Good Teaching (Not iPads) is the Focus of Burlington’s 1:1 Initiative
Burlington Public Schools are making an effort to embed technology and digital citizenship into every aspect of curriculum, teaching students how to be responsible users of technology at every age.
Continuous professional development helps educators effectively integrate tablets.
By Chrissy Winske

For the Burlington, MA Public Schools (BPS), the district’s 1:1 iPad initiative isn’t so much about the devices as it is about changing the classroom environment and creating more hands on learning opportunities. The focus behind the technology is the same as it’s always been: good teaching practices. The only change is the workflow.

“It’s the same concept that we’ve always taught, but instead of that worksheet or that stale piece of paper they’re doing a lot more digital content creation,” says Dennis Villano, director of Technology Integration for Burlington Public Schools.

Students use the iPads for everything from note taking to organization to digital media creation. Worksheets are becoming a thing of the past replaced by video and presentations created with the app Explain Everything.

The Burlington Public School District launched 1,100 iPads at its high school two years ago. This year the roll out was expanded to include the middle school grades six, seven and eight with an additional 850 iPads. In the next two years, Burlington plans to go 1:1 district-wide, which will equip 3,700 students with iPads in grades K-12. It’s a large undertaking rolled out in a phased fashion that allows the district to develop best practices and adjust bandwidth as needed.

Simplifying Education with Technology

Although only in its second year of 1:1, the district has already noticed a significant change in the day-to-day classroom experience.

“The digital workflow is changing very quickly behind the scenes and I think if you ask the kids they would say that the iPads have actually helped them become more organized,” says Villano.

Instead of carrying around five or six notes notebooks, one for each subject, students take digital notes that are stored on the iPad. Most students use the app Evernote to organize their note taking and create separate e-notebooks for each class. Teachers can now share class documents through Google Drive, a personal blog or a shared folder.

Related: Buying Guide to 13 Best K-12 Education Tablets

One interesting fact to note is that most Burlington students do not use keyboards with the iPads. A common opposition to the iPad in education is that the device doesn’t have a keyboard. This hasn’t been an issue for the district and Villano has an interesting theory about the origin of such complaints.

“We’ve had those discussions, but I’ll be honest. It’s generally the adults who feel that it needs a keyboard. When you give the iPad to the students they don’t usually need it,” he says.

The schools do offer keyboards if a student would like one to write a paper, but apps like Dragon Dictation that offer speech-to-text capability may render even that unnecessary.

Learning Curve

With the iPads allowing class materials to go digital, there is less physical content to manage, but there may be more classroom or behavior management involved at first.

“We know the students can use devices like iPads, iPods and Chromebooks. They’re confortable using them for social needs. They’re comfortable using them for games, but they don’t always know the right way to use them in an academic setting,” says Villano.

Students aren’t afraid to experiment though and often adapt to the devices in the classroom sooner than the teachers.

“The kids are very willing to try do things and they don’t worry about pressing whatever

About the author

Chrissy Winske - Site Editor
Chrissy Winske is the K-12 editor for TechDecisions Media. She is also a contributing writer for Commercial Integrator, TechDecisions' sister publication. Chrissy joined the TD family in 2012 and has covered AV and IT trends, mobile learning, safety and security and the digital classroom.

Posted by Donna Gregorio  on  10/28  at  12:19 PM
As a Burlington parent, I can offer insight into my daughter's negative iPad experiences. Her iPad causes added distraction to her day and confusion to her study time at night. Teachers are inconsistent about their use, still using textbooks, worksheets, and google docs, when and how they feel like it. My daughter has difficulty focusing, and I suspect the iPad is largely to blame. Our kids are guinea pigs for this iPad experiment that's not ready for prime time.
Posted by Christina Winske  on  10/28  at  02:04 PM
Thank you for your comment Donna. You make a good point. Technology can also be a source of distraction. This is an area K-12 TechDecisions will continue to explore in our coverage of 1:1 learning initiatives.
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