Boston-Area School District brings 1:1 technology to students through edtech app BoomWriter and Google Chromebooks

Background

The Milton Public Schools (MPS) serves over 3,900 students through four elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school, employing roughly 270 educators to meet the needs of the students.

All six of the district’s buildings have been rebuilt or updated to state-of-the-art facilities, as Milton continues to move towards a more innovative and dynamic learning experience for all its students. One of the district’s core values is excellence in the classroom, for both students and teachers alike. Milton seeks to differentiate classroom instruction to provide all students with an engaging and academically challenging environment.

The district also focuses on supporting its educators through professional development and integrating technology that allows teachers to provide students with the skills and means necessary to achieve in the ever-evolving, 21st century world.

Challenge

During the 2012-2013 school year, Milton Public Schools identified the need to integrate more technology into the classroom and implement universal access to digital education. The district’s goal was to get all classrooms fully equipped and make an investment in technology, that included wireless capabilities, interactive Smart Boards, and to pilot a one-to-one implementation throughout all six schools. This required a need for devices that would not only benefit student usage and be teacher-effective, but cost-effective as well. Furthermore, with such a significant technology investment, Milton needed to develop an academic plan for integrating digital education within the curriculum. With limited staff capacity to initiate and manage digital innovation, the bridge between effective technology and academically-beneficial curriculum needed to be easy to use by students and staff alike.

Milton Public Schools required effective and easy to manage tools that allowed for independent and collaborative work, enabling students to communicate information in a clear and precise manner through a variety of contexts and purposes. The district needed to demonstrate its ability to provide students and educators with the means necessary to be innovative, flexible, and adaptable in their thinking patterns, work habits, and learning conditions.

With the help of over $150,000 in donations (SY 2013-14) from the Milton Foundation for Education (MFE), the district was able to pilot an implementation of devices--260 Chromebooks, 160 iPads, 60 Kindle Fire HD, and 12 Apple TVs--between all six schools. Milton Public Schools chose to pilot the various devices to assess which solution would best meet the diverse needs of their individual students as well as the range in grade levels and various classroom functions. By sampling all the top devices the edtech market has to offer, the district sought to ensure the future one-to-one implementation of the most engaging and academically-beneficial device for all of its students and educators.

Solution

Through the pilot programs between all six schools, Milton identified that Chromebooks were the device that most closely met the needs of teachers and students, the education goals of the district, and were the most cost-effective for a district on a budget. Chromebooks also promoted more “active learning” in the classroom, whereas teachers determined iPads to be more of a “passive learning” experience for students and better suited for the primary grades. “As a district, we feel the Chromebooks are much more conducive to increasing students’ writing output levels,” said Superintendent Mary Gormley. Superintendent Gormley added, “We want our students to be able to easily and actively interact with their device when writing, and have their focus be on the content rather than the device. The Chromebooks’ keyboard and supporting applications make this possible.”

As a district, we feel the Chromebooks are much more conducive to increasing students’ writing output levels Superintendent Mary Gormley, Milton Public Schools

Milton Public Schools educators found Chromebooks to be flexible and appropriate for various grades and styles of learning. Currently, there are students in grades 3-12 using Chromebooks in the classroom. Chromebooks are even utilized in a few of the kindergarten, first, and second grade classrooms. Milton educators found Chromebooks to be easy to use, secure, and durable. Chromebooks also were appropriate for a wider range of grades and various uses given their flexible nature and attached keyboard. Through a two year commitment (2013-2015) from the MFE and generous contributions from Milton’s Capital Budget, more than $200,000 was spent on nearly 1,000 Chromebooks that have been distributed across the district for use in all six schools in grades 3-12.

Chromebooks, BoomWriter, &
Benefiting Education

Through Google Apps for Education, Milton educators were able to utilize BoomWriter, a free award-winning educational technology that allows teachers to conduct group-writing projects with their students, directly on their Chromebooks. “BoomWriter was something [teachers] could do with [their] Chromebooks; BoomWriter made it applicable,” said Amy C. Gale, Curriculum Coordinator for the Cunningham and Collicot Elementary Schools. BoomWriter was an “unintended perk” Gale said of using the Chromebooks, and BoomWriter further promoted the idea of active learning in the classroom. “BoomWriter fit nicely into our workshop model of literacy instruction,” Gale continued, “the goal is to have enough Chromebooks for each student within our largest grade. This would allow for all students at any grade level to utilize the Chromebooks simultaneously. While the ultimate goal is a one-to-one implementation, especially at the high school level, we feel as though this is a great start.” Much like Chromebooks, BoomWriter is very easy to use, able to be integrated into a variety of curricula, suitable for a wide range of grades and learners, and extremely cost effective, as it’s entirely free to use. BoomWriter also provided free trainings for Milton teachers to introduce them to the BoomWriter platform and process, as well as helped them learn how to easily create projects on their Chromebooks. This form of professional development from BoomWriter allowed teachers to easily and immediately start using the Chromebooks with their students.

Student-Safe & Effective Technology

BoomWriter also features teacher-created student accounts, where teachers create and manage the accounts for their students, ensuring students a safe, closed digital environment. Through BoomWriter’s Google single sign-on, students can also join and login using their school Google account, ideal for Chromebook usage. BoomWriter is kidSAFE certified and facilitates teacher-to-student communication, but does not allow any student-to-student communication.

BoomWriter is a fun, easy to manage, and academically-impactful way to bring technology into the classroom. By utilizing BoomWriter and Chromebooks together, they deliver an engaging and personalized learning experience that enables students to create and assess written content in ways they’ve never done before, while practicing important literacy and 21st century technology skills.

Future Plans

The Chromebook pilot program was so successful that Milton Public Schools is in the process of purchasing more Chromebooks to continue the move to a one-to-one implementation throughout all six schools. The Milton Foundation for Education has donated $300,000 for technology purposes--$130,000 was reserved for devices alone in 2014. By October 2015, Milton Public Schools aims to have every student utilizing Chromebooks on a daily basis. Moving forward, as Milton Public Schools continues with its Chromebook initiative, the next decision lies with implementing either Google for Education or Office 365 Education as a learning management system for Milton educators. “We’re dealing with the Google environment through the back door,” remarked Gale of Milton’s ongoing technology integration process. “We have Chromebooks but not Google for Education,” continued Gale, “teachers and students are now sharing lessons and resources through Google Docs, preparing students for PARCC testing in Spring 2015, and using BoomWriter all on a daily basis. None of this would be possible without the district’s commitment to purchasing Chromebooks. Because of the overwhelming success of this pilot, we are now ready to move towards a full Google environment for all of our students and educators.”

Because of the overwhelming success of this pilot, we are now ready to move towards a full Google environment for all of our students and educators

Amy C. Gale, Curriculum Coordinator for the Cunningham and Collicot Elementary Schools