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Educators discuss shift in learning

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler, second from right, talks about changes in education to better prepare students for 21st century jobs on Tuesday in the Jamestown High School Auditorium, with, from left, Robert Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public School District, JHS Principal Adam Gehlhar, and Sean Rinkenberger, far right, chief financial officer at First Community Credit Union. John M. Steiner / The Sun

A panel at Jamestown High School on Tuesday presented examples for a shift in education from passing as success to learning to learn.

Kirsten Baesler, state superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction, was in Jamestown to encourage community and school district collaboration as the first step in facilitating change in how children are taught in the future, she said.

“North Dakota is on the cutting edge (of innovation) for its ability to cooperate and talk about ideas and have that conversation,” Baesler said.

Pioneer schools taught what was needed to succeed in an agrarian economy, and that evolved into the industrial age school that educated students for the needs of a production-based economy, she said. North Dakota schools need to prepare students for a new age, which requires them to be innovative, creative and able to collaborate in ways that help 21st century companies grow and succeed, she said.

“We have not changed as the world has changed,” Baesler said.

Segments of the 2015 documentary, “Most Likely to Succeed,” were shown. Baesler was interviewed in the film that was designed as a community conversation tool on the need for the education system to evolve.

A grade-point average shows that someone passed a course but doesn’t guarantee the individual is prepared to give and receive feedback, which is what emerging industries are calling the tools for success, said Robert Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools. The message is about getting away from working to pass to learning through collaboration and using failure as a learning tool.

The core skills are still taught, but learning does not stop at that point, he said. Teaching students to learn how to learn with interdisciplinary options that expose them to real-world situations will ensure they are choice ready, he said.

Sean Rinkenberger, chief financial officer at First Community Credit Union and a panelist, said the accounting profession was at one time a number-crunching task that evolved into a consultant role. Change is a skill and does not come easily or naturally, but it is a reality of life that can be a valuable tool, he said.

“When I look at the labor force I hear about companies needing highly skilled workers but they can’t find them,” Rinkenberger said. “People are looking for jobs, but they don’t have the experience, and when there is a gap like that then something's not right with education, the workforce or management within the workforce and a little of all of the above.”

JHS Principal Adam Gehlhar was once an intern at High Tech High School in San Diego, Calif., a collaborative school system that did away with the separate classes and incorporates core skills through project learning and collaboration among teachers and students. He said there are schools in West Fargo and Legacy High School in Bismarck that are taking similar approaches to learning on a smaller scale.

Jamestown would not necessarily want to duplicate these programs but it can make changes

that better motivate students, Gehlhar said. Project-based learning engages students to solve challenging and complex problems, he said.

“The level of student engagement is hard to compare,” Gehlhar said.

Preparing students for 21st century learning within the traditional school class structure is not sustainable, Lech said. Adding more classes and extracurricular activities eventually takes away from the overall learning experience, he said.

The power schedule that is used at Legacy High School divides the day into smaller and combinable units to get away from the eight-period school day, he said. It allows more collaboration with students and teachers and can incorporate new activities without disrupting the overall learning experience, he said.

This diversity of breaking up the day helps make students more independent, responsible and prepared, he said. It also allows more activities to be integrated into the day, he said.

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