Community responds to Chen's message

Shannon Litz/Nevada Appeal Carson Middle School eighth-grade math teacher Wade Greenlee talks with students Chris Burrows and Eddie Zinda on Thursday. As part of a program there, students are each provided a laptop to work on in class.

Shannon Litz/Nevada Appeal Carson Middle School eighth-grade math teacher Wade Greenlee talks with students Chris Burrows and Eddie Zinda on Thursday. As part of a program there, students are each provided a laptop to work on in class.

Carson City teacher Ben Contine said he loves his job.

"I could stay there all day," he said.

The problem, he told author Milton Chen at the conclusion of Chen's presentation Monday, is the perception of teachers in the general public.

"How do we get teaching to be that type of profession where mothers want their daughters and sons to marry teachers?" he asked.

Chen said it has to be part of the shift in thinking he promotes in his book, "Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools."

Despite the emphasis on technology in his book, Chen said the teacher can never be replaced.

"Teachers continue to be the most important factor in learning," he said. "No computer will ever whisper to a student, 'You're really good at that.'"

Chen laid out his six principal tenets of education revolution during a speech Monday at the Carson Nugget.

Carson City School District Superintendent Richard Stokes said the message resonated with him.

"I think it's important," Stokes said. "I think we're addressing some of the topics he brought up. I don't think the ideas are new particularly, but certainly timely. Taking those ideas and making them work in these current economic times is a challenge."

He said the district has considered providing laptops for students and has started a program at Carson Middle School where math students are given in-class laptops and iPods.

Robert Maw, who administers the program with fellow CMS math teacher Wade Greelee through the Nevada Pathways Project, said he is seeing positive results.

"The engagement level of the students is amazing," Maw said.

He said teachers, who he referred to as technology immigrants, need to better understand how students, who he called technology natives, learn.

"They were born with technology in their hands," Maw said. "That's the biggest challenge for us, to shift from that mode where I teach and you learn to using technology to learn together."

Steve Knight, founder and executive director of the online hybrid Silver State Charter School, was validated by the presentation.

"All of that stuff he talked about, we already do," he said. Not hindered by the process of textbook adoption, he said, the school get its curriculum online and it's updated regularly.

Mayor Bob Crowell also was inspired.

"I think the idea of integrating the education system with industry was wonderful," he said. "We're a small enough community, we should be able to create that synergy. It's more than infrastructure, it's a frame of mind."

Tammy Westergard, deputy director of planning at the Carson City Library, said it is important to put the ideas into action.

"It's great to create an Education Nation," she said, "but what we really need to do is bring in jobs."

She pointed to Say Design, which is planning to bring its digital company to Carson City.

Say Design CEO John Say said the company has plans to open a branch office in Carson City later this year.

"I believe within a few months we would probably have something started there," Say said. "It would depend on the size of the project and what we have in terms of resources and facilities."

The company, which specializes in developing online, Flash-based games, is headquartered in Orange County, Calif., and is developing offices in the Bay Area and Shanghai, China. Say said the Carson City location would amount to an incubator for digital media projects as part of the planned City Center project behind the Carson Nugget.

"I know there is a great talent pool there to incubate this digital media business," he said. "But that's going to take time to assess."

He added, "The goal is to bridge these branches... we believe that the innovation and the design will be coming out of the U.S.-based branches."

Say said the challenge now is to develop partnerships with the Carson City School District and the state's university system to ensure students have access to digital media training, such as game design and programming. In turn, Say's company would provide opportunities for the students, such as internships.

Chen's message is an echo to the platform on which Carson City School Board trustee Ron Swirczek based his campaign.

"As he describes it, it's exactly what we need to do here in Carson City," Swirczek said. "We need to give all these kids a spark. I'm excited."

• Nevada Appeal business reporter Brian Duggan contributed to this report.


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