EdTech Revolutionaries: Spotlight on Six Boston Area Districts

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We’re no Paul Revere, but we know Boston’s education revolutionaries deserve a spotlight (or lantern). Home to edtech innovation from schools and companies alike, including Learn Launch’s own incubator and universities like Harvard and MIT, Boston is just the place for thoughtful conversations about technology’s role in improving education.

So before we hop on our cross-country flights, we took some time to profile six Boston school districts. These schools are home to teacher-led professional development, student-run IT support, 1:1 initiatives, blended learning and more—read on for details.

And remember, “EdSurge is coming!” That’s right: Join us at the EdSurge Tech for Schools Summit this weekend, June 12 and 13, at the Boston-Peabody.

Boston Public Schools

(In Boston, MA; 57,100 Students)
  • Exciting Initiatives: In 2013, the city of Boston adopted Google Apps, and members of the BPS community gained access to Google Apps such as Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar and Google Groups in order to boost collaboration with colleagues and peers. In 2014, BPS deployed 10,000 Chromebooks to K-12 students as part of a new Chromebook initiative. The district has continued to support the Laptops for Learning Initiative (L4L), which began in 2007 as a way to provide teachers with laptops to use in their classrooms and for professional learning. Teachers now receive a MacBook with Windows as well as some instructional software pre-installed. 
  • TechBoston: TechBoston is a department that exists within the BPS Office of Instructional and Informational Technology. Its goal is to inspire and enable BPS students by providing support and access to advanced technology resources and opportunities that set them up for success in school and for their careers. TechBoston offers events for students and provides classroom resources, support and professional development opportunities for teachers. They also help place high school students with technology skills in jobs and internships. 
  • Tech Boston Academy Expansion: The district includes 20 pilot schools, which were created to explore innovative models for learning. One of these pilot schools is Tech Boston Academy (TBA), which serves students in grades 6-12. The school is focused on college preparation and uses various types of technology and project-based learning experiences to connect students to their learning. Students have access to various technology tools including laptops, interactive whiteboards, student response systems, and video production tools. The school also uses Google Apps for Education. TBA has an extended-day program that allows students to engage in extracurricular activities related to technology, and students also have the opportunity to take advanced technology courses during the school day such as computer science and digital art courses. Boston Public's proposed budget for 2016 includes $500,000 in funding to expand the pilot beyond TBA. 

Burlington Public Schools

(In Burlington, MA; 3,499 Students)
  • 1:1 iPads for All: During the 2011-2012 school year, Burlington Public School District began the initial phase of its 1:1 iPad initiative by deploying iPads to all high school students. Since then, the initiative has expanded. Currently, every student in grades 1-12 is provided with an iPad to use in school. At the high school level, students are also permitted to take their iPads home. The devices are used to support instruction through apps, web-based software and eBooks. 
  • Putting Professional Learning First: In an effort to encourage educators to share knowledge with their colleagues, the district’s technology team gives them the opportunity to teach each other. In bi-monthly workshops, teachers share their own strategies on topics such as classroom management apps and software recommendations to increase student engagement. The district also hosts an annual three-day conference at the start of each school year called BPSCON to prepare teachers for technology integration. 
  • Students Running The Show: Burlington Public Schools offers several opportunities for students to take center stage. Whether it’s through student-run IT support from elementary to high school, or in Maker Labs, the district is looking for ways to empower students. Through an elective course at the high school level, students provide IT support for the entire school, while also spending 20% of their time working on projects they are passionate about. At the middle school level, students perform the same service during an activity block, and elementary students take part in after-school sessions to begin practicing their IT skills. Additionally, middle school students have a 3D printing activity block. During this block, students can decide what projects they want to work on and which types of products they wish to create.

Cambridge Public Schools

(In Cambridge, MA; 6,725 Students)
  • Devices: When it comes to devices, Cambridge Public Schools aims to create uniformity across classrooms, so a teacher can walk into any room and have the same experience, regardless of location. Currently, the district supports one device for every two students. However, by fall 2015 the district will move to a 1:1 ratio with Chromebooks for all students in grades 3-8. The elementary classrooms also have pods of 5-10 iPads in each classroom, which they use as a station. The high school has 20 different computer labs, as well as three desktops in every classroom. By fall 2016, the district plans to provide the high school with 1:1 Chromebooks. 
  • Dream Team: The district has eliminated silos between departments that are complementary to each other in order to provide better tech support to schools. Across the district, IT, library and media staff are all organized under the Chief Information Officer. The library has become the center for the delivery of technology services, and in each school the IT, library and media specialists all work together to support technology across the district. In doing this, the district reports that it has been able to build more capacity to support technology and has become more agile and responsive to the needs of teachers.

Match Charter Public School

(In Jamaica Plain, MA; 895 Students)
  • Match Next: Match Next, a fifth grade campus with a blended learning model, is the newest addition to the Match organization. The model was piloted during 2013-2014 at Match Community Day with fourth graders. In fall 2014, the new campus opened to serve fifth graders. In a typical Match School day, students receive a combination of whole class instruction for four to five hours, paired with two hours of tutoring. At Match Next, there is no whole group, teacher-led instruction. Instead, all instruction is delivered in the form of tutoring. There are two master teachers (one ELA, one math) that manage the larger classroom community, working closely with tutors while they provide small group or one-on-one instruction. Tutors use technology to allow students to practice the skills they’re working on. Though the campus is still in its early phase, the goal and hope is to build a model that can be scaled on a national level. 
  • More Than K12: The schools are only a piece of the work led by Match Education Organization. Match also supports a graduate school of education for teachers, an alternative higher education experience for students, and Match Export, a set of video-based resources on Match’s best practices. Match Graduate School of Education was started in 2012. It aims to create an alternative pathway for teachers to gain their Master of Education. The school has made a name for itself for its emphasis on using videotaping and feedback on student’s performance in the classroom. Match Beyond is an alternative to traditional college, focused on students who struggle in traditional university systems. Through a partnership with the University of Southern New Hampshire, students take online courses, while Match provides them with in-person tutoring and support. Match Export, the newest project led by Match, produces and shares a series of three-to-five minute videos on particular topics specific to school management (ie. working with data, handling hallway transitions, etc.). The organization hopes, in addition to teacher training videos provided by its Graduate School of Education, to package these videos and make them available for other education leaders.

Natick Public Schools

(Natick, MA; 5,400 Students)
  • 1:1 MacBooks: In 2012, Natick Public School District launched its 1:1 Student Laptop Program for students in grades 8-12. Students are provided with MacBooks for school and home use. The district has plans for continued support and expansion of the program. 
  • Blended Models: Superintendent Sanchioni has led the district with a vision for teaching and learning that celebrates personalized learning through various blended learning models at different grade levels. These blended models are used to support differentiation and to extend learning beyond the hours of the school day. At the elementary school level, the district uses a station rotation model, encouraging students to self-direct and take ownership over their learning. Students have the option to take online courses at the middle school and high school levels through TECCA, a free virtual public school in Massachusetts. There is also an option to use Pearson SuccessNet in a lab with a facilitator for credit recovery. A strong culture of Professional Learning Communities and professional development for teachers around topics such as universal design and assessment for learning are instrumental to supporting teachers to continue to develop their own blended learning models. 
  • Professional Development Varieties: Natick Public Schools prioritizes professional development, particularly around technology. The district offers various resources for professional learning including free Google for Education online training modules, a Moodle Basics course that is available anytime through the teacher’s Moodle account, and a new series called Digital Teaching and Learning After School Ed-Camps that was launched in winter 2015. The Natick Innovation and Learning Summit is another opportunity for the district’s educators to engage in professional learning opportunities. It is a one-day summit with over 80 sessions led by practitioners that are focused on topics that Natick educators have requested. The district also offers teachers the opportunity to become “teacher leaders” or “master teachers” by working on PLC teams. Teachers get stipends for this work.

Revere Public Schools

(Revere, MA; 7,051 Students)
  • Going Blended: Revere is in its second year a transformation to create more student-centered learning environments across the district. District leaders see blended learning as a critical component of making this possible. While classroom implementations vary, teachers are encouraged to use flipped learning so that class time can be devoted to group work and collaboration amongst students. They are also encouraged to pose stimulating problems for students to then use technology to solve on their own. The district plans to continue working to refine this model over the next couple of years, as more and more of its classrooms make the transition. 
  • Increased Access to Devices: Revere is a technology-rich district that leverages a 1:1 program and SMARTBoards in every classroom in order to equip students with tools that put them at the center of their learning. IPads are assigned to every high school student, and a 1:1 program is being rolled out at the middle school level and in the upper elementary grades. Classes that don’t yet have a 1:1 ratio have a cluster of six iPads so that teachers can create learning stations. 
  • Going the Distance: The district encourages teachers to bring the real world to students through the use of distance-learning activities. Teachers have been known to leverage the technology such as to Skype to connect students with guest lecturers or to give students an opportunity to connect with real world scenarios, like interacting with NASA astronauts at Cape Canaveral. This often occurs when launching a unit or as a culminating activity.
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