Turning a Negative Into a Positive

24516088_BG1A couple of more words on “Yik Yak.”  A normal blog on this site is read by three to four hundred people.  At this point our “We don’t need Yik Yak in Worthington” post has been read by almost four thousand people.  It’s good to see that parents have passed the word on to others and moving forward it will be important to educate one another on what is out there that affects our children.  The world of technology applications is constantly changing.  While it was Yik Yak last week it will be something new next month (look out for anonymity apps Whisper and PostSecret as well).  Our vigilance is needed.

Most often even things that are negative have positives.  In this case the positive is just another example of how our current group of students amazes me.  While I believe kids today have unique challenges that my generation didn’t face, I also believe that they often handle those challenges in more positive ways than my generation would have.  While some of what was posted on Yik Yak was vile and gross, our students today are much more compassionate, accepting of one another, and free from the cliques and social groups that dominated my generation.  While today we have an occasional fight in our schools, back in the late 80’s when I grew-up in Worthington, a normal Friday night was to gather at the Continent and fight anyone who had on a letter jacket of another color.  Today’s kids are much more likely to hang-out with kids from multiple schools.

Before Yik Yak was “digitally fenced in,” our student leaders at Thomas Worthington asked principal Jim Gaskill if they could address their classmates.  I’d like to share with you the statement they read over the PA system to their peers:

Hi, this is ______.  I have a couple things to talk to you guys about.  I believe I speak for the whole student body when I say this Yik Yak nonsense needs to stop.  For those of you that are unaware of the situation, Yik Yak is an app that allows people to post messages anonymously, therefore not taking responsibility for the hurtful things they are saying.  In the past couple of days, this app has been abused to the point where people are really getting hurt.  We are better than this, you don’t really mean those things you are saying, and please recognize that what you’re posting truly affects the individuals you are talking about.  We are a family here at Thomas Worthington, and especially on a day like today, when we remember a time of suffering that brought us all together as a country, this needs to stop now. As a school, we are working on getting the app blocked, so if you have it downloaded, please delete it and if you don’t, keep it that way.  The only way that this is going to go away is if we recognize the impact of our words and take responsibility for the things we say.  Thank you.  Stay GussStrong and please make an effort to make today a great day to be a Cardinal!”

I’d rather students don’t have to deal with apps like Yik Yak.  However, when they do it can be a learning experience.  And when that learning includes students policing one another and the student body as a whole making a decision to rise above the negative, even Yik Yak can be turned into a positive situation.

We have great kids in Worthington! I’m proud that our student leaders had the courage to take a stand.  That learning will serve them well in the future.

Go Cards!  Go Wolves!  Go Newts!

-Trent Bowers, Assistant Superintendent

 

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We don’t need “Yik Yak” in Worthington…

photo (60)Technology in our schools can be an awesome tool to personalize the learning experience and engage students.  Unfortunately some technology has a darkside.

Wednesday night a friend sent me a text asking me if I had ever heard of the app called “Yick Yack.”  I replied with a simple “no.”  I’d never heard of the app.  That changed quickly yesterday as I learned that a few students at Thomas Worthington High School were using Yik Yak in inappropriate ways.  Yesterday the anonymous users of the app spread the news of a potential threat and attempted to organize a fight.  In response to the disruption caused by the app, the Worthington police were enlisted to provide extra safety support, parents were notified of the negative effects of this app, and student leaders read a statement to the student body asking their peers to stop using this app.

An article from Fox News.com said that “According to ABC News: “Yik Yak works like an anonymous bulletin board, displaying messages from people in a user’s area that can be voted ‘up’ or ‘down’ on the page.  Tyler Droll, founder and CEO of Yik Yak, said the app was designed to be like ‘a city’s central plaza or campus bulletin board.’”

“‘Yik Yak users interact with everyone around them,’ Droll said.

“’Yakking’ is the welcoming, authentic and anonymous version of tweeting.”

Translation:  Anyone using Yik Yak can turn a school into a virtual chat room where everyone can post his or her comments, anonymously.  Untruthful, mean, character-assassinating short messages are immediately seen by all users in a specific geographic area.

Psychologically, Yik Yak actually removes all pretense of being a person with empathy, genuinely connected to other human beings.

So it is no wonder that Yik Yak has become the ultimate tool for bullies, especially at the high school level, who want to target another student or a faculty member and — without any consequences, whatsoever — anonymously destroy that person’s reputation.

A week ago, a private high school in Massachusetts experienced a 24-hour onslaught of ugly rumors and comments about students and administrators. School officials had to plead with the students to stop using their smartphones to ravage the self-esteem of others.

The person or persons who were responsible for all the “yakking” were never discovered.  No one could be punished.

All that was left to do, after the anonymous and vile comments were disseminated, was to try to heal.

A public high school in Massachusetts was evacuated twice last week after anonymous threats were made via Yik Yak.”

Schools in Chicago, Connecticut and California have reported serious disruptions, too, including shooting threats.”

In Worthington our disruption was not to the level of what is written about in this article.  However, the app has no redeeming qualities for high school students and poses both a social and emotional risk.  After working with Yik Yak they have agreed to put a digital fence around our secondary schools.  Students will no longer have the ability to access Yik Yak from the school location via our wi-fi or cellular network.  I appreciate that the company worked with the school district to protect our students while in school.  However, students who have downloaded the app will still have access to it outside of school.

My hope is that those who read this blog post will spread the word to parents across Worthington.  Please talk with your children and determine whether they have the Yik Yak app on their phone.  It is a personal decision whether or not you believe this app is appropriate for your child.  Hopefully after weighing the positives and negatives of the app a joint decision can be made that there are better apps available and this one can be deleted from Worthington.

-Trent Bowers, Assistant Superintendent

 

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September 11th

photoToday is officially designated as Patriot Day.  It’s the 13th anniversary of September 11th, 2001 and to honor the memory of that day our schools will observe a moment of silence beginning at 8:46 A.M., the time the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  Each of our schools will read a script similar to this…

“Thirteen years ago, our nation experienced one of its most difficult days.  Today, we pause from our daily routines to reflect upon the lives lost, and the lives forever changed, by the tragic events that unfolded the morning of September 11, 2001. We also pause to contemplate the resiliency of our citizens and our remarkable ability to work together in the face of tragedy. Please join me in a Moment of Silence as we honor our nation and remember the fallen heroes of 9/11.”

In addition across the school district our flags will fly at half-mast by Presidential order.

My daughters were all born after 2001.  They know the story of the twin towers and they’ve been to New York to see the World Trade Center site.  But, they don’t have the personal experience that those of us with more age possess.

On September 11th 2001 at 8:46 A.M. I was the assistant principal at Creekview Intermediate School in Marysville, Ohio.  I was sitting in principal Tim Kannally’s office with Carla Baker planning for sixth grade camp when someone said that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  That was terrible news, but immediately it didn’t register as anything more than an accident.  2001 was only 13 years ago, but the world was different.  We had the internet, but it was much slower and certainly no where near as all-encompassing as it is now.  I had a digital cell phone that only made phone calls.  Thus, communication that morning was much different than it would be today.  For a while our morning went on as planned.

When the second plane hit the South Tower it was apparent that this was no accident.  As school leaders our focus immediately changed to making certain our students were safe.  It may seem silly now in retrospect, but we immediately began walking the school making sure all doors and windows were locked and secured and we began communicating with teachers in person.  Many parents arrived at school and signed their children out to spend the day at home with their family.

September 11, 2001 is a day many of us will never forget.  It’s a day we should never forget as a nation, and today we’ll pause and make certain our students have some understanding of the significance of this day.

-Trent Bowers, Assistant Superintendent

 

 

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A Technology Revolution – Part 5

imagesPCNCXBCZWhen my kids pick-up a new device they somehow just know how to use it.  In our home we have a PC laptop, a Macbook, a few IPads and sometimes I bring home a chromebook that I use at work.  Before I know it I’ll have three kids on the couch all on a different device doing who knows what.  They’ve never been trained in any of the devices but they have no fear and somehow they always find ways to change my preferences and set-up which takes me no less than five hours to figure out how to change back.

While kids are digital natives many of us as adults need training.  Thus as we created our three year technology plan professional development and training was a major component.  We recognize that as learning becomes increasingly more integrated with technology this creates an anxiousness for families and even for some educators.  Certainly, all parents desire to be able to help their children with their school work and they want to be active participants in their child’s learning.  We want that as well and will be working to create training for faculty, students and parents.

This summer over 80 Worthington faculty members and all Worthington administrators attended training on utilizing ILearnOhio as a learning management system.  Curriculum leaders at each Worthington school will spend this year working with their colleagues to learn the system and begin to utilize it more fully in 2015.

Likewise a plan is in place for training teachers in implementing Google Apps for Education.  All elementary teachers will receive training in person during the month of September and then in turn they will work with their students and families.  This spring secondary teachers will receive the same training.  (If you’re interested in learning more now just click http://www.google.com/edu/training/tools/)

Moving forward we will be creating instructional technology nights where families will be able to learn about the digital resources that are used in our classrooms and how they can access those resources at home.

Our goal throughout our technology plan is to create a system that is integrated to increase student learning and engagement through greater personalization.  In order for that to occur we’ll need to be more intentional in our training.  Our kids pick things up quickly.  It’s we, as adults, that need the help!

For more detailed information on our technology plan please visit our technology plan website which can be accessed at: https://sites.google.com/a/wscloud.org/2012-bond-implementation/

- Trent Bowers, Assistant Superintendent

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A Technology Revolution – Part 4

imagesB5YKIQP6Digits, First in Math, Reflex Math, Compass Learning, Plato Learning, RAZ Kids, Study Island, Schoology, InfOhio, NWEA MAP, Moodle, StrataLogica, Flipped Classrooms using VIMEO, YouTube, etc, etc, etc…  All of these examples and actually many more are ways that Worthington teachers are helping students personalize learning in the classroom and at home.  None of these are new things for this school year.  They’ve been going on for some time.

In Worthington, we believe:

  • The use of technology as a tool integrated throughout the curriculum supports higher order thinking skills, communication skills, collaboration, and problem solving, which are critical elements of the district’s strategic plan.
  • Student access to technology is essential to meet the educational development needs of the twenty-first century.
  • Students, teachers, and administrators must be able to process and manage information through the skillful use of technology.

As we created our technology plan we wanted to make certain that our options for student learning were both increased and also organized.  In order to do this we decided to implement two online cloud-based resources that would help our students, teachers and families collaborate with one another.

Worthington will implement an instructional management system that is single sign-on to simplify online learning, virtual classrooms, digital learning materials, etc..  (A system such as the iLearnOhio Learning Management System.)  Time and again across all of our technology meetings students and families said that they had trouble remembering where to access all of their children’s passwords and digital resources.  By 2017, we plan to have fully implemented a single sign-on system that will take students to the digital resources for each of their classes located in one place.  The Google Drive of one teacher and the digital textbook will be there.  The YouTube videos and homework links of another teacher will be there.  All organized by class schedule and accessible via the web.

In addition, Worthington will implement Google Apps for Education to increase student’s and teacher’s ability to communicate and collaborate digitally. Worthington GAFE is an integrated communication and collaboration solution, hosted by Google and managed by Worthington.  GAFE will provide the ability for Worthington students, faculty and staff to communicate (email), store files and collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations in real time from school, work, or home.  This is all within a secure online environment.

Teachers can use Google Apps to facilitate group projects and use the history tool to see the level of participation of each student in a group. Teachers will be able to give feedback to students directly in documents shared with a teacher. Turning in assignments will be as easy as sharing the file in Google Docs with the teacher or by emailing it to the teacher through the student’s Worthington Google Apps Mail account.

Furthermore the addition of iLearn and GAFE allow students to access these main tools from any device.  It does not matter whether they choose a chromebook, a PC, MAC, or tablet he main tools for collaboration and student learning will be accessible.

Our students are accessing an incredible amount of their materials and individualized learning through technology.  We believe this will only increase over time and that we now have a plan in place to help students and families organize this learning.

For more detailed information on our technology plan please visit our technology plan website which can be accessed at: https://sites.google.com/a/wscloud.org/2012-bond-implementation/

- Trent Bowers, Assistant Superintendent

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A Technology Revolution- Part 3

imagesSometime in the mid 80’s my family bought our first home computer. It was a Commodore 64c and it was the latest computer poised to take over the marketplace.  In 1995 after teaching for a couple of years my wife and I invested in our own home computer.  This time it was an IBM desktop and with the IBM employee discount from a family friend we paid $2,600 dollars. (Based on an inflation calculator that is the equivalent of paying $4047.00 today.  Yikes!)

The good news is that devices are better today and cheaper today than they have ever been.  As we created our three year technology plan, that reality became very apparent.

In Worthington we believe:

  • The demands of the workplace require educational institutions to educate and train students in the use of a wide range of technology in order to better prepare students for highly skilled and well-paying jobs.
  • Technology provides a means to meet the diverse learning needs of students.
  • Technology provides motivation for students and facilitates their active involvement in activity-based learning.
  • Technological resources will have a positive impact upon student achievement and motivation.

Thus with that in mind our plan is for Worthington to be a 1:1 school district by 2017.  In order for this to happen Worthington will provide mobile devices in school at a ratio of mobile 1 device for every 2.5 students.  We will then ask families to provide students with devices for their students to bring to school under our BYOD policy.  For under $220.00 a family can provide a device that will adequately do everything a student would need to do in 95% of all classes and should last at least three years.  We believe that as technology is integrated throughout the school district and families see the benefit of their students having their own technology the low price point makes it an attractive option.  (While $220.00 is expensive to put it into perspective, as a dad I can purchase a device for my child that will enhance their education and should last for three year for less than the price I pay for one season of travel soccer.  We’ll begin advertising specs for devices to purchase in mid-Oct. before the holiday season.)

Our decision to integrate a BYOD plan with Worthington provided devices was intentional.  We want technology to be a tool to help students learn, not the focus of the student’s day.  Often with full 1:1 standardized roll-outs of technology, the device becomes an “add-on” and the pressure to use it consistently and effectively in the classroom becomes more important than thoughtful delivery of the curriculum.

Within our schools we will provide a variety of devices.  This fall 2,800 chromebooks will enter our ecosystem.  The chromebook is fast, portable,durable, easy to support, and reasonably priced.  In addition we will continue to provide PC laptops.  These devices have more functionality but come at a higher cost.  Finally we have many specialty labs for STEM, video production, etc.., that use MAC’s because of their specialized nature.

For the first time, all teachers will also be allowed to BYOD or will be provided with Worthington mobile devices.  For a long time we have asked our teachers to provide mobile learning opportunities for students but we have not provided them the technology to do so.  This technology plan changes that expectation.

Because we will be asking families to provide technology, we recognize that not all families will have the means to do so.  Thus at each school we are working to create lending libraries where students can check out a laptop and a wireless access point just like they would check out a book from the library.  This will enable all students to have computer access when and where they need it.

This fall devices will transform our elementary schools.  Later in the school year and into next fall our secondary school classrooms will follow suit.  By the middle of 2015, you’ll see a totally different school district.

For more detailed information on our technology plan please visit our technology plan website which can be accessed at: https://sites.google.com/a/wscloud.org/2012-bond-implementation/

-Trent Bowers, Assistant Superintendent

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A Technology Revolution – Part 2

photoFor many years in Worthington our school district motto was “Where Excellence is a Tradition.”  If you’ve spent any time in Worthington you realize that the schools and the community take both the excellence and the tradition seriously.  The consistent red brick throughout Worthington proper, the allegiance of attendance areas to local elementary schools, and the “Worthington way” are all things even outsiders pick-up on immediately.  Even though our students have seen success in the past we believe it’s important to continuously change and grow.  Technology is an area that we feel strongly must be improved in order for this to occur.

In Worthington we believe:

  • Student access to technology is essential to meet the educational development needs of the twenty-first century.
  • The creation of local area networks, wide area networks, and access to the information superhighway are vital for schools to provide efficient, effective technology based curricula for their students.

It’s with these beliefs in mind that we set-out to create a robust technology plan that would provide our students and teachers with access to the tools they need to personalize education.  The first area that we set-out to focus on was the infrastructure.

In Worthington we methodically upgraded all of our buildings so that we could create a robust technology and electrical infrastructure (servers, file storage, routers, switches, bandwidth, high density access points, etc…) that will meet the demands of today and the yet unknown demands of the future.  This was akin to renovating an old home.  Our schools were all built sometime between 1930 and 1991.  Even our newest schools were built before the internet was yet a thought of most educators.

While my understanding of technology infrastructure is at best limited it is akin to a road.  For many years in Worthington our technology road was a two lane country road.  It was fairly narrow and bumpy but it sufficed for a long time.  In the 90’s as technology became more prevalent the road was expanded to a four lane road with a few stoplights and turning lanes to control the traffic flow.  Over time as the internet expanded, smartphones and tablets entered the school, and the demand for video over the internet grew, our four lane road was jammed.  The lights were backed up, frustration increased, and some staff and students created workarounds because our roads weren’t cutting it.

Using bond money from both the 2006 and 2012 bond levy’s our latest expansion of our road moves from a four-lane road to a twelve lane super highway that is built with even more expansion in mind.  (The highway represents our bandwidth and fiber capacity.  Last fall we were responsible for orange barrels all over Worthington as we laid our own fiber optic network.)  To keep traffic moving on our new superhighway we invested in HOV lanes (new high density wireless access points) and roundabouts at every exit (new switches, routers and electrical.)  Currently our new road is only being accessed at about 40% capacity.  Traffic flows quickly and easily and delays are non existent.

Infrastructure is the foundation of our technology plan.  In Worthington, we created a solid foundation that should allow us to meet the ever-changing needs of technology for the foreseeable future.

For more detailed information on our technology plan please visit our technology plan website which can be accessed at: https://sites.google.com/a/wscloud.org/2012-bond-implementation/

-Trent Bowers, Assistant Sperintendent

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