Online Learning, Blended Learning, and the Double Robot

robotWhen I completed my Shadow a Student challenge at McCord Middle School a few weeks ago one of my takeaways was that technology is omnipresent throughout the day.  Students used their smartphones to access information and practice skills and they often grabbed a Chromebook from the cart and use it to write, do research or even play a game.  What I didn’t see during my day at school was a physical textbook.  I assume our students have them, I know we purchase them, but on the day I was at McCord I never once laid eyes on one.

Technology is changing much of what we do in public education.  Our Worthington Academy program utilizes online learning.  Next year, 18 of our high school courses will be offered to students in a blended format.  In the blended format, a few days a week students will meet with the teacher for more traditional instruction, full class discussions, and other learning activities.  On the other days, students will have the flexibility to take more personal responsibility for their learning by completing online assignments, engaging in digital conversations, and meeting individually or in small groups to push their learning forward.

Technology is not only changing how we work at school, it’s also allowing one of our elementary students to stay engaged with his class while he is at home.  At Worthington Estates Elementary, we have a young man named Jacob.  Jacob is facing many physical challenges and hasn’t been able to come to school much this year. The Director of Assistive Technology of Ohio, a statewide disability technology program in the College of Engineering at Ohio State, has allowed Jacob and Worthington Estates to utilize a Double Robot, a mobile “tele-presence” device.

The device is basically a small Segway-type robot with an iPad on it that Jacob controls from home through an app on his iPad. He is able to use both iPads to watch, listen and participate in classroom discussions. If need be, through the app, he is also able to maneuver the robot throughout the school to take part in activities taking place outside the classroom. While Jacob cannot attend school physically, by way of the robot and technology, he is able to stay connected to his learning and possibly more importantly, to his classmates.  How cool is that!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Shadow a Student 2017

ellaLast week I participated in the Shadow a Student Challenge designed by the School Retool Network.  A year ago I spent the day at Thomas Worthington High School shadowing Quinn Mottice.  This year I  chose to participate again and I spent Wednesday, February 1st at McCord Middle School shadowing 8th grade student Ella Brown.

The goal of the Shadow a Student Challenge is for administrators to gain a better perspective on the student experience.  When Dr. Neil Gupta joined our administrative team a year ago he brought a very student centered focus to our team and I appreciate that he pushed me and other administrators to invest the time to experience what school is like for our students.

In thinking about my day at McCord I came away with several thoughts.  The first thing that jumped off the page is that we have great kids at McCord.  I was impressed throughout the day as students were comfortable conversing with me, they seemed to enjoy the company of one another, and they spoke highly of their teachers and the school itself.  The kids take genuine pride in being a McCord Wolf.  In my own experience as a student at McCord in 1986 I don’t remember the enthusiasm for school that our students today expressed.  

The second thing that I experienced is that academic rigor is real.  We began our day in Nikki Meyer’s Integrated Math One course working on frequency and statistics.  Second period took us to Spanish One and we were immersed in the spanish language throughout the period.  In the first two periods of the day I experienced high school level coursework, but I also experienced learning that was authentic and experiential.  In math, students were working in teams on their statistics and in spanish they were competing using a smartphone program called Quizlet.  They worked on spanish while the program randomly reassigned them into small teams for quick competitions.  Three times Mrs. Scott, the teacher, said that this would be the last problem and three times the students said, “Just one more…” and eventually we ran out of time in the class.  I am proud of our teachers at McCord.  They are teaching at a very high level in ways that our students enjoy and that also help them learn to apply the content they are encountering while building the critical soft skills of collaboration and communication.  In education today we know that while we need our students to learn at very high levels, what they know is less important than what they can do with what they know.  Districtwide we’re attempting to shift to more authentic project based learning and assessment so that students are engaged in meaningful tasks.  I witnessed positive examples of this throughout my day at McCord.

The third thing that struck me is that while the learning was engaging and rarely were students seated for significant periods of time, we need to find ways to create classrooms where furniture is more conducive to today’s learning.  The traditional student desks and chairs are functional and durable but they’re not places where anyone wants to spend significant amounts of time.  We have elementary classrooms moving to more flexible seating and we have some high school classrooms with multiple stand-up desks but as we look toward future purchases furniture is an area that could significantly improve the student experience.  choir

Finally, I learned a lesson that we all know, but sometimes forget.  The kids will always outsmart us as adults.  I spent some time with a student at McCord who has a fitbit and the family rule is that the student has to walk a set number of steps each day before he/she can watch Netflix.  As a parent I thought this was brilliant.  It’s a constant battle in our house to keep our kids active and not watching too much Netflix.  But our students always find a way to outsmart us.  In this case I witnessed the student passing the fitbit around to different friends all day long.  By the end of the day a cadre of friends had walked the requisite number of steps and the student was free to watch Netflix when he/she got home.  I love kids!

Thanks to Ella and the students and staff at McCord for making my day a great day.  If you ever have a chance to spend a day in our schools I’d encourage you to take advantage of it.  I believe you’ll walk away encouraged both by what is happening in our schools and by the kids who will be the future of our community.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

You can see more about the day on my twitter feed @tbowers3 #shadowastudent

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