Missoula’s Inspired Classroom aids teachers through distance learning

Art teacher and virtual learning educator Alli DePuy, left, and 30-year public school principal and special education coordinator Kathleen Dent, own Inspired Classroom, which supports students and teachers with inspirational outdoors and wildlife projects. (Renata Birkenbuel/Missoula Current)

Educators Kathleen Dent and Alli DePuy know how to plug into school classrooms in the most immediate, modern way: via live video conferencing and online virtual learning.

Add some social, wildlife or outdoors lessons, and fun challenges into the mix, and kids are ready to sit up and learn.

“It’s a live, interactive event,” said DePuy, an art educator with a virtual teaching background, about the types of programs she and Dent create for free to support teachers and students.

Bears, mountain lions, sage grouse and Google Earth projects with golden eagles are among the expert-led lessons Inspired Classroom offers in Missoula and across the state.

After buying Inspired Classroom, owners Dent and DePuy reimagined their years of teaching experience into a realm that helps school districts save money and give immediate teaching tools for busy teachers.

The lessons and units are “free to schools with access to experts,” said Dent. Inspired Classroom partners pay their salaries, including MPG Ranch, a 15,000-acre biological reserve near Florence that promotes conservation through restoration, ecology and education for all ages.

Among the other partners are the Missoula Art Museum; Kaleva Law Office; the Native Filmmaker Institute; Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Ice Age Floods Institute; Montana World Affairs Council; the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and the United States Institute of Peace.

Inspired Classroom gives teachers access to experts in various fields, supports teachers on an academic level and provides professional development for educators, added Dent.

“It’s an enhancement for their curriculum,” she said. “Students get real-world feedback from not only the teachers, but from the experts.”

For example, they set up their live video conferencing equipment at the MPG Ranch to stream a live teleconference with students sitting in their classrooms. Staffer Sam Angel serves as the videographer as they teach.

They also build templates for lessons and make videos available on their platform so teachers can access them at any time.

“We’re not coders,” said Dent, who spent 30 years in public education in Hamilton and in Utah as a principal, gifted education coordinator and teacher. “We’re designers because we know what happens in the classroom.”

The learning management system provides professional development for teachers, who too often lack enough resources in the classroom due to district cuts or overcrowding.

Inspired Classroom helps teachers support teachers as educators receive “equity of access, authentic learning experiences and connections to other educators,” said DePuy. Such collaboration helps teachers feel less isolated, especially in rural schools.

While Inspired Classroom works mostly with area rural schools in Missoula County and nearby districts, Missoula County Public Schools has bought substitute teacher training videos from the start-up.

Upcoming projects after the new year include a Montana FWP Sage Grouse Challenge for Montana middle school and high school students. A golden eagles project at MPG Ranch runs early in 2020 for elementary, middle school and high school kids.

Contact Business Reporter Renata Birkenbuel at 406-565-0013 and renatab@missoulacurrent.com.