Worthington Kilbourne Middle School students on April 22 watched a YouTube video that began with a 29-second segment of a moving toy car, falling dominoes and rolling marbles.
A marble landed on a laptop keyboard, starting a video that began, "Hey Cards (the school mascot name), this is Mr. Garris with your daily announcements."
The Rube Goldberg machine – which employed ramps, the tops of books, toy components and tubes – was assembled by principal Greg Garris and his wife, Melissa.
It was one of the displays of creativity Garris has used in his "KMS Announcements" video series, designed to keep students engaged and motivated during the remote learning that began when Gov. Mike DeWine closed schools in mid-March because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
As of April 23, Garris had posted 28 of the videos on YouTube. They continue Garris' prepandemic tradition of making daily announcements over the school's PA system.
Garris made those announcements after the first period at the 50 E. Dublin-Granville Road building, which has about 35 teachers and more than 500 students in grades 6 to 8.
By doing the online announcements, "The hope is to make (remote learning) easier for kids and adults," Garris said.
Another goal, he said, is to lead by example and encourage students "to try to make your own fun" at home, when separated from classmates and playgrounds.
"The biggest focus is keeping the kids connected to school," he said.
The middle school participates in a districtwide effort to maintain that connection, he said.
"We try to make contact with each student in the building ... to ensure they're doing OK (and) they're doing the work," he said.
The district also has delivered Chromebooks to students who need help with online access, he said.
In his first online announcements March 23, Garris offered students practical advice for online learning.
He recommended getting up early like a normal school day, writing down a plan for the day and sticking to it, helping around the house and staying connected.
He reminded students to check their email daily, check their grade level on Google Classroom regularly and make it a priority to be informed.
Succeeding videos included more tips and updates on remote learning.
Garris also promised, "We're going to have a little bit of fun on the way" during future announcements.
Fun in the ensuing videos has included dancing by his family, including his 3-year-old daughter, Maggie, and 1-year-old son, Bo. Maggie has joined her father for video segments on yoga, magic tricks and making Play-Doh pizzas, and Bo joined him for indoor miniature basketball.
"I've tried to incorporate my kids whenever possible," Garris said. "It's easier to include them than try to keep them quiet. I think it's fun for students and the staff to learn about my family."
A multiday feature of the videos was "KMS Cereal Madness," a bracket-style competition among breakfast cereals, with students voting on each pairing by using links on their remote learning plans.
The videos include daily guest appearances by teachers and staff members, recorded at their homes.
Their activities have included displaying their singing and dancing skills, telling jokes, showing themselves trying new things and offering advice to students.
Those appearances, Garris said, "show the lengths our staff goes to, to remain connected to students."
Other videos have included appearances by students recorded on the TikTok social-networking service.
When making the videos, Garris said, "I try to consider my audience, the kids at middle school. What would make them smile? What will interest them? What is the message I want to share with them?"
He said he considers what was effective during the school year and tries to do it remotely.
The videos have proved popular among students and their parents, Garris said.
"I've gotten some really positive feedback from our families," he said.
Worthington Schools communications director Vicki Gnezda said Garris is typical among administrators and teachers working to remain connected with students.
"We hear back from families that any chance the kids have to see their teachers or principals is definitely appreciated," she said.