Vail Daily column: Innovation in practice at school | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Innovation in practice at school

Steve Coyer
Valley Voices

Recently, Dr. Jason Glass, the Eagle County School superintendent, wrote a column about innovation in education. He offered some very interesting thinking on this point, as education over the past few years has been ripe with innovative ideas — some good, some not so good. As he says:

"Our educators are continuously working to improve their craft, adapting and learning as they gain experience throughout their careers. The spirit of innovation in the classroom keeps teachers fresh and engaged. Their ability to adapt and customize the educational experience based on student needs exemplifies innovation in practice."

My wife, Amy, and I have been involved in an innovative project at Avon Elementary School the past couple of years. We have supplied the fifth-grade classes with Nexus tablets, which link to Google for Education for apps that support the Common Core curriculum. With expert technical help from Jason Butters of the school district (thank you, Jason!), the fifth-grade teachers at AES have incorporated the tablets into their everyday teaching efforts.

Amy and I believed that tablets could be very useful in the classroom, especially at AES, a dual-language school. First of all, tablets can make learning fun. This was obvious the first day the students got their hands on their own tablets! "Playing games" is right up a fifth-grader's alley, but in this case, the "games" were apps that were fun to play while teaching math skills — multiplication tables, division, fractions, etc. Also, some students were learning English as their second language, others were learning Spanish. The teachers could tailor apps to each student's language and reading needs, as well as their skill levels. This would be almost impossible to do individually, but apps on tablets make it easy to implement in the classroom. And the teachers can review the progress each student is making, since most apps record "scores" or the progress each student is making on his or her tablet. By the way, the school system has strict limits to where a student can navigate on the Internet while on the school's Wi-Fi network, so no wandering to "bad" sites is allowed.

In reviewing the year's tablet experience recently with the two AES fifth-grade teachers, they mentioned another big benefit of the tablets (unforeseen by me when we started the project), and that was how the students used them for various projects throughout the school year. For example, when the students had a project in geography class, they could open their tablet and Google the topic and find numerous links to relevant information on the Internet that helped them complete the project. Not only did the students develop better projects this way (including pictures and video), they learned some very relevant research skills that they will need to be successful in their later school years, as well as in their careers when they become adults.

The teachers, Kirby Kelly and Megan Janes (and last year's teachers, Libby Navarro and Holli Bishop), and the AES principal, Roy Getchell, and Amy and I were encouraged enough by this experience that we will be expanding this project in the next school year to include all fourth- and fifth-grade students at AES. And if the AES Wi-Fi infrastructure will handle the demand, then we are considering extending it to the third-graders, as well.

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We are convinced tablets will be a very useful part of the future of education. Our county's school system already provides Chromebook laptops and other computers to all of the schools in the district for computer labs and other purposes. We just thought we'd get a jump on the next step — each student being connected with their own device whenever and wherever teachers thought it beneficial. We're hopeful that this project can be expanded in the future to other schools, either by school district spending or private funding of the project. I'll keep you updated on the progress in the future.

Steve Coyer, of Avon, is a former chairman of the Youth Foundation board and member of the Vail Valley Foundation board. He and his wife, Amy, are active volunteers with Eagle County Schools.