, Teens and Technology 2013, found that 78 percent of kids in grades 7-11 own some sort of mobile device, phones and/or tablets. By the time they are seniors, 70 percent of their information comes from online sources.

“The concept of a library being a warehouse for books is transitioning toward an interactive learning center. It’s really a student-centered space,” Romersheuser said.

They still have to read and research, experiment and discover, Romersheuser said.

“It adds access and portability to the educational process,” said Mike Gass, the school district’s executive director of student services. “As mobile devices and infrastructure expands, it will greatly enhance learning. Hopefully, collaboration will become the norm, with projects and products from students serving as evidence of their learning instead of tests.”

A group of Gypsum Creek faculty helped make the selections of new econtent for this fall. Romersheuser pushed the order out last week for 70 percent of the material.

Gass joked that the innovations could have some unintended consequences.

“It will totally mess with overdue fines, and there will be zero PE credits for heavy backpacks anymore!” he said.

How it’s paid for

Russell saved the money to pay for the learning center and gear, tapping Gypsum Creek’s own operating budget, some funds from Gass’ student services budget, and tech fees. The district encourages school administrators to save money from their operating budgets and use it for a larger project, said Dan Dougherty, school district communications director.

Commonly, government spending works on a use-it-or-lose-it basis, and there’s a spending frenzy at the end of a budget cycle.

At the federal level, this is referred to as the “sweep up” period as contractors compete to sweep up any leftover funds, Dougherty explained.

“To foster better fiduciary management, we allow schools to save and carry over unused funds so they can spend on things they need, instead of just spending to deplete a budget,” Dougherty said.

Gypsum Creek is spending roughly $60,000, broken down thusly:

• eBook acquisitions: $10,000.

• Chromebooks with cabinets: $20,000.

• Furniture (for space formerly known as library): $4,000.

• Replacement LCD projectors for classrooms: $5,000.

• Science technology engineering and math lab equipment, texts and resources: $20,000.

• Science technology engineering and math materials (consumable): $2,000.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935, and rwyrick@vaildaily.com

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The VailDaily Updated Jun 12, 2013 08:52PM Published Jun 13, 2013 02:14PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.