Yesterday, BHS opened it’s doors to approximately 75 visitors from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Educators, administrators, department chairs, and IT professionals joined us to learn about our 1:1 environment and the “F” words we live by.
Foresight, Financial, & Future
Patrick Larkin, Burlington Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Learning, provided our guests with background information on the planning that was involved to become a 1:1 district. He discussed the original 1:1 vision and the collective efforts of our Superintendent, Dr. Eric Conti, Bob Cuhna, our IT Director, Dennis Villano, our Director of Instructional Technology, Jose DeSousa our Network Administrator, and John Allegretto, our Systems Administrator to make this vision a reality. He discussed the long-term financial commitment made by the community of Burlington to invest in our schools; our infrastructure and devices for all students, teachers, and staff. He discussed the professional development opportunities that were offered to faculty (and continue to be offered) to assist with effective integration of technology in the classroom. Finally, he emphasized the core reason the district decided to become 1:1; to provide our students access to current technology tools that would prepare them for their future. In addition, he stressed the importance of being student-centered and involving students in the decision-making process of becoming 1:1 as much as possible. Several of Burlington’s 1:1 decisions were made based on student input, including the decision to allow high school students to purchase their own iPad cases, which incidentally saved the district several thousand dollars.
Freedom, Family, Faith, and Footprints
Mark Sullivan, the Burlington High School Principal, shared the number of choices our students and faculty have in our 1:1 school. Teachers have the freedom to use a wide variety of technology platforms for workflow and communication with students and parents including Google Classroom, Edmodo, Canvas, Google Sites, a wiki space, Blogger, or WordPress. Likewise, students are able to use a variety of iPad apps and web tools to demonstrate their skills and knowledge. Mark also discussed the commitment to developing partnerships with parents. The strong web presence of Burlington teachers and administration helps keep the lines of communication between school and the home open. The BPS Edtech team hosts district wide Parent Tech Nights, our Guidance Department offers events for parents, and we have a Parent Resource page on the Help Desk blog. Our efforts to bridge the gap between home and school, and treat parents as important stakeholders, results in a connected and positive school community. Mark also share his beliefs about placing trust in our faculty and students. Social media tools including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram are not blocked (in fact many of these tools are incorporated into the curriculum). Similar to the real-world, students and teachers are able to use their cell phones. Administration believes teachers are capable of managing a classroom where every student has an iPad (and most have cell phones). Students know not every task will involved technology and when the teacher says, “Apple side up” it’s time to make eye contact and listen for the next steps. This was reiterated by our faculty panel during a Q & A session.
Science teacher Matt Leonard, Spanish Teacher Abby Abbott, Social Studies Teacher Michael Milton, Math Teacher Ann Marie Bilotta, and English Teacher Diana McKee shared both their successes and challenges as teachers in 1:1 classrooms. They discussed what the addition of technology has enabled them to do including increased communication with students, paperless environments, increased student choice, and being able to more easily manage their classrooms (it’s much easier to spot a student being distracted by playing a game on an iPad versus a Smartphone).
The trust and faith Burlington has in its students stems from the digital citizenship education they receive starting in kindergarten. Students are educated and aware of their digital footprints and they understand the implications poor online choices can have on their future. Rather than block and ban social networking tools, Burlington teaches students how to use these tools appropriately and positively.
The next part of yesterday’s visit was by far the highlight. This involved an overview of the BHS Help Desk curriculum and each student addressing the audience. Students shared who they are and what they do as members of the Help Desk. They summarized their 20% time projects as well as their day-to-day responsibilities and what makes the Help Desk program different from their other classes. For anyone wishing to transition to a 1:1 environment, the development of a student run genius bar is a must. Identifying and recruiting a group of students with an interest in STEM is a starting point, but don’t forget about the “A.” Look for students who are interested in the arts, as there is definitely a place for them in a tech-rich school environment. Students in Help Desk are also wiling to learn, take risks, know how to communicate and collaborate, and support the foundational tools in our school including Google Apps for Education. It was evident during the tours of our classrooms, led by our Help Desk students, that they are articulate, young leaders who serve as an integral part of what makes our 1:1 school a success. Lastly, being a part of a Help Desk program, or any 1:1 environment from that matter, should be fun. Technology, when used effectively and purposefully, can lead to deep levels of engagement and excitement. It can motivate, inspire, and challenge. It can lead to flow and independent learning. It can transform a learning environment. All of these things take time however, and it’s important to realize that your school won’t instantly change overnight if you suddenly hand every student an iPad or a Chromebook. The devices just don’t matter.
What Really Matters
Dennis Villano, the Director of Instructional Technology for Burlington Public Schools, talked about what really matters in a 1:1 school or district. It’s not about the devices. If the conversations you are having focus on devices, you are asking the wrong questions and focusing on the wrong issues. What matters is what you want students to learn and what you want them to be able to do. While it’s fun “getting rid of computer labs” schools must focus on skills, knowledge, and curriculum when developing their 1:1 plan. They must also think about sustainability. In his recent post, Boom or Bust Technology, Dennis mentions the important 1:1 questions schools need to think about:
How is your wifi?
What are you going to do in two years when your devices are out of date?
What is your network sustainability plan for three to five years from now?
Just this past year substantial improvements were made to the infrastructure at the high school with the addition of access points to improve the wifi connection in every part of the building. This has had an incredibly positive and powerful impact on classroom teachers and students who are all connecting to our network at once. And that’s what really matters when you move to 1:1. Will you be able to maintain your devices and continue to provide innovative learning opportunities for students.
On behalf of the BPS Edtech team, I’d like to thank everyone who spent the day with us. I hope you walked away with ideas and inspiration and we hope to see you at future events in Burlington. We have an exciting event coming up in April so stay tuned!