Vail Valley Voices: Teaching for this century |

Vail Valley Voices: Teaching for this century

Sandra B. Smyser
Vail, CO, Colorado

Last week at Minturn Middle School, Eagle County Schools’ Web-ex Services Coordinator Walt Valdez arranged for students to interact with a field expert by the name of Louise Huffman via a live Web conference to discuss her experiences living (and drilling) in foreign countries such as Antarctica.

The students already were deeply immersed in their study of the Arctic versus the Antarctic, and teacher Cindy Cassidy wanted to provide a different learning experience for them. These types of interactions are enabling our children to learn beyond the standard textbook by interfacing with real-world experts outside of the classroom.

This is just one of many examples of how students and teachers in Eagle County Schools are taking tremendous leaps and bounds forward in the way we do business. In many ways, we are on the cutting edge of technology use and methods of teaching that will ensure our students’ success in the future work place.

This would simply not be possible without the generous backing of Eagle County residents in the passage of the 3B bond in 2006. Since that time, we have been using the technology funds from the bond and we now have the infrastructure in place to support these efforts and initiatives. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the community, once again, for this investment in our children.

To accommodate the ever-changing world of technology, a myriad of systems are now seamlessly in place. We regularly use Webinars, Google Earth, LCD panels, Media Share, Document cameras, Discovery Streaming, Promethean boards and software, Clicker systems, Atomic Learning, wikis, blogs, eboards, social bookmarking, information literacy (Destiny, online resources-subscriptions) and so much more.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

Our teachers are using these tools to make learning relevant, and to create students who will move well-prepared into the work place, future education and life as productive community members and global citizens. We are still learning about, and our teachers are still asking for, even more technological tools.

Twenty-first century learning has forced us to look at how we teach and learn today to effectively prepare children to be globally competitive tomorrow.

I recently formed a high school task force of seven talented high school teachers to further anticipate and plan for the evolution of this type of teaching and learning. I believe that in the next 10 years, our students and teachers will figure out ways of maximizing the tools we have available and adapting to this new learning and working environment.

Colorado’s description of 21st century skills is a synthesis of the essential abilities students must apply in our fast-changing world. These five essential skills are:

n Critical thinking and reasoning (ie. problem solving, analysis, logic, cause/effect).

n Information literacy (ie. knowledge acquisition, source discernment, systems management).

n Collaboration (ie., synergy, team resourcing, social skills, leadership).

n Self-direction (ie., adaptability, initiative, personal responsibility, work ethics, self-advocacy).

n Invention (ie. creativity, innovation, integration of ideas).

n Our Eagle County Board of Education has added a sixth focus area for our students, which is globalization.

You will notice that some of these skills are not new at all, but have always been necessary for success in life. In many cases, however, these skills have changed and have become even more critical and necessary for success due to changes in the work place and in the classroom.

Some examples are the unbelievable quantities of information, unlimited access to both people and information, constant connectivity to one another, collaborative work environments where teams work together across the globe by way of technology and a focus on innovation.

The high school task force is discussing these six overarching themes: 21st century skill outcomes, relevant and applied curriculum, informative assessments, social and emotional connection, culture of creativity and innovation and 24/7 access to tools and resources.

What is driving the task force, and education in general, are the new challenges for education, which include: global competition, global interdependence, work-place innovation, ubiquitous information, and the student experience in the digital lifestyle.

A recent article in Education Week cited Speak Up, the nation’s leading education non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that today’s students are well-prepared to be tomorrow’s innovators, leaders and engaged citizens of the world.

This group conducted a large nationwide survey and reported that “students say they have to ‘power down’ when they enter schools.”

Despite overwhelming agreement among parents, teachers and principals that the effective implementation of technology in schools is crucial to student success, students say they step back in time when they enter the school building each morning.

This signals a weakness in U.S. global competitiveness and is something that we here in Eagle County want to avoid.

We need our local children to graduate fully proficient in current methods of learning, and ready to quickly and flexibly adapt to whatever changes lie ahead for them.

We remain committed to delivering the best education in Eagle County Schools and look forward to continuing down the road of innovation, globalization and collaboration in our future efforts.

Sandra B. Smyser, Ph.D., is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools.

Support Local Journalism