NewsMissoula County


From "critical thinking" to suicide, Missoula Schools tackling 21st Century issues

City Club Education
Posted at 3:56 PM, Mar 09, 2020

MISSOULA — Do you struggle to help your children with math? You're not alone.

Even Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Watson struggles to help his eighth-grade daughter with math. Watson explained during a forum on the "State of Education" Monday that it's all because of the change in teaching students critical thinking, instead of just equations.

But during the panel discussion, the audience learned it's an important shift in study for both students, and newly graduated teachers, to cope with the future.

"It's a struggle. It doesn't come as quickly as math used to because she's got to struggle through it, She's got to think critically,” Watson said. “And she's got to problem solve. And that's a tough one parents to swallow. It's hard for me to see her struggle but I realize in the end, she's building those critical thinking skills."

"Taking a different disciplinary approach to the same question. So, you're functionally rotating it on its axis,” explained Dean of the Phyliss J. Washington College of Education at the University of Montana Andrea Lawrence. “And I think it's also important to be able to ask those questions, to be able to listen to other people's questions."

If you're not in the schools today, you're probably not as aware of the fundamental changes in curriculum. In addition to problem-solving, students are learning about service. The Career and Tech Education program in the high schools helps students prepare for further education, and careers, in everything from welding to food prep, and emergency services. And the Montana Digital Academy is helping thousands of students access courses not available in small districts, or catch up credits for graduation.

Schools today also have to teach about social issues, even offering special classes about suicide prevention. "It tries to educate kids on what that's about, and I guess address some of the stereotypes about mental health,” Washington Middle School teacher Garth Smith explained.

"A quarter of you is a teacher, you know. And then a quarter of you is a role model. A quarter of you is a counselor. A quarter of you is a cop. A quarter of you is a drug therapy person,” said Sentinel High School teacher Ben Cummins. “And then like, there's not like that many quarters. We get pulled in every single direction and we have to be experts on all of it. And it's hard to do."

The teachers continually emphasized on Monday that communication as key. So if you want to know how to help your students, or you see them struggling, they advise you to reach out to their school.