They have hardware, software and fiber-optic cable line. They have laptops, Chromebooks and iPads. They have connectivity and bandwidth, and it’s wireless. Now, Sheridan County students become more than simply users of technology. They undertake the endeavor of computer science and all it encompasses.
“Education, as a whole, is definitely in a transition as to how we, as educators, interface with our resources and how our kids interface with resources,” said Sheridan County School District 2 Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Assessment Mitch Craft.
While it’s true that technology didn’t appear overnight, SCSD2 Technology Director Ryan Schasteen said he definitely remembers a before and after time in regard to the district’s implementation of tech into everyday learning. The delineating event, for him, was when the school board fully funded the Professional Learning Communities program.
“Teachers started working together and sharing information, and in order to facilitate that, we had to start adopting resources into classrooms,” he said. “As a technology department, we have followed that lead and done what we can to support that in schools.”
Schasteen said the district started somewhat slowly but that may have been a prudent path to incorporate new tools.
“What we hear from teachers that go to other districts or come here from other districts is that what we have going on with technology in our classrooms is something unique,” Schasteen said.
He said in years past, the district lagged a little bit, but it was because they let learning lead. Other schools would jump in and give every child a computer but the teaching and learning part wasn’t ready for that. With those districts, technology led learning, causing a continued struggle with technology integration.
Leadership at SCSD2 helped its programming future.
“It’s a different age of pioneers,” Schasteen said. “Now that technology is ubiquitous and invisible, it becomes a question of focusing on content.”
Sheridan County School District 3 Superintendent Charles Auzqui said his school has utilized online learning for years via the Sheridan County School District 1-sponsored Wyoming Virtual Academy for students needing credit recovery or looking to earn college credit while in high school. This year, online learning improved to fill the need of a foreign language teacher.
“I’m a solid believer teachers are our best resources,” he said. “Having teachers in front of our core courses is key, but these online courses provide outside opportunities we would never experience otherwise.”
There’s no doubt students growing up in the digital age are exposed to technology and resources unimagined by most of their parents. Now, the Wyoming Department of Education is aiming to put students in fluent command of their technology by adopting statewide computer science standards to be implemented by the fall of 2022.
University of Wyoming School of Teacher Education Associate Professor Andrea Burrows served on the new standards development committee.
“There has been a general trend and push to be 24th-century literate,” Burrows explained. “And that now includes computer science skills.”
What these aspirations mean is students will not simply apply technology where available or appropriate but act as creators and directors.
“The use of technology means using a cellphone or setting up an email address and using what’s available to us,” Burrows said. “As consumers, we interact with those devices in a way that was set up to be user friendly for us. That is a very different space than computer science.”
Burrows said computer science has many facets, all of which are grounded in problem solving. The computer science standards for Wyoming involve things like computing systems, networking, data analysis, algorithms and impacts of computing. Computer science encompasses all of those different domains, and it’s more than using something. It’s understanding how it works, problem solving, creating new things and interacting in a way beyond utilizing it.
The adjustment from traditional to technical education lies in allowing processes for something like an algorithm to look like traditional learning. Burrows said they’re making instruction explicit and letting students know they’re solving tech or engineering problems with traditional methods.
“It’s heavy lifting for teachers and districts to figure out how to do it, but students are dabbling in it and doing it already,” Burrows said. “(Students) have already been doing things that are similar. We just want to give them the opportunity to showcase how brilliant they are.”
Burrows said UW is providing multiple resources for teachers preparing to implement the new standards, including professional development sessions during the summer and online support during the school year.
While technology integration and education may seem daunting, educators and administrators in Sheridan County are slowly and effectively integrating it into school systems.
By Tracee Davis
The Sheridan Press
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the fall/winter 2019 edition of Destination Sheridan, the official lifestyle and tourism magazine of Sheridan County, created by The Sheridan Press.
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