By Amanda Eggert EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – Approximately 40 educators gathered in Big Sky Oct. 20 and 21 to learn about techie tools to expand their teaching repertoire, as well tips for balancing the abundant “screen time” today’s youth are accustomed to with practices to support their physical, emotional and social health.

“We appreciate you being our guinea pigs,” said Jeremy Harder, a fourth grade teacher at Ophir Middle School at the summit opening. “We would like to keep this going forever.”

True to its mission, summit attendees were provided with QR codes, shareable hashtags and even cardboard virtual reality goggles, while given opportunities to fly fish, mountain bike and practice yoga.

“The energy was really good,” Harder said of the summit. “People were really excited to learn the tech stuff, but also really engaged in the practices of balancing our social, emotional and physical selves.”

During his keynote address, Tom Holland, the owner and director of Jackson, Wyoming-based Wilderness Adventures, reflected upon the need for time outside.

“We as parents, as educators, as influencers set the tone for the world,” Holland said. “If your child sees you check your phone when you wake up in the morning, what are they going to do when they grow up?”

A review of recent trends like Pokemon Go sparked one such discussion about the balance of technology and the outdoors. Holland acknowledged that Pokemon Go users take more steps in a day than they did before using the game, but he has qualms about it, particularly that “it serves not as the tool, but as the destination.”

Holland discussed how today’s generation stacks up in terms of the characteristics companies look for in their workforce, i.e. critical thinking ability, communication skills “beyond the text message,” collaboration, team building, creativity and innovation.

“Here’s the problem: Kids right now are coming out of college—maybe because of this imbalance—not possessing these skills,” Holland said. “Those are the things they struggle with the most, especially when you take their devices away.

“If I go to them and I say, ‘You need to work on your critical thinking skills,’ they go to Siri and they say, ‘What is critical thinking skills?’ That’s a problem.”

In closing, Holland encouraged teachers to take their students outside more frequently. “It’s not just for science class. It’s for history, it’s for natural history, art, literature. Get outside.”

Harder urged attendees to take one new idea from the summit and apply it in their home districts. In addition to tools for managing this modern balancing act, the summit provided teachers with a handful of ideas, apps and assistive technologies to use in their classrooms.

Initial feedback from the participants, roughly half of which work within Big Sky’s school district, describe the summit as an alternative and important continuing education opportunity. Attendance at the conference can be applied toward continuing education credits that Montana educators must earn to keep their teaching license.

Harder predicts the turnout for next year’s summit will be two times, if not three times, higher.