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Dickinson educators view documentary about reforming traditional learning

Ted Dintersmith, executive producer for the film "Most Likely to Succeed" talks to educators after the free screening of the documentary on Tuesday night at Dickinson State University. (Kalsey Stults / The Dickinson Press)

Some documentaries never have the opportunity to be offered a spot on Netflix. Ted Dintersmith turned down the opportunity to have his documentary, "Most Likely to Succeed," streamed to around 30 million viewers on the service.

Instead Dintersmith, the executive director of the film, decided to keep his documentary showings in community settings just like the one that took place Tuesday evening in Dickinson.

"Most Likely to Succeed," a documentary calling for educators to rethink their teaching model to prepare students for professions in the 21st century, was screened free of cost for teachers, educators, administrators and parents at Dickinson State University.

An estimated 100 people attended the screening, many of them area educators.

"As a 30-year teacher, I've watched my students change in the way that they learn and I've seen that the skills that they will need to succeed later change also," said Leanne Smutzler, a Dickinson High School math teacher who attended the screening.

Dintersmith, a venture capitalist, said one of the reasons he wanted to produce the film was to have students challenged in the way they learn skills that'll be impactful on their entire lives.

His experience witnessing his children in school learning in a traditional environment had him contemplating how successful that would make them in the future.

"I was like, man, it's almost if though school is trying to get them to be not creative, not innovative, not take chances—not all of the characters I knew from my career, people would need." he said.

So the idea was born to make a documentary that would challenge educators to provide students with the ability to be innovative and a safe place to be creative.

While the film focuses on reforming the education system, Dintersmith said it was important to him for the film to be positive.

"It's really easy to make a negative documentary," he said. "Showing the greatness, showing what teachers and students can do if you trust them, that's not easy."

The film was shot over a two-year period and depicts the learning curriculum of students at High Tech High—a San Diego charter public school—that has given students the freedom to learn how they want to learn.

Students at High Tech High use project-based learning to keep students engaged and hands on with their work at school.

Project-based learning is defined as "a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge."

Teachers also focus on soft skills like confidence, communication, problem solving, teamwork and conflict resolution.

Jon Godfread, vice president of government affairs for the Greater North Dakota Chamber, said the business community is looking for skills that go beyond knowledge. He said since information is so easily accessible with technology, knowledge it isn't as important as was during the industrial era.

"The business community is always out there saying we need soft skills," he said. "You hire for will and train for skill. You hire the person who has good attitude, the person who is able to work in a team, who is able to creatively think, and I'll train them on everything else."

The GNDC partnered with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction and North Dakota United to host the event and travel to show the film in seven North Dakota communities over a two-week period. The next screening is at 6 p.m. today at the Watford City High School auditorium.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler said she believes North Dakota could be a frontrunner in leading the change in education for the nation and that's why she is inviting people to be a part of this conversation.

"Why not us?" she asked. "If we don't create this environment for our kids to thrive, not just to make it through, but to thrive, that is on us. They have no decision making power or authority. We are the dominant decision makers. If we don't set up their environment for success, that is on us."