School district looks to add interactive education materials | SteamboatToday.com

School district looks to add interactive education materials

Mike McCollum

Steamboat Springs — Frayed edges, broken spines and missing pages are evidence that textbooks take a daily beating in Steamboat Springs schools, but officials stress that the school district's aging books have shortcomings far more troublesome than cosmetics. — Frayed edges, broken spines and missing pages are evidence that textbooks take a daily beating in Steamboat Springs schools, but officials stress that the school district's aging books have shortcomings far more troublesome than cosmetics.

— Frayed edges, broken spines and missing pages are evidence that textbooks take a daily beating in Steamboat Springs schools, but officials stress that the school district’s aging books have shortcomings far more troublesome than cosmetics.

Instruction Support Specialist Kandise Gilbertson said the problem is most evident at Steamboat Springs Middle School.

Flipping through an eighth-grade U.S. History textbook Thursday, she noted that in 1995 – the year the textbook was printed – Bill Clinton was in his first term as President, Yugoslavia was a country, and the U.S. recently went to war in Iraq – for the first time.

“When I got here 10 years ago, ‘textbooks’ was a dirty word,” said Gilbertson, who entered the district as a teacher at Steamboat Springs High School.

“They were dry, they were boring. It was, ‘answer the questions at the end of the chapter,’ and that is it,” she said. “Textbooks have changed so much – even in the past few years – and we are behind the curve in getting ourselves caught up.”

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JoAnne Hilton-Gabeler, the Steamboat Springs School District’s new director of curriculum and instruction, hopes a $100,000 request to the Education Fund Board will jump start a multi-year process of cycling in new textbooks. The Fund Board administers the city’s half-cent sales tax for education.

“There hasn’t been, in recent history in the district, a textbook and curriculum adoption cycle,” said Hilton-Gabeler, who noted the requested Fund Board money would replace the middle school’s social studies books and implement a new reading program – that costs about $80,000 – at Strawberry Park Elementary School.

“Right now, I’m trying to devise the textbook and curriculum cycles at the same time,” she said. “We have some critical needs, and things haven’t been done in many years at all three school levels.”

Purchasing and finding money for the textbooks, along with implementing them into the curriculum, has previously been left up to each school, but Hilton-Gabeler aims to organize a five-year textbook cycling plan that would include district and school officials in textbook choices.

“Hopefully, starting next year, money will be protected for this in the district budget, rather than it being up to the needs of the schools,” she said. “This way, if we protect the money, the schools would still have the same amount of say, but we would organize and facilitate for them by bringing in textbook publishers, getting previews and reviewing texts they may want to see.”

At a Dec. 5 meeting, Fund Board member Michael Loomis asked Hilton-Gabeler how much money it would take to get the district’s textbooks updated all at once.

She said the figure would be in the millions. To do such an enormous project all at once, she added, would not be financially prudent.

“What would happen would be that everything would come up for renewal every five years, and that is a cost the district could not incur,” Hilton-Gabeler said. “We’d want to stagger it even if they funded us like that, because we could not sustain that one time expense every five years.”

Going online

Amaris Duryea and Sara Stout are like most sixth-graders. They have little trouble using an iPod and getting online is as easy as opening a book.

Both students described their textbooks as boring and a pain to lug to class every day.

“If I could just bring home a CD instead of a book, that would be much better,” Stout said. “They are really heavy and I keep having materials fall out of my binders.”

Gilbertson said reaching tech-savvy youths is becoming increasingly difficult with outdated textbooks when students have a world of information at their fingertips online. She said the solution is to engage students with new textbooks that utilize the generation’s 21st-century skills.

“Textbooks now are unbelievable in the resources they provide,” she said. “The textbook companies are learning what they have to keep up with, and, as an example, when you buy a textbook you get the rights to go online to the publisher’s Web site and get the full book, online.”

Imbedded video and interactive learning games are some of many multimedia elements offered with online textbooks. But Gilbertson said the biggest boon for teachers is the ability to focus on instructional planning, rather than spending hours searching for ways to engage kids.

“To be really innovative in the classroom without textbooks like this, you spend hours and hours finding materials for Gifted and Talented students, or (English Language Learners) or students with special needs,” she said. “All of the textbooks now come with that and you can focus on teaching.”

Gilbertson noted one challenge with moving toward online resources is re-educating teachers and administrators to use the materials.

“Believe it or not, computers are still foreign to a lot of people,” she said.

Online only?

The middle school’s critical thinking class published a new Web site last week for the Everything Outdoors Steamboat program. Teachers were so impressed that many have approached the class’ teacher, Tracy Stoddard, for student help in building their own sites.

“That just shows how students are more ahead of the game than many of our teachers with technology,” Gilbertson said.

Hilton-Gabeler noted that another benefit of using online textbooks is the need for fewer hardcopy editions. Due to online accessibility, many students would access the books from home. For those students who do not have home computer access, teachers would print the materials.

“They have been saying for the last 10 years that textbooks will soon all be online without a hardcopy,” she said. “We would never do that completely until we knew that we had the capability to have every child take the materials home and get online.”

The best part of the textbooks, Gilbertson noted, was that online textbooks are continuously updated to include such recent events as Hurricane Katrina and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Just look at some of these books – the Middle East is a total mess on the maps,” she said. “The kids are not living in a bubble, and going online can help bring recent history into the classrooms.”