“They don’t want to have to take a lot of time,” Crozier said. The students want information instantaneously.
Heaberlin already has a plan to work with a school in Sioux Center on a joint blog. Thanks to Skype, classrooms can be connected to anywhere in the world. For instance, if the class is studying about Germany, the staff is confident they can find a connection to someone who is there. Via Skype or other technology, the students can see, live, the landmark or area they are discussing.
Ehn says that as teachers develop these relationships, the opportunities for their students will continue to grow. Collaboration is the key to the future, they believe, and learning how to work well together now will improve their ability to function in a work environment.
The preparation has not all been left to the students. One of the projects in Linda Urbas’ science classes this year will be to build and program robots. Robotics is key to manufacturing today, Ehn added. Urbas spent two weeks learning about the models the students will build to effectively teach.
While Melcher-Dallas is breaking down virtual walls through technology this year, real walls have been torn down as well. Urbas’ science classroom, once broken into a standard, desk-filled room and a separate laboratory, is now one enormous room that includes desks, lab area and a group study area.
Ehn said he has not heard much feedback from parents yet. He is sure it will take a couple of months for everyone in the building to grow accustomed to the new style of learning, but the students have shown a great deal of enthusiasm for coming back to school.
The district will have 18 early dismissals this year, which will total 11 days of professional development for teachers. School days will also include “genius hours,” in which students will work with teachers and advisors. Ehn believes all of this focus on students’ internal talents and interests will lead to more successful graduates in the future.