Twenty-first century learning in Alpine School District

With the help of Joe Backman, the Alpine School District is implementing deeper learning skills

In twenty-first century learning, teachers are standing less in front of a classroom and more time engaging in learning activities with their students. Joe Backman, a curriculum director in the Alpine School District and graduate from the master’s and doctoral program of the Educational and Leadership Foundations department, is helping Utah schools dig deeper into student learning. They’re changing traditional teaching approaches and methods to help students truly learn material.  

Joe Backman with his family
Joe Backman with his family
Photo Credit: Joe Backman

“Our focus in education has so often been on just the knowledge. It needs to continue to be strong in knowledge, but we need to see a bigger picture,” shared Backman. “If we truly want our students to become good citizens and people, they’ve got to know more than just knowledge. They need to gain and apply skills and dispositions.”

Science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) subjects are being integrated rather than being treated as stand alone subjects in the Alpine School District. This initiative teaches students twenty-first century skills that include how to collaborate, communicate, be creative, and think critically.

“We’re shifting three things to make deeper learning happen,” Backman explained. “There’s a curriculum, pedagogy, and an assessment shift. It’s not just about the academics or content of knowledge anymore.”

The three ways to reach deeper learning include deep learning tasks, new learning partnerships, and using digital resources and technology. The deep learning tasks involve students working with their hands, whether that means building something or solving problems using problem-based learning. New learning partnerships encourage students to work with one another or directly with the teacher. Lastly, students incorporate technology in their learning to make it more authentic.

“The integration side of things is about deep learning. It’s got to tie back into in the core curriculum,” Backman said. “When you do deep learning in a classroom, it creates a context where social studies is more authentic because it’s a story that builds up the deep learning task.”

From being a teacher to becoming a principal at Foothill Elementary School, to now serving as a curriculum director at the district office, Backman has made a huge impact on education in this area. With his continued efforts, young students in the Alpine School District can expect to be prepared for the future armed with a set of twenty-first century skills, knowledge, and dispositions.