Wilder School District, located in a small Idaho town of the same name, recently hosted Apple CEO Tim Cook and Ivanka Trump. What brought two of the biggest names in the country to a rural school district? The innovative use of technology in the classroom.
Cook and Trump visited Wilder to discuss the technical skills training initiative happening in the community. The students were understandably excited to meet their guests. "When Ivanka came we were able to allow seven more students to greet her at the door than originally allowed by the secret service," said Jonathan Carlisle, elementary school principal at Wilder and Educational Leadership and Foundations alumnus from the David O. McKay School of Education.
"The students enjoyed greeting our guests and telling them about our school and what we have been doing to establish habits of mind and ownership of learning," said Carlisle. "Our student council and students from the classes were the ones to speak and explain what we have been working on and implementing. They owned the changes at our school and what we are doing to personalize their learning."
There are no traditional classrooms in Wilder School District. Instead, students gather each day in studios for creative, personalized education. If you were to wander into a studio of Wilder students, you’d be hard-pressed to find a teacher lecturing at the front of the class. That’s not the way things are done at Wilder schools.
Teachers move throughout the classroom in a mentoring role, giving students personalized feedback and attention as they work on their iPads. The students work independently on subjects at their own pace.
Those iPads came to the school by way of Apple, and Cook's initiative. "At one point, Tim started talking about his vision of coding in education to have students critically think about their learning," said Carlisle. "He explained that students who could use coding could think about the big picture of what they were doing and know how important the details are to accomplish the bigger goal."
Carlisle went on to say that Cook wanted to highlight the school as a place where students could be prepared for a future of creating new ideas and knowing how to realize those ideas.
“It’s an amazing experience for kids to take ownership of their education,” said Carlisle. This advanced method of teaching “allows a lot more to be done with students in mind.”
Most educational professionals imagine a world where students are deeply involved with their education, Carlisle being no exception. While taking classes for his master of education in school leadership Carlisle was prompted in a class exercise to imagine his ideal school.
“When I walked into Wilder my dream was the reality,” said Carlisle. Since finishing his degree at the McKay School in 2017, Carlisle has been living his dream in Wilder, helping students take ownership of their education.
Another ubiquitous element of school that’s missing in Wilder is the piercing ring of the class bell. Carlisle’s students learn time management skills through experience. “They move when they need to move, once they finish their course,” said Carlisle.
Since students can move at their own pace through coursework, it’s possible for students to take classes at the next grade level. A Wilder education expands beyond traditional school subjects to 16 Habits of Mind that are a set of dispositions and soft skills.”
For one student in the high school, ownership has taken on new meaning. He now leads a 3D printing class of his peers. He and a few other students run and manage the entire class. “They own it,” said Carlisle.
The future holds new opportunities for the innovative student experiences offered in Wilder. For example, a media company is working with students across the country to develop an entirely student-made animated film, and students at Wilder are using their access to animation technology to participate in the exciting endeavor.
Beyond the walls of the schools, Carlisle sees this style of teaching affecting the lives of his students. In a district of about 90% free-reduced students, “We’re working with students that need a lot of support in education,” said Carlisle. “School is the way out of poverty.”
Test scores are indicators being used to show that Wilder students are benefiting from a new style of classroom—or rather, studio. Carlisle sees this model of education growing.
“Even though we’re small, once you prototype and find that it works, you can move to scale,” said Carlisle. Maybe one day schools throughout the country will move toward this student-centered, technology-driven style of teaching.
“BYU helped establish the idea that there is a lot we can do as administrators, we just need to roll up our sleeves and go to work,” said Carlisle. With his expertise gained at BYU and Wilder’s innovative groundwork, Carlisle can confidently declare, “There is a lot of hope here.”
Watch a CBS report on Wilder.
Watch this video to learn about a day in the life of a Wilder Elementary School student.
Writer: Jake Gulisane
Contact: Cindy Glad (801) 422-1257