As the birthplace of one of the first things you learn in school - the “Star Spangled Banner” - it’s no wonder that Baltimore is home to blossoming innovation. The city hasn’t just attracted edtech startups over the past few years, such as Common Curriculum and Citelighter. It’s home to schools and districts all driving technology use forward with an intense focus on how it can benefit not just students, but the entire community.
Before we packed our snow boots and scarves to head for Baltimore, the EdSurge team took a deep dive into eight districts in the Baltimore area. We learned that while each district is undergoing methodical rollouts with devices, productivity tools and even big data systems, they are also being incredibly thoughtful about how they inspire innovation. From cohorts of schools experimenting with personalized learning, to afterschool community programs devoted to blending recreation and technology, these educators are committed to putting technology to work in the classroom.
Here are a few tidbits from what’s behind all that the edtech charm in Charm City.
Baltimore City Public Schools
(In Baltimore, MD; 87,730 students)
- Rec and Tech: Liberty Elementary’s has built out a full service community center with a special focus on technology, called the Rec and Tech Center. The center has a full service tech lab filled with iPads and desktop devices. Students use the tech lab for working on assignments or even relaxing with a game of Minecraft. The Rec and Tech Center also offers access and classes to parents, so they have a place where they can build their own tech skills. Liberty Elementary teachers lead after-school clubs on topics such as web design, video editing, digital music and robotics. The nonprofit Code in the Schools teaches video game design and programming at the center as well. But technology isn’t the only thing going on. The Center has even been known to provide horse riding as part of its afterschool program.
- Dispensing Devices: Since May 2011, Baltimore City has been on the hunt for devices. They have distributed around 7,200 total devices throughout the district, including 14 carts of Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga computers distributed to schools in January 2015. The district will continue purchase more devices gradually. Most common are Yoga’s computers, iPads and Virtual Desktops.
Baltimore County Public Schools
(Towson, MD; 109,984 students)
- Shining Lighthouse: Thanks to the Maryland Digital Innovation Fund, BCPS has been able to start a pilot group of elementary schools working on refining personalized and blended learning strategies. These schools are dubbed “Lighthouse Schools.” The focus of the pilots are to create various types of learner-centered environments where students have choices around what and how they learn. These ten elementary schools will work to develop strategies on their own and in collaboration with each other that will eventually be shared out with the greater BCPS community. To share the work they are doing, the teachers and students involved in the pilots share reflections and resources on the Lighthouse School blog. The district is also working to organize visits between Lighthouse Schools and with over 100 other elementary schools in the district to begin spreading innovation. Currently, these schools have a 1:1 computer to student ratio in grades 1-3, and will be expanding that next year to grades 4-5. Popular tools used in the Lighthouse Network include Wixie, Discovery Streaming, Reading Wonders (McGraw Hill), BrainPop and PebbleGo. The district will expand the Lighthouse Network to an additional six middle schools in the 2015-16 school year.
- Developing ELA Curriculum: In 2013, BCPS received $800,000 in funding to create a digital ELA curriculum to be piloted by grade one to three students at Edmondson Heights, Lansdowne, and Halstead Academy elementary schools in 2014-2015. The curriculum is a comprehensive Common Core-aligned ELA tool that supports blended and personalized learning. The curriculum also utilizes materials from McGraw Hill’s Reading Wonders resources.
Calvert County Public Schools
(Prince Frederick, MD; 16,221 students)
- School-Home Connection: CCPS knows that a teacher’s day never ends. Through coverage from The Microsoft Home Use Program, CCPS has made it possible for staff to have access to home installation and use of the Microsoft Office Suite and the Windows Operating System (for both Windows and Mac). There is a small fee for this program, and the software must be used for work related to school.
- The Power of PD: CCPS believes that in order for students to get the most out of technology, teachers must acquire the knowledge and skills that students will be asked to learn. That is why CCPS prioritized professional learning. The district offers multiple learning pathways to teachers including PD at the local school system level, and online learning opportunities through PD 360 and the Maryland Virtual Schools program.
Frederick County Public Schools
(Frederick, MD; 40,648 students)
- Embracing BYOD: As part of the Technology Now initiative, FCPS has shifted towards a BYOD model, allowing students to bring their own devices during the school day. In an effort to support the BYOD initiative, FCPS has installed wifi in all schools and is teaching digital citizenship throughout the district.
- Tablets Galore: In spring 2013, three FCPS schools participated in a tablet pilot. Each school received 30 tablets of a different kind to pilot. Spring Ridge Elementary School used iPads, Windsor Knolls Middle School used Android tablets, and Catoctin High School used the Windows 8 tablet model. The pilot aimed to explore which tablet was the most cost-effective, to be used throughout the county.
Howard County Public Schools
(Ellicott City, MD; 52,806 students)
- Building A Digital Bridge: The district has recently supported the expansion of world language learning for elementary grades, using a proficiency-based model. The pilot will begin next year in sixth grade, starting with Spanish and expanding to Chinese. The district will use its Learning Management System to support collaboration and resources for these courses.
- SIS + LMS + Data Warehouse: The district is in the middle of adopting a whole new system linking content and data. Its new SIS (EduPoint) will link to content on their new Learning Management System (Canvas), which will link to a new Data Warehouse (Edvantage). All three tools will operate with a single login. Teachers will primarily use Canvas as a gradebook, to store and manage curriculum and to communicate with students, which will synch daily with EduPoint.
Montgomery County Public Schools
(Rockville, MD; 151,295 students)
- Online Options for HS Students: MCPS offers a few online learning opportunities for high school students looking for alternative pathways to either accelerate their learning or to gain the credits necessary to meet graduation requirements. Online learning courses are blended. MCPS offers two online courses (Comprehensive Health Education and Foundations of Technology), in addition to 17 online AP courses. There is also an alternative program called “The Online Pathway to Graduation” (OPTG), which is a year- long program for seniors needing three or fewer credits to get their diploma.
- Going Mobile: In 2013-14, nine schools in MCPS piloted mobile technology and cloud-based learning platforms. During the pilot, students were able to view screencasts of lessons. Students also had the opportunity to create presentations, communicate with teachers, collaborate with other students and engage in research using their mobile devices.
Prince George’s County Public Schools
(Upper Marlboro, MD; 125,136 students)
- Clever Discovery: Prince George’s County has a ten-year partnership with Discovery Education. This partnership includes professional development, as well as science digital textbooks for the 2014-15 school year. As of January 20, 2015, all student and teacher classrooms will be available in DiscoveryEd via Clever. The district hopes to continue utilizing software packages that work with Clever in order to support easier transfer of student data.
- iPads In The Middle: Prince George’s County has had its hands on iPads for a while. In 2012, with the help of the district’s $1.3 million American Recovery and Stimulus grant and the backing of Title I, the district began with 3,000 iPads for students across four of its Title 1 middle schools: Charles Carroll, William Wirt, Buck Lodge Middle School and Nicholas Orem Middle School. Since then, the district has further spread iPads in a 1:1 model for all students in these schools. Instructional practices with the devices vary across schools, but for some it has been used as a powerful creation tool. For instance, teachers at Buck Lodge Middle School have introduced iBooks to students, and have even gone so far as to create their own iBook documenting their process including rollout and results. The goal of the iBook are to share the school’s journey with their fellow teachers in other schools.
Washington County Public Schools
(Hagerstown, MD; 22,495 students)
- iWrite on iPads: Emma K. Doub School for Integrated Arts & Technology provides every student in grades one through five with an iPad. This initiative is part of the iWrite Project, which aims to improve literacy for all students through building 21st Century skills. The school also won an Apple Distinguished School Award (2013-15) for innovation, leadership and educational excellence. As part of the process, Doub submitted an ebook about their iPad initiative to Apple. The ebook is now available for free on iTunes. With the grant money from the Digital Learning Innovation Award, Washington County expanded the initiative to E. Russell Hicks Middle School and South Hagerstown High School.