Cape Cod-Area School District improves classroom engagement in grades 3-12 with BoomWriter and Google Chromebooks

Background

Through four schools, Barnstable County’s Mashpee Public Schools serves over 1,700 students and 140 teachers. Mashpee’s schools have an average of 12 students to every teacher, just under the state average of 13:1, with 98.9% of Mashpee’s teachers rated as “highly qualified” versus Massachusetts’s average of 95.4%. All of Mashpee’s classrooms are equipped with Internet access and, prior to their 2015 one-to-one technology initiative, their student-to-computer ratio was comparable to the state’s at three-to-one.

Mashpee Middle-High School is home to the award-winning Technology Center of Excellence (TCE), which has been recognized at statewide conferences for its innovative STEM course offerings featuring Applied Technology, Drafting Communication, Robotics, 3D Animation, and Computer Game Programming and Design. In 2010, the district invested in a ShopBot and a 3D printer as well as began using industry-standard software in TCE classes. Mashpee’s vision for district improvement speaks to their efforts to enhance the value of technology in their classrooms: “Every student, every day, is safe, respected, and ensured to achieve academic excellence in a personalized learning environment that includes quality teaching, small class sizes and the use of technology.”

Challenge

In 2013, Mashpee Public Schools drafted their “Five Year Technology Plan” that sought to evaluate the current status of the district’s classroom technology needs and the infrastructure that would be necessary to implement a future device initiative across nearly the entire district. Mashpee’s goal was to introduce technology that would enhance classroom instruction, create a more engaging learning environment for students, and help to improve academic achievement. In order to accomplish this, Mashpee needed to select technology that could be utilized to collect and analyze student performance data across a variety of grades. Therefore, for the successful classroom use of future devices, assessing Mashpee teachers’ technology skills and creating a professional development action plan was essential. The district also sought to develop a plan for integrating the chosen technologies into existing curriculum, as well as researched opportunities for web-based instruction and electronic textbooks. Mashpee teachers believed that technology instruction should be student-centered and curriculum-driven, not just technology use for technology’s sake, and strove to select devices that encouraged this practice and would “offer a learner-centered program that addresses individual needs and goals by… empowering students to take a more active role in their own learning”.

Solution

During the 2011-2012 school year, Mashpee Public Schools invested over $110,000 in technology enhancements for the district, sparking the goals they would establish the following school year in their “Five Year Technology Plan”. Mashpee purchased 150 HP Netbooks to pilot in the 8th grade, thus beginning their device implementation across all students in grades 5-12. The district also upgraded to a new PowerSchool server, replaced wireless network connectivity, and completed an overhaul of each school’s computer resource rooms. Continuing the technology developments in 2013, Mashpee reassessed their infrastructure as well as purchased Smart Boards and interactive projectors for classrooms.

Chromebooks became the device of choice for the majority of Mashpee Public School students, as the district started its one-to-one technology programs in the 2014-2015 school year. Chromebooks were purchased and distributed across students in grades 3-5 and in grades 7-12, while grade 6 students piloted iPads. A 2:1 Chromebook program was also piloted amongst students in grades 1 and 2, thus providing extensive access to technology throughout the entire district. Chromebook users in English Language Arts, Social Studies, History, and Science classes all worked with collaborative writing tool BoomWriter to increase engagement and output levels around various forms of writing.

Engaged Students, Motivated Writers

Available through the Chrome Web Store, BoomWriter features free group writing tools that help students in grades 2-12 develop and enhance their writing, reading, vocabulary, and peer assessment skills across all subject areas. Mashpee teachers found BoomWriter’s interactive tools easy to use with their existing curriculum, as well as motivating for students to produce their best work.

“It makes writing fun!” They love it! They like that they get to vote. I use [ProjectWriter] as a formative assessment… [where students] write their summary paragraphs for each lesson… [since using BoomWriter] they write with more detail
Brenna Forsberg, 6th grade, Quashnet Elementary School

“I like that it keeps them engaged,” sixth grade Social Studies and Science teacher Heather Johnson said of BoomWriter’s nonfiction tool ProjectWriter. “I also like that I can give them feedback and ask them to edit their writing,” Johnson continued, “[I use] ProjectWriter to answer essential questions [with my students]… their writing output has improved.” Students write for an authentic audience—their fellow classmates—through BoomWriter’s unique, anonymous peer review process, which Johnson felt was an added benefit for her students: “They were motivated by knowing we will be reading and voting and that there will be a ‘winner’ at the end.” “It makes writing fun!” Brenna Forsberg raved of the edtech tool. “They love it!” the sixth grade Social Studies and Science teacher continued, “They like that they get to vote. I use [ProjectWriter] as a formative assessment… [where students] write their summary paragraphs for each lesson… [since using BoomWriter] they write with more detail.”

Mike Loyko, a fifth grade English Language Arts teacher, used BoomWriter’s vocabulary development tool WordWriter with students to write narrative essays and short stories using selected vocabulary words. “They love using it to write stories and vote on winners,” said Loyko. Mashpee teachers found that the new technologies introduced in the classroom helped struggling or reluctant students as well, especially with regards to writing. “Typing and using the Chromebooks definitely made it easier for struggling writers,” said Loyko, whose students now prefer to write using BoomWriter and Chromebooks than traditional pen and paper.

Typing and using the Chromebooks definitely made it easier for struggling writers
Mike Loyko, 5th grade, Kenneth C. Coombs School

Chromebooks provided Mashpee teachers with a more flexible technology solution for use with a variety of student learners and for various subjects. Not only did Mashpee teachers find Chromebook’s full keyboard more practical for their students, especially those who were struggling or reluctant writers, it made Chromebooks functional for a larger grade range than other top-leading devices. With their wide appeal and cost-effective options, Chromebooks were the best device choice for Mashpee teachers and their students to bring effective technology easily into the classroom and create an engaging, active learning environment.