📷: ryan soderlin / omaha world-herald

“Technology doesn’t replace a teacher or what happens in the classroom, but it can enhance that experience. We’re trying to put more arrows in our quiver in terms of the resources teachers have available to them.”

Old school: Face-to-face instruction that encourages interpersonal communication and the development of other soft skills.

New school: Google Classrooms, blended courses and e-learning on snow days.

Omaha’s nationally-recognized Millard Public School District is engaged in a 21st-century balancing act – a melding of new school + old school concepts to cultivate that next wave of well-rounded workers.

“Business tells us the skills that students need the most are communication, critical thinking and problems solving, reasoning and collaboration. We’re trying to design all of those ‘soft skills’ into the work that we’re doing – all while recognizing that we live in a digital world and they’re going to need those skills as well,” says Heather Phipps, Ed.D., Associate Superintendent of Educational Services for Millard Public Schools.

Right now, every MPS student has access to technology: one-to-one laptops for all high school and middle school students, and by next year, district iPads for all third, fourth and fifth-grade students, plus classroom sets of iPads for students K-through-second grade.

“Two years ago, we revised our strategic plan, and strategy 2.1 is to expand online learning opportunities for students,” Dr. Phipps says.

 

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The online experience in Millard includes the use of Google Classrooms, which allow students to retrieve information from, and submit information to, their teachers online – as well as a growing number of “flipped” classrooms. (In a flipped math class, for example, the bulk of instruction would happen at home via the teacher’s online video with actual class-time devoted to application – the working of problems with the teacher right there for questions and re-teaching.)

During a rigorous 2018-2019 winter, Millard extended its online experience by rolling out snow day e-learning for the first time – secondary school teachers posted lectures and assignments for students to complete at home during a sixth snow day. (The district has four snow days built into the schedule.)

“It was one of those things where we could have crossed our fingers and hoped we stopped having snow days or we could say, ‘You know what, we have some tools at our disposal, why don’t we try it?”

Student and parent response was positive, Dr. Phipps says. The district is now in the process of looking at what snow-day e-learning can look like for next year: “We’ll have a website that’s just targeted at e-learning days. We’ll have FAQs for parents and students. We’ll have more time to communicate with our families,” Dr. Phipps says.

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As it continues to balance new school and old school learning, look for Millard’s online experience to continue evolving. Next year, the district will debut blended (face-to-face plus online) U.S. government, college algebra and college writing courses for interested seniors at Millard North, South and West.

“When our students leave us, we want them to be college and career ready,” Dr. Phipps says. “A lot of their training is going to come online – it does for all of us. The more opportunities we can give them to learn the way they’re going to learn in ‘the real world,’ the better.”

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