'Innovative Education' summit held in Bismarck

Jun 9, 2017

State school superintendent Kirsten Baesler addresses the opening session of the "Innovative Education" summit in Bismarck.
Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

Teachers, principals, school board members, legislators and business-people met in Bismarck for the “Governor’s Summit on Innovate Education.”

The summit was called to look at new and different ways to provide education to school age children. Burgum has said schools have to think outside the traditional 50-minute period, teachers-lecturing and standardized test taking.

The summit was held at Bismarck’s Legacy High School. The newest high school in the Capitol City doesn’t have rigid class schedules, and encourages more problem-solving through hands-on projects – and less through standard methods. Legacy principal Tom Schmidt said the instructional program was developed through talking with the business community and higher education.

"You know what? We're a community," Schmidt said in an interview. "For years and years, the business community, the college community and the public school community were three different entities. It's time we started working together."

Schmidt said both the teachers and the students love the flexibility.

"Every student's schedule is individualized," Schmidt said. "No longer are we asking 1200 students to fit the same scheule as the other 12000 students. We want you to have your own schedule, in order to be successful."

"A Deeper Learning Movement"

One of the speakers at the Summit said the whole focus of what she termed as the “deeper learning movement” is students having a much deeper connection to the “real world.”

Susie Wise is the director of the “d-K12 Lab Network” at Stanford University, and heads the “School Retool” project.

"That might look like internships, it might look like project based learning that happens around real world topics, that might look like students engaged in design challenges," Wise said in an interview. "The big piece of the work to do is to help leaders and teachers feel empowered to make those changes."

Wise said while Legacy is a great school, it doesn’t take a new building to make those changes.

"Leaders need to remind themselves that teachers need to be allowed to explore projects and new ways," Wise said. "All of the adults who work in schools are learners themselves. So how do we afford them deeper learning opportunities?"

Wise said the “School Retool” project will be looking for principals from around North Dakota to participate in a new fellowship program.

"It will focus on innovation," Wise said. "A DIY (do it yourself) approach to innovation toward deeper learning in their schools."

"One size doesn't fit all" 

Another presenter said it will take a change in mind-set by teachers and administrators to embrace new ways of teaching and learning.

"We all grew up under a system of education that is these siloed pieces of content that we memorize," said Ed Leader 21 Chief Executive Officer of Ed Leader 21, based in Tucson, AZ.

Kay said that isn’t conducive for 21st Century problem solving. He said teachers would stand in front of a class and lecture the students – and the students, in turn, would be judged by quizzes and standardized tests. And Kay said if you’re trying to get a student to be an effective problem solver...

"The teacher becomes more of a coach alongside the student, trying to help the student decide how to solve the problem," Kay said. "How to ask the right question, how to design a problem-solving approach, and then , in a creative an innovative way, solve the problem."

Kay said that means a change in teaching philosophy. He said teachers and administrators need to be on the same page in this effort. And he said communities have to choose their own values and needs that will meet the new workforce.

"North Dakota is a really good example of communities that may be preparing kids for agricultural jobs versus energy jobs," Kay said. "A lot of these competencies are important in both fields, but there may be nuances in ag that are a little different than in energy. Local communities should be able to adapt and customize to that."

Around 500 people came to the summit.

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