Bridgeport Public Schools and Chromebooks: A 1-to-1 District Transformation

Cutting-edge technology plays an important role in district turnaround effort
By: | Issue: December, 2014 | Web Seminar Digest
December 24, 2014

The innovative new facilities, unique classroom design and 1-to-1 technology program at Bridgeport Public Schools integrate to transform learning at the system level. Google Apps for Education are used by all staff and students, and 11,000 Chromebooks have been given to grades 7 through 12 and some lower grades. This web seminar, originally broadcast on September 30, 2014,featured Bridgeport’s CIO, who discussed the strategies around going 1-to-1 and how Google tools are being used in the classroom and how they are improving student learning, collaboration and innovation.

Angela Mecca
Education Team

In many ways, technology has already transformed the way that we communicate and participate in the world. Technology removes barriers. It has opened up new worlds of information for today’s students, and they have the ability to explore and learn much more deeply. For example, like most students, I have never seen Georges Seurat’s “Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” which is typically housed in the Art Institute of Chicago. But now we all can because Google has taken high-resolution images of many paintings as part of the Google Art Project. So you and your students can zoom in on the painting and study the details that led to the pointillism movement. Similarly, we don’t all have the luxury of going to the Galapagos Islands to learn about sea turtles. But now we can all open up Chrome on any device and travel with Google Map Tracks to explore and learn about these islands and other places around the world.

Going Google in education means four things:

Empowerment. When you have access to the right content, it empowers students and gives teachers the tools for individualized learning. It’s important to help students discover the world of infinite resources and to change the role of the teacher from the lecturer who disseminates information to the facilitator who coaches and supports students as they explore all of this world that’s accessible to them.
Choice. We believe students should have the ability to use the right device anytime, anywhere. Because what good is all of this information if you can’t access it in the classroom? We want the technology to get out of the way so that students and teachers can focus on the content and on working together. That’s why Google solutions work across many platformsÑso schools can use their existing equipment and keep their options open even as they commit to new device deployments.
Teamwork. Teachers say that being able to work together in real time using Google Apps offers the most profound change to the way that they teach and the way that students learn. Collaboration fosters teamwork, problem-solving and organizationÑall of which are key skills in the modern world. How can you take collaboration to the next level? One way is with Google Docs, where multiple students can work together on the same document at the same time. This makes schoolwork more like real work. Students can learn by working with a set of classmates with diverse perspectives, and they can learn how to get group work done. Who is the leader? Who is the editor? Who has the right to change the work? These are the same kinds of discussions they will have at university and in the professional world.
Scale. Schools should have technology that’s affordable and easy to manage, because with tight budgets, the price of a device matters. Scalability and device and content management are equally important to keeping the total cost of ownership low and to allowing IT teams to manage the surge in device deployments.

We offer schools a free suite of services called Google Apps for Education. These apps include Gmail as your email service provider and productivity tools such as Docs, Spreadsheets and Presentations. Since Google Apps for Education are all web-based, it means that they are available from any device with a web browser. There are over 30 million Google Apps for Education users in 180 different countries. Users are also found at 74 of the top 100 U.S. universities, including seven of the Ivy League schools. In April 2013, the whole country of Malaysia announced that they were going Google. They deployed Google Apps for 11 million teachers, students and parents, to 100,000 Chromebooks nationwide. That’s a great example of the ability to manage the devices and the platform at scale.

David Andrade
Chief Information Officer
Bridgeport Public Schools (Conn.)

We have just over 21,000 students Pre-K through 12, and we’re at just over 20,000 devices, 11,000 of which are Chromebooks. We wanted our students to be able to access all these different online resources that exist out there. We wanted them to be able to create, collaborate, explore. What’s this going to do for them? We hope it will help them learn more than just content, but also learn how to work well on a team, and learn how to find materials. We also wanted to provide the teachers with a lot of different opportunities.

Bridgeport is the largest city in Connecticut. We’re also one of the poorest. Students don’t have a lot of access to things. There’s not a lot of money for field trips, for presenters, that kind of thing. So this is a way to bring the outside world into the school. We want to inspire our students. We want to have them engaged in the content and in doing something and being active and participating. And we had to live with certain budgetary restrictions and with certain restrictions on our IT department.

We also realized there’s another challenge: Do we just substitute what we were doing before with technologyÑso instead of teachers using a paper worksheet they are using an online worksheet? How do we truly get them to transform their teaching so that we transform what the kids are doing, where they are engaging more and they are getting prepared for this future that’s ever-changing? One of the things we realized was Google just kind of gets out of the way. Everything is easy to use. You have unlimited resources, unlimited opportunities for learning. And it’s easy and simple. You tell a kid to go on Google Docs, they can use it. Google Apps is freeÑliterally thousands of free web apps.

The devices are inexpensive and require minimal IT support. They have a fast startup; the class comes in, they turn it on, and within literally a few seconds they are up and running. So it’s very easy for the students to use, very easy for the teachers to learn, and extremely easy for us to manage as an IT department with a very small staff. The kids love them. The feedback we’ve gotten has been absolutely amazing. You walk through the schools and you see kids engaged. They are working. The teachers aren’t having management issues with the students. They’ll write a 25-page paper on a Chromebook when they wouldn’t have written 25 lines by hand.

We also have a lot of magnet schools that draw students from around the district, and even from outside the district. When they go home at night, those students are not going to go meet up with each other. But they can jump online, work on a collaborative document, or slides, or sheets, jump on a Hangout and boom, there they are just as if they were next to each other at school, working together and keeping these projects going outside the classroom.

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