Dr. Christine Johns

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Leaving a Positive Digital Footprint

Our kids call it TMI – Too Much Information. It is a message they send to friends to show there are some things they just do not need to share.

It is the same message we need to send our students about the information they post in the digital world.

Just as our children leave foot imprints in the sand, they also leave an impression when they interact on their digital devices. However, unlike the footprints in sand, the impressions they leave in a digital world can stay with them long into their future. We call the concept digital footprinting.

Anyone sharing information through digital media needs to understand that they are sharing things about themselves to a broad audience. Just like adults, children need to be aware that what they write in a post is open to a wide audience and inappropriate use can have a long-term impact. Employers and even college admissions officers are using social media with greater frequency to review applicants.

Kaplan Test Prep, a national company that prepares students for college recruitment and tests, surveyed college admissions officers last year and found that over a quarter of them now use social media to check backgrounds of applicants (Kaplan Test Prep Survey Finds That College Admissions Officers’ Discovery of Online Material Damaging to Applicants Nearly Triples in a Year – (http://press.kaptest.com/press-releases/kaplan-test-prep-survey-finds-that-college-admissions-officers-discovery-of-online-material-damaging-to-applicants-nearly-triples-in-a-year)

Likewise, a recent study commissioned by Microsoft found that 79 percent of employers considered an on-line background check of their prospective employees. (On-line Reputation in a Connected World: http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=9709510).

I work closely with a student advisory committee that consists of a representative from each secondary school. The students talk a great deal about the importance of technology in their life. These secondary students see the critical role of technology and how the use of their personal devices – their phones or tablets – can be powerful tools in classrooms.

As we discuss these tools, we also talk about the need to teach young students the appropriate use of technology for acquiring information and learning both inside and outside the classroom. They see in their friends and in their own interactions the importance of setting limits and using good judgment when using digital media.

In response to this issue, Utica Community Schools has partnered with Common Sense Media to develop pilot lessons on digital citizenship.

In early elementary, the concept of a digital footprints is shared with students through an activity called “Follow the Digital Trail.” Students learn that what they put on-line leaves information about themselves. As students move into junior high, the conversations focus on how they can control their digital footprints through their on-line actions and posts.

Parents are important partners for us as we teach students the appropriate use of technology. There are a number of resources available that will help guide you on talking to your children about digital footprints.

Some reference articles include:

A video on digital footprint from Common Sense Media
A site for students – What are digital footprints?
Digital Life – Our Kids’ Connected Culture
Discussion Guide – Privacy and Digital Footprints

Dr. Christine Johns
Superintendent
Utica Community Schools

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A First Class Start

The restructured all-day kindergarten program implemented by Utica Community Schools last September is already earning top grades for student achievement.

New results from a national assessment indicate our students have achieved significant gains in mathematics and reading over the first semester.

The new program that blends traditional teaching and technology-based learning was set into motion a year ago when the Board of Education initiated a full day of instruction for all UCS kindergarten students. 

During the planning process last spring, our team of teachers, principals and other curricular leaders explored how technology could be used to take full advantage of the additional instructional time for our youngest learners. 

The result was an innovative learning model that is gaining attention across the country. Thanks to the initiative and expertise of UCS kindergarten teachers, students now benefit from an environment where technology supports their individual learning needs and pace. 

The students are connected to the curriculum through a digital environment that allows them to take charge of their own learning. This engagement builds independence, self-esteem, creativity, communication skills and motivation.

UCS kindergartners are using technologies that include iPads, laptops and interactive white boards to develop the skills necessary for college- and career-readiness and 21st Century success. The district has partnered with national educational experts to provide platforms that enable learning to take place in the classroom and at home.

In the first six months of our new program, the national testing data indicates:

  • UCS student achievement this year has exceeded traditional expectations in both mathematics and reading.
  • UCS students are outperforming their peers across the nation by five percentile points.
  • The percentage of UCS kindergarten students ready for first grade has tripled since the beginning of the school year.

Kindergarten is the vital first step in mastering the Common Core State Standards, the national initiative to raise the level of teaching and learning in America’s schools to prepare all children for success in the global economy.

In posting such encouraging first test results, we can clearly anticipate continued academic growth and confidence that our teachers and students are meeting the Common Core challenge.  What is also clear is that our restructured kindergarten program is giving students a positive beginning to a life-long love of learning. Utica Community Schools is truly offering next year’s first graders a first-class start in every way.

Dr. Christine Johns
Superintendent
Utica Community Schools

Digital access requires digital citizenship

The students who fill our classrooms are true digital natives. They have been raised in a world that relies so heavily on smart devices that it is hard to imagine life without them.

At the same time, technology has become an essential learning tool in every Utica Community Schools classroom. Each day, our students use interactive whiteboards, iPads, smart phones, laptops and other devices to access information and learn in exciting new ways.

Enjoying the many benefits of technology also requires our students to learn and practice digital responsibility. As growing numbers of younger children acquire their own personal devices and establish one-to-one connections with individuals online, Internet safety concerns are on the rise.

According to “Digital Life: Our Kids’ Connected Culture” (Common Sense Media, 2012), the average 8- to 18-year-old spends more than seven hours a day online – texting and socializing, watching videos, playing games and listening to music. Experts from Common Sense Media, one of the district’s educational partners, believe children may not always make a distinction between the real world and the virtual one, at times with unintended consequences.

As youngsters become increasingly skilled in using digital media, it is essential for them to also understand that once their words, photos or videos are launched on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, etc. they are there for all to see – maybe forever. A momentary lapse in judgment can lead to damaged reputations, ruined friendships, even lost employment or legal action.

Utica Community Schools has made the commitment that, as we introduce ever more advanced technology to provide our students with world-class learning, we will also focus on teaching them responsible digital citizenship and cyberspace safety. It is an effort that can succeed only with support from parents and the community.

Most people agree that technology is an amazing learning and communication tool. But as with any powerful tool, youngsters must be taught how to use it appropriately. Avoiding cyber-bullying, practicing online safety, managing time spent using devices and other important issues must be openly discussed with our young people – not only in school but at home.

To advance this dialogue, Utica Community Schools will begin piloting developmentally and age-appropriate digital citizenship concepts in some of its elementary and junior high schools this semester.

Parents are also encouraged to find out what educators and families across the county are doing to promote online learning and safety awareness.

In Utica Community Schools we believe that educating our children and keeping them safe is a responsibility shared by school, home and community. We look forward to continuing that vital partnership as we prepare today’s digital natives for leadership in tomorrow’s global society.

Below are articles that I recommend for UCS parents to learn more how we can work together to promote good digital citizenship:

Raising a Digital Child

Digital Life: Our Kids’ Connected Culture

Be a Good Digital Citizen: Tips for Teens and Parents

Living Life Online: Federal Trade Commission

Dr. Christine Johns
Superintendent
Utica Community Schools