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

Standard

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

Standard

Preparing for the unthinkable

wlA little over a week ago a seventeen year old student at West Liberty-Salem High School brought a gun to school and shot a classmate with the apparent intent to harm others.  I don’t have any inside information regarding what happened other than what I have read each day in the Columbus Dispatch.  If what I have read is correct, it sounds like several students and several staff members in West Liberty-Salem acted heroically and potentially averted greater harm.  I’m also thankful to read that it looks like the student who was injured is making progress towards recovery at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

We live in a society where senseless gun violence continues to be a significant public issue.  I have friends who grew up in West Liberty and I don’t believe there are many nicer small towns anywhere in the United States.  It’s a close knit community and it proves that if incidents of violence can occur in West Liberty they could occur anywhere.

In Worthington we have worked diligently to prepare our schools, our staff members, and even our students should we ever experience such a senseless act.  Several years ago all Worthington Schools were modified to include secure entrances and to make sure the perimeter of every school is locked throughout the student day.  Our staff members have all been trained in the ALICE (run-hide-fight) incident response system and our staff members have worked with students to respond in a similar fashion should it ever be necessary.  For each school we have established “rally points” where students would go should such an event occur.

Every school principal in Worthington Schools carries a walkie-talkie.  By simply changing the channel they have direct access to the Worthington Police dispatcher which can immediately send police to the school.  In addition, every school office is equipped with a panic button that goes directly to 911.  Finally, Worthington has a safe schools hotline where students, parents or community members can anonymously leave tips should they suspect an act of potential violence. 1 (866) 871-0926.

School safety in Worthington is a three pronged approach.  Secure buildings and strong plans with accompanying training are important but we recognize that many events are triggered by mental health issues or by feelings of isolation.  Our third prong of school safety is attempting to help our students deal with their mental health needs.  In Worthington we employ three full-time mental health specialists that work with our students as well as a partnership for therapeutic counseling services where we refer students and families to North Community Counseling.  Lastly, our staff members are committed to providing school cultures where every student knows they have a trusted adult in their school that cares about them and believes in them.

In Worthington the safety of our students and staff is our primary concern.  We’re attempting to be vigilant every day and we need every community member to partner with us.  My hope and prayer is that our community never has to deal with a situation like West Liberty-Salem is dealing with.  If we ever do, I hope we react as well as they seemed to.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
Standard

State of the Schools

stateofschools17

Hopefully by now you’ve seen an invitation to our annual State of the Schools event scheduled for Thursday, February 2nd at 7:00 P.M. at Worthington Kilbourne High School.  This event is designed to showcase some of our students and to provide you with an overview of the successes and challenges of the school district.  

Likely, if you’re like me, you saw some information about the State of the Schools and it piqued your interest.  You may have even checked the date on your calendar to see if that date is open.  Then you discovered that one child has gymnastics practice, another child has a basketball game and you remembered that in February it will be both dark and cold at 7:00 P.M. and you didn’t give another thought to attending the event.

Listen, if that describes you, or if you didn’t even consider attending, you’re making a mistake.  Seriously, big, big mistake.  This night is going to be awesome!  All of your friends will be there (they just don’t know it yet and thus haven’t texted you about it) and you don’t want to be the only one who didn’t check-in on Facebook from WKHS.  Similarly, each school principal and all of our district leadership will be there.  Did I mention there will be cookies.  That’s right., free cookies!  Now you have to attend.  Sure you could watch the live stream or the Facebook Live feed, but some things you need to experience in person and in community with others.

In all seriousness, you will read about our schools in the newspaper.  You’ll read about kids today in many publications.  If you come to the State of the Schools you’ll see some of the amazingly talented students who are growing-up right here in our community.  You’ll hear stories of other students and those stories will leave you thankful for our kids today.  You’ll be motivated to engage with the schools to help make a positive difference in the lives of all kids.  Finally, you’ll leave better informed about what’s going well and where the district will be challenged in the coming year.

Your public school district matters to your community.  We want to engage with you to make sure Worthington Schools is a great place for kids today, tomorrow and into the future.  Please invest 75 minutes of your time to attend our State of the Schools at 7:00 P.M. Thursday, February 2nd at Worthington Kilbourne High School.  We’ll have cookies!

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
Standard

It’s Magic…

booksAs the Superintendent of Schools there are some things that I should understand how they work that my 43-year-old brain just can’t seem to comprehend.  One of those items involves the Worthington Library.

The Worthington Library system is an awesome, amazing library system that all residents in the Worthington School district have access to. They’re great to work with as a school district and just as great to work with as a private resident of Worthington.  

When my wife and kids traveled to Indiana for the holidays I stayed in Worthington because I needed to be in the office.  On Wednesday I was in my office when my sixth grade daughter sent me a text.  She told me she had finished the book she was reading on the car ride over to Indiana and asked if I could send another one in the series she was reading to her Kindle.  I had a few spare minutes and thus I did it right then.

I access the library primarily today via their website.  When I go to the site my user info and password is already stored there via Google Chrome.  (This is not a good practice for security, but really, who hacks library passwords?  And there are so many passwords to remember these days.)  I access most digital books on their Digital Downloads portal.  Two clicks and I was in the Worthington site and in Digital Downloads portal.  I typed the author’s name I was looking for into the search function.  His books came up and it showed which ones were available now.  I looked at a few book summaries and clicked the borrow button.  I had checked out two books.  I checked them out as Kindle books and with one more click I sent the two books to my daughter’s Kindle.  Finally, I sent a text to my daughter telling her the books were on her Kindle.  She replied with a smiley face and a heart.  (I think that is good!)

Total time for this entire process, 3 minutes.  In 3 minutes I exchanged texts with someone 200 miles away and sent two library books to her in Syracuse, Indiana.  I have no idea how that all works.  No idea, but it is awesome!  There are literally thousands and thousands of books available to Worthington residents wherever they are, whenever they need them.  As a school district we know that reading may be the most important thing a child can do.  The Worthington Library system helps allow that to happen even if I, the Superintendent of Schools, has no idea how it works.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
Standard

Top 10 in Ohio for Enrollment Growth

enrollmentOn December 26th Columbus Dispatch reporter Shannon Gilchrist published a story titled “Central Ohio schools buck statewide trend by growing.”  Her article detailed that the central Ohio market is gaining students and it pointed out that school districts on the outer edges of the Columbus metro area with a significant amount of undeveloped farm land such as Olentangy, Dublin and Licking Heights have experienced the greatest number of new students.

For those of us who lived through Worthington’s expansion years in the late 80’s, we remember a time when new schools were being built and opened every year.  This trend continued in Worthington through 1991 and then enrollment in the school district peaked around 1998.  From the late 90’s until 2010 the growth on the north side of the Columbus area went into southern Delaware and Union counties.  From 1998 to 2010, Worthington was “built out” and empty nesters chose to stay in their homes.  Our school district actually lost 1,000 students and enrollment declined.  To combat the declining enrollment, Sutter Park Elementary School was closed and Perry Middle School was closed.

Since 2010 until current day, Worthington is growing again and at the rate of essentially 100 new students every year.  The Columbus Dispatch article points out that from 2010-2015 Worthington was one of the top ten districts in Ohio for enrollment growth.  If you know Worthington, you know that this growth is not coming from developing fields into houses.  Our growth is a result of housing turnover and an increase in multi-family housing units.  Our enrollment projections from 2016 predict that this growth will continue for the next several years.  

Managing the enrollment growth will be a challenge.  In 1998, when Worthington held the number of students we have today, we did not offer all-day kindergarten, nor did we have the special education pre-school or the autism numbers that we have today.  Each of these three programs takes considerable classroom space that was not allocated for these purposes 20 years ago.  In addition, the programs that are now housed in the Perry building (Rockbridge Academy, Phoenix Middle School and Worthington Academy) have become important educational options for students across our community.

In addition to space constraints, Worthington Schools does not receive additional funds from the state when we receive additional students.  Under Ohio’s current school funding model, we are on what the state refers to as “the cap.”  Thus, we’re stretching our current dollars to serve many additional students.

As a school district we’re working to manage our current growth with the least amount of disruption possible to our students and families.  However, like a growing family, growth will likely necessitate changes in how some things work over time.

We’re not only a growing school district, we’re one of the top ten school districts in Ohio for enrollment growth.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
Standard

Kids Today!

kids“Kids today!”

For my generation that phrase is often uttered in frustration as we share all of the ways that kids today don’t measure up to those amazing kids who grew up in the 80’s and early 90’s.  Kids today spend way too much time on their electronics.  (Go out and play!)  Kids today are spoiled by their super soft cotton and moisture wicking Under Armour clothing.  (No one cuts off their sleeves anymore.  They’re too nice to cut-up!)  Kids today expect things to be given to them instantly and they have no attention span. (Back in the day you actually had to go to a store to purchase something…)  Kids today do this, and do that….Kids today.

As we grumble about kids today and fret that the next generation may be the generation that finally ends the United States as we know it, I’m certain that our parents’ generation had similar concerns about us and our grandparents’ generation likely had similar concerns about our parents.  The crazy thing is that while kids today are certainly different than kids from previous generations, from the interactions I get to see with kids, I think that difference is likely better.

Kids today are much more accepting of one another than kids were in my generation.  Statistically, our kids today engage in less risky behavior than what kids did 20 years ago.  Kids today are much more engaged in causes such as social justice and the environment, and they are motivated by more than making money.  Kids today are connected with one another, but that connection allows them to build cohorts of friends that cross school attendance lines.  Kids today are really pretty awesome.

The week before school ended for the holiday break we had bitter cold temperatures.  One day we hit -14 with windchill.  On those days, being outside is difficult even for short periods of time.  Our crossing guards are outside for an extended period of time and extreme cold is really tough to deal with.  On the day of the -14 windchill our crossing guard for Wilson Hill Elementary, Jeff Kauderer, was dressed in many layers of clothes.  He was still freezing but determined to do his job and keep our students safe.  From behind a young lady tapped him on the shoulder.  When he turned around, he was surprised that she was holding a steaming cup of hot chocolate that she had brought out just for him.  She simply said, “I thought maybe you could use this.”  

That’s kids today.  They care about more than themselves and they’re always doing things that surprise us – In a good way!  In 2017 let’s work to see the good in all our our kids.  Happy New Year!

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
Standard