By Bay Stephens EBS Editorial Assistant
BIG SKY – Technology, a bus with a big future and the great outdoors all came together at the second annual Global Tech Summit hosted by the Big Sky School District on Oct. 19 and 20. Teachers and presenters from around the state gathered to learn about and share new ways to approach teaching through technology.
Jeremy Harder, the fourth grade teacher at Ophir Elementary as well as the driving force behind the summit, said BSSD decided to host it the past two years as an alternative to the statewide MEA-MFT Educators’ Conference, which took place the same two days.
“We just wanted to offer people a different opportunity, plus we felt like we were fortunate enough with funding and with the staff being excited [about] learning a lot of technology,” Harder said. “We felt like people could benefit from what we know.”
Another driver for hosting the summit was to showcase how technology education can be balanced with outdoor education to maintain social, emotional and physical health.
A shining example of balance through alternative learning was parked out front: a maker bus. With the support of the administration and community as a whole, BSSD is building a mobile makerspace out of the “old reliable” of the bus fleet.
“Eighteen years it’s been here,” said Harder, who has driven it to Yellowstone National Park with his fourth graders more than a dozen times. “It’s one of our best busses. She starts right up. Problem is she’s standard and a lot of the new drivers don’t know standard.”
BSSD’s technology director Andrew Blessing said the bus will become a space for making of all sorts, from woodworking to robotics, sewing to LEGOs and beyond. Ryan Hunt, one of the summit’s keynote speakers, acted as the maker bus builder-in-residence, having built his own with two friends starting in graduate school. He worked and brainstormed alongside BSSD staff as they stripped bus seats and put in new flooring.
Any makerspace will reflect the community it inhabits, Hunt said. These spaces can be versatile, allowing for a hands-on method of learning and exploration that flows with the interests of the makers themselves. Likewise, the maker bus will reflect the Big Sky community.
“The bus won’t just be for the district—I mean we’ll use it a lot here—but we want to take it up to Town Center this summer and go to farmers markets and do some of the kids camps and travel around Montana,” Blessing said.
In short, the bus will become a place where “the mind can explode and make anything it wants,” Blessing said.
Workshops scattered throughout the summit offered fresh and interactive approaches to teaching using tools such as Google Classroom, interactive apps on iPads, circuitry and robotics.
Rob Reynolds of Eureka, Montana, shared the power of robotics for teaching problem solving and team building as teachers programmed and reprogrammed their robots until they could trace a square on the ground.
In a class on competitive robotics, Reynolds said the goal has less to do with winning, and more to do with working together. At a tournament, this “coopertition” leads teams to help other teams that might struggle with coding their robots.
Drawing from an Atlantic magazine article by psychology professor Jean M. Twenge, local health coach and artist Jackie Rainford Corcoran delved into the effects of smartphones on the health of today’s youth.
“We are in uncharted waters,” Rainford said. “We do not know what the outcomes of this [era of technology] will be.” She warned the audience against simply shunning or blaming technology for generational issues. Instead, Rainford offered encouragement to continue seeking ways to use technology for growth while affirming students through personal interactions.
Throughout the summit, attendees were animated.
“A lot of cool new things have been brought to the table,” said Ophir Elementary first grade teacher Ashley Jenks. “I think it’s just really valuable and it gets everyone super excited and energetic for the school year. We all feel really pumped to make it the best school year yet.”
“Each year we just hope it gets bigger and better and different,” Harder said, as he rolled around ideas for next year in his mind.