Technology Updates from the Superintendent

See what Superintendent Kathy Bodie has been saying about the strides in technology that have been made in Arlington over the past few years:

September 2015

May 2015

February 2015

January 2015

December 2014

November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

Older Newsletters

September 2015 Superintendent’s Newsletter

“Getting computing devices into schools is relatively easy; changing classroom practice with technology is really, really hard.”

In their article How to Transform Teaching with Tablets, authors Tom Daccord and Justin Reich use that statement as a starting point to discuss what it means for schools to fully integrate technology into the classroom. At the beginning, students may be simply substituting the tablet for what is normally done, such as using it to take notes rather than using a pen and paper. The real value of technology, however, is in the transformation of learning through modification and redefinition. The authors contend that a shared pedagogical vision is required in order to achieve this result. They state, “When schools develop these kinds of shared learning visions, the next step is to identify how tablets can best support these visions.”

Daccord and Reich point out that Arlington Public Schools has taken this approach over the last several years as we worked to increase the amount and use of technology in our schools. They quote Assistant Superintendent Laura Chesson who states, “In the elementary schools, we’re focused on preparing students for learning, self-regulation, and collaboration using the Tools of the Mind curriculum. In the secondary schools, we’re focused on discourse–reasoning from evidence.”  These “…clearly established learning goals,…” which support the Common Core State Standards, drive our technology choices. As we determine what to purchase, we look for the tools that will help us enable our students to learn to:

  • Work independently and collaboratively 
  • Analyze and synthesize multiple forms of evidence 
  • Use this evidence to create robust arguments 
  • Present these arguments in oral, written and digital form.

A good example of how APS evaluates whether different technology choices can lead to transformation is the 1-to-1 iPad pilot that was conducted at Ottoson in the 610 cluster last year. Teachers, students and parents all agreed that the iPads were increasing student engagement and leadership in learning, improving student organizational and research skills, facilitating the writing process and helping teachers provide more differentiated instruction based on student need. This pilot prepared us to take the next step — providing a 1-to-1 iPad environment throughout the sixth grade. Today, all sixth graders have the choice to either use a school-provided device, or bring their own. We are granting access to the school network for the first time for those who bring their own devices — another pilot.

This year we have undertaken a 1-to-1 device pilot at Arlington High School that will help us gain a better understanding of how technology can transform instruction at this level. We solicited internal grant proposals from interested teachers, and eight were chosen from various departments. Science, Spanish, English Language Arts, mathematics and history and social studies classrooms will be outfitted with device carts sufficient to provide a 1-to-1 Chromebook environment. All of the teachers participating have had extensive professional development that prepares them to make optimal use of the technology being provided.

This is a very exciting time in education, as we uncover and unleash the power of technology to support educational goals. I hope you will take some time to review the Daccord and Reich article and read the examples of creative and collaborative learning that is possible.


May 2015 Superintendent’s Newsletter

2015-2016 Technology Advances Made Possible Thanks to Town of Arlington

I thank the Arlington Capital Planning Committee for recommending $425,000 to purchase technology for the 2015-2016 school year. This generous allocation approved at Town Meeting supports the draft 2014-2018 Technology Plan that was presented to the School Committee in February, and enables Arlington Public Schools to do the following:

  • Elementary level: Add one additional iPad cart each at Bishop and Dallin, and shift the oldest devices to the younger grades where the highest functionality is not necessary. Brackett will also receive an additional iPad cart, in response to the increased enrollment there.
  • Ottoson: Expand the number of iPad carts in the 620, 630 and 640 clusters, making it possible to expand the 1-to-1 pilot, and equip each seventh and eighth grade cluster with a classroom set of Chromebooks and one shared iPad cart.
  • Arlington High School: Provide Chromebooks to six sets of teachers who were selected by a competitive grant process as part of a 1-to-1 device pilot.
  • Special Education: Replace the oldest iPads being used for assistive technology.
  • Teachers: Replace devices at Dallin and Stratton (the oldest in the district), and provide equipment for teachers assigned to new teaching positions.

We are grateful to the town for recognizing the importance of technology in 21st century education, and for providing the funds that make these advances possible. You will find additional information about the the 1-to-1 pilots at the Ottoson and Arlington High school in the next two articles.

Ottoson 1-to-1 iPad Pilot Expands to All Sixth Grade Clusters Next Year

At Arlington Public Schools we focus on enabling our students to learn to:

  • Work independently and collaboratively
  • Analyze and synthesize multiple forms of evidence
  • Use this evidence to create robust arguments
  • Present these arguments in oral, written and digital form.

These educational goals support the Common Core State Standards and are what drive our technology choices. Having technology in the schools is not just about providing access to a particular device. It is about identifying and providing the tools that enable students to meet our educational goals.

In my November newsletter I reported on the results of the 1-to-1 iPad pilot that we have been conducting with the 610 Cluster students and teachers at Ottoson. From this we learned that teachers, students and parents all agreed that the iPads have a positive effect on learning. Student engagement and leadership in learning increased, and digital literacy and citizenship developed. Improvements in student organizational and research skills were observed, as well as the ability to evaluate sources. The writing process was facilitated, especially for students with learning differences, and teachers were able to provide more differentiated instruction based on student need.

We are now ready to take the next step and pilot a 1-to-1 iPad environment throughout all four sixth grade clusters. Sufficient devices will be available so that every sixth grader can use an iPad while they are in school. In addition, we are going to allow sixth graders to bring their own devices (BYOD) if they choose, and provide access to the school network for the first time. We will only be able to support an iPad AIR device, so those students who choose to bring their own must use this model.

I want to stress that it is not necessary or required that students purchase and bring their own devices. There will be school-owned iPads available for every sixth grade student. For those considering the BYOD option, students will be able to use their device not only during sixth grade, but also in seventh

and eighth grade as well. I am pleased that we are able to move forward and extend the opportunities for learning made possible by the 1-to-1 environment to all sixth grade students next year.

Understanding How Technology Can Transform Instruction is Goal of AHS 1-to-1 Device Pilot

Next year we are undertaking a 1-to-1 device pilot at Arlington High School. The goal is to gain a better understanding of how technology can transform instruction at this level. Grant applications were distributed to teachers in December, and seven have been chosen for funding. In each case, the classrooms will be outfitted with device carts sufficient to provide a 1-to-1 Chromebook environment. Teachers will have access to a minimum of two professional development experiences to support implementation. Teachers will also participate in monthly technology study groups, document how the technology is used in the classroom, create a plan for evaluating the impact on teaching and learning, and share what they learn through peer visits and consultations.

The approved applications come from Science, Spanish, English Language Arts, Mathematics and History and Social Studies. Early work with Chromebooks in English Language Arts has demonstrated that access to devices in the classroom promotes student-driven inquiry that encourages collaboration and questioning. Creating a 1-to-1 environment extends these opportunities to more students. In addition, teachers will be able to implement and grade common assessments in a more comprehensive and efficient manner.

Biology teachers believe that they will be able to use a more project-based learning format in the 1-to-1 environment, with students becoming active participants as they look for answers. Lab work will become more collaborative as group members collectively analyze data and prepare reports. Language teachers expect that improved access to recordings and the ability to practice oral presentation skills more frequently will lead to improvements in listening and oral proficiency. History and Social Studies teachers envision Skype sessions where their students backchannel with experts in the field.

All of the teachers who are participating in this pilot have had extensive professional development that prepares them to make optimal use of the technology being provided. We are very excited to be able to offer this opportunity to our AHS students and teachers, and I look forward to sharing information on our progress next year.

Coding Clubs at Dallin and Brackett Encourage Collaborative, Creative Thinking

Learning to work both independently and collaboratively is one of the key educational goals at Arlington Public Schools. The Coding Clubs at Dallin and Brackett are good examples of how our parent-led before and after school activities support this.

Parent Gil Irizarry leads the Coding Club at Dallin. He joins students every Wednesday at 7:30 am. Between 40 and 50 young people take part, and the group is split, with K-2 students coming one week, and grades 3-5 coming the next. The first level uses Kodable, a program that teaches logic. The older students use Hopscotch. The morning normally begins with volunteers at the projector demonstrating what they’ve been working on. It may take some urging to get the first student to the front, but it doesn’t take long for everyone to start enthusiastically sharing his or her work. The pride in what they’ve accomplished is evident, and everyone is able to see approaches to problems they may not have found.

The Brackett Coding club meets after school on Fridays, and there are about 20-30 fourth and fifth graders who attend. Fourth grade teacher Fern LaRocca serves as the host and parent and AHS Computer Science teacher Dan Sheldon provides the leadership. Students primarily use Scratch Jr, with some fifth graders using Scratch. Their projects include animations, storytelling and interactive games and you can look at some of what they’ve been doing on the Brackett STEM You Tube site.

Just as at Dallin, helping each other find answers to problems is a large part of the Brackett Coding Club. Mr. Sheldon notes that when a student has a question, it is posed to the entire group. Almost always, someone knows how to solve the problem, so the students teach each other. Mr. Irizarry believes that learning to code is important because it teaches students how to break down big problems into smaller, more easily solved, pieces.  This is required for the math these young people will study later, and it helps demystify the technology that surrounds them in their daily lives.  The work done in the Club also sets the stage for more complex computer science later on.  He notes that the same skills needed to create an application in Hopscotch are the ones used to write the software that powers Google!

Meeting after school, outside the classroom, creates a different atmosphere–one that really encourages sharing and collaboration. Mr. Sheldon describes the benefits to students in this way: “Giving them access to the technology, a safe place to meet with their friends, and minimal adult supervision has allowed them to develop technical, creative, and collaborative skills which is exactly how computer science is done.” I want to thank both Mr. Irizarry and Mr. Sheldon for providing this opportunity for our elementary students.




February 2015 Superintendent’s Newsletter

Variety and Creativity Shine at Music Technology’s Sonic Voyages VI

The AHS students taking introductory and Advanced Music Technology hold a concert twice a year to share their original projects.  Last month, Sonic Voyages VI treated the audience to an amazing array of original compositions, live performances and film scores.  All music is composed and mixed in the music lab, where the students are exploring basic music theory and composition.  The pieces presented at Sonic Voyages VI illustrated the progression of learning that is occurring in the classroom.

During the first month, students become familiar with rhythmic structures and with creating interest and variety in music. Adding scales, key centers, modes and melody comes next, with students assigning tones or musical pitches to the rhythm pulses. Everyone keeps a journal to record reflections on their lives, even for as little as five minutes a day. Several of the pieces presented had their origins in the thoughts captured in these journals. The more advanced students mix and master their projects to achieve balance and clarity in the various timbres or tone colors of the musical parts.

This year the Music Technology students had the opportunity to work at ACMi Studio B once per weekly rotation. Stop motion animation, videos shot on location and visual storytelling became part of the multimedia learning experience they received through this collaboration. Music Technology Teacher John DiTomaso is grateful to ACMi Youth Coordinator Jessica Barnthouse, Studio Manager Jeff Munro and the educational staff for the support they provide to our young musicians.

All Sonic Voyages concerts are produced by the students who collaborate in teams: sound crew, stage crew, lighting, video, programs, MC talking points and promotion. They also create the flyers, including those that accompany this article. Congratulations to all of the participants who shared their inventive and beautiful creations with us on January 21. Thank you Mr. DiTomaso for, in the words your students included in the concert program, “…being such a great teacher and huge help all year.” Mark your calendars now so you won’t miss the Spring Film Scoring and Songwriter Showcase on May 13 at 7:00 PM.


January 2015 Superintendent’s Newsletter

Creativity Unleashed in AHS State-of-the-Art Digital Arts Studio

The impact of technology is being felt in all grades and departments as Arlington Public Schools moves forward in creating a 21st century learning environment. Thanks to two Innovations in Education grants from the Arlington Education Foundation, the Visual Arts Department at AHS now has a professional-grade mini digital arts studio. Being able to work with current, highly sophisticated technology has opened up a range of creative possibilities. Enrollment is up as students respond to the updated AP Studio Art and Digital Photography curriculum.

One of the exciting films completed in the studio is The Winfred Project, an 11-minute documentary that beautifully describes the week our students spent with the leather artist Winfred Rembert last semester.  Mr. Rembert is shown working and talking with students and sharing his thoughts about what he was trying to accomplish during his visit.  There are also reflections from students who had the opportunity to meet and learn from him.  The impact that this remarkable artist had on our young people and teachers is beautifully conveyed in this video, and I urge you to take the time to watch.

Digital artwork is central to contemporary art, and is a vital component in progressive curriculum that brings science, technology, engineering, arts and math together. The AHS studio is a pilot that sets the stage for a future state-of-the-art resource that will be accessible to many departments. Creating this new environment is a goal of the Technology Initiative fundraising currently being done by AEF.>

Competition Continues for AHS Blue Screen Robotics Team

AHS Robotics Team Blue Screen has been busy racking up points since October, competing against others in their league as they work their way to the championship. The championship, to be held on February 7, determines which groups advance to the state finals. It has been an active season. Teams take time off when individual regional qualifier meets are held at their schools, something Arlington did on Saturday, January 24.

Blue Screen has been competing in the FIRST Tech Challenge Cascade Effect Game. Each robot taking part in the game is built from a specified set of materials, and must fit within an 18 inch sizing cube when the match begins. Expansion can occur once the robot gets going. Teams compete in 2-versus-2 alliances, and points are scored by placing plastic balls into goals, moving the goals into parking zones, and performing other maneuvers.

These competitions are sponsored by USFIRST, a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring young people to be leaders in science and technology. I want to thank AHS science teachers Ted Fiust and Jayce G for their leadership of the team, and for helping our students explore creative problem solving while having fun. Good luck in the upcoming competition.

December 2014, Superintendent’s Newsletter

APS Teachers Share Technology Projects and Showcase Our Students at MassCUE

The way two of our teachers use technology to enhance education was featured in two presentations delivered at the Massachusetts Computer Using Educators (MassCUE) Fall Conference in October.  Brandy Whitney, Technology & Engineering teacher at Ottoson, presented Underwater Robotics: Student Created Teaching Tools. Susan Bisson, APS Elementary Instructional Technology Specialist and Database Administrator, presented Meet the Techsperts.

In her workshop, Ms. Whitney shared the Ottoson Robotics Club’s SeaPerch Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) project. In Ms. Whitney’s words, “Nothing teaches a child how to be an engineer, or ignites a spark of interest, like ACTUALLY doing the work of one”, and SeaPerch is a project that enables that. Her presentation described how the robots were built, and how the students tested the prototypes and gained real world experience upon which to base modifications. The students then embarked on a mission to use the ROVs to explore Spy Pond, looking for archaeological evidence and learning what types of fish could be found. Click here to read more about this project and the successful Spy Pond launch featured in the Academic Highlights section of my November newsletter.

When the new Thompson Elementary School opened, Ms. Bisson was faced with an interesting, but welcome, dilemma. The funding for technology, part of the budget for all new schools supported with state money, enabled us to offer 1:1 iPad technology for all students. While terrific, questions quickly surfaced. How do we assist and support teachers and students to use this new technology? How do we encourage and empower students to use it? How do we use technology to maximize learning?

To explain how she answered these questions, Ms. Bisson brought along some Techsperts to share their stories with the audience. This group of fifth grade boys and girls met weekly to plan and implement technology initiatives. They provided support to both teachers and students, and created math videos to help parents understand how math is taught. Another example of their work is the Read Aloud Project. The team chose books, tested different applications, and created recordings. Now younger students can visit the library, scan the QR code on a book, navigate to SoundCloud, hit play and listen to the story.

I want to thank Ms. Whitney and Ms. Bisson for the wonderful work they do with our children, and for sharing these innovative ideas with their peers at MassCUE. In both cases, we see boys and girls working together creatively, expanding their ownership of technology tools and gaining confidence in their ability to tackle problems. I also want to thank the Techsperts who accompanied Ms. Bisson to MassCUE. Their work has really impacted the school community and I know the audience enjoyed hearing from them.

Hour of Code Events Get Hardy and Bracket Students Involved in Computer Science

How do you get elementary students so engrossed in what they are doing that they do not even notice when the Principal walks into the classroom? One way is to have them work on a tutorial offered by Code Studio, and participate in an Hour of Code.

Fully engaged is the best way to describe the reaction of fourth and fifth graders at Hardy as they completed tutorials such as Maze, which uses familiar elements like Angry Birds, zombies and Ice Age animals, and Snowflake, based on the Frozen characters.  Both tutorials use Blockly, a drag-and-drop programming editor to write programs in JavaScript code.  This was the first coding experience for some students, but all jumped right in and very few needed extra help.  As each session ended, the adult leaders heard comments such as “This was awesome!” and “I was so proud that I could do this!”

The Hour of Code event at Hardy was organized by parent volunteer Eva Bitteker, who was supported to move forward from the PTO and Principal Kristin DeFrancisco. She had no trouble lining up parents Sarah Augood, Jennifer Irvine, Jonathan Shapiro, Amy Weitzmen, Hanspeter Pfister, Pete Gast, Susan Bisson, Steve Bittkeker and David Saff, as well as community member Dave Chouinard, to oversee the workshops. Sean Faeth of the APS IT staff was on hand as well the morning of December 9, to ensure sufficient computer access. Three concurrent sessions were held during a block of three hours, with each class working in their own rooms.

Parents Deb Savage and Dan Sheldon organized the Hour of Code held for all grades at Brackett. Most of the classes did their coding during Library block, which made logistics easier. Mr. Sheldon, who also teaches Computer Science at AHS, held a few sessions in classrooms with the teachers present, which enabled them to see how easy it is for children to use the programs and learn quickly. also provides free classes for teachers.

All individuals involved at both schools felt that the Hour of Code was successful and important. Computer programming underlies the technology that our children access every day, and upon which many will build their careers. By approaching coding in a playful way, young people who might not have expected to be interested are easily engaged. This approach worked well for the parent volunteers as well, since some of them were also having their first experience with coding.

Ms. Bitteker believes that organizing an Hour of Code is very easy. The website offers a wealth of information and support, with lots of videos that get organizers, educators and children excited about the event. She welcomes inquiries from parents and teachers at other schools, as she would love to see this expanded to encompass all our students. You may reach her by email at

I want to thank all the volunteers who participated at Hardy and Brackett this year. Hour of Code is organized by, a non-profit dedicated to expanding participation in computer science by making it available in more schools. To learn more about an Hour of Code, and watch a video about easy it can be to code, please click here. To try your hand at coding, click here.

November 2014, Superintendent’s Newsletter

Strong Computer Science Curriculum Now Offered at Ottoson and Arlington High School

Last year, with funding help from the Arlington Education Foundation (AEF), we were able to upgrade the AHS STEM Lab and offer the first computer science classes available in the district in four years. This curriculum is continuing, with more students involved than ever before. This year we received additional funding from AEF and we turned our attention to the Ottoson. We added equipment for our sixth graders and are offering an exciting Computer Science (CS) curriculum there.

In the new sixth grade class, Digital Media & Literacy, 300 students receive a full year of Computer Science.  The curriculum does more than just teach students to code.  Broader and deeper concepts such as decomposition, pattern recognition, algorithmic thinking and the engineering life cycle are also included.

Terry Dash, the leader at Ottoson who comes to us after a 25-year career in information systems, hopes that the stuents will apply programming skills to answer questions.  There are plans to include cross-curricular problems that require “hands-on’ approaches to appeal to a wide range of students, especially girls.  The class is exploring forensic mysteries that can be solved by applying algorithms and procedures, as well as ways to create interactive work.

The goal is to use projects like these to engage the students’ imaginations and encourage them to continue in Computer Science in high school and beyond.

At AHS, we are offering three levels of Computer Science.  The introductory course, Exploring Computer Science (ECS), focuses on human-computer interactions, problem solving, website development, programming, data analysis and robotics.  Honors Computer Science is the next level of study, reinforcing the concepts taught in ECS with a focus on programming and learning Java.  Those students wishing to continue their studies can take AP Java. Participants finishing this course take the AP exam, and with a score of three to five can earn college credit depending upon the college.

Our students are increasingly responding to these offerings. Last year there were 22 students in the program, and the classes were only recommended for juniors and seniors. This year, all levels are encouraged to take Computer Science and there are over 60 students participating.

Dan Sheldon, a graduate of AHS who holds a BS and MA in Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering from MIT, leads the program. He believes that these classes benefit all those who to go on to pursue advanced education. Since computers are being used in many fields, it is Mr. Sheldon’s opinion that those who understand computers at a more fundamental level have an advantage. He also believes that it is easy for young people to get discouraged in their first college-level computer science (CS) classes if they do not have high school experience. Being able to take CS classes in high school was instrumental to his success in the field in college. Computer scientists and programmers are in high demand in all industries, and with high school preparation, Mr. Sheldon hopes more students will continue in the field.

In addition to the CS courses, there is a Computer Team that competes in the American Computer Science League.  Mr. Sheldon hopes to expand computer science opportunities further by taking on some civic technology projects, working with the Town or Arlington Public Schools to develop needed programs.  He is also planning a new AP class called CS Principles. AHS will be one of the first schools to offer this new course.

We are delighted to be able to provide these classes to our young people, and to have a talented group of experienced professionals designing curriculum and teaching our students.  At AHS, Mr. Sheldon is joined by Allison Schubert, who teaches ECS.  At Ottoson, Johanna Bradley and Sara Toutounjian teach Digital Media & Literacy along with Ms. Dash.  I want to thank all of them for the high quality courses they are bringing to our students, and also thank Arlington Education Foundation for the support that has made these classes possible.

Grade Six 1:1 iPad Pilot Demonstrates Impact on Learning, Sets the Stage for the Future

In the Arlington Public Schools Technology Plan 2011-2015, we talk about technology as an instructional tool, one that “…opens up broad opportunities for teachers to customize instruction and to engage and reach all learners…” and “…to expand the boundaries of the classroom walls.”  It is our believe that technology supports the type of self-directed, collaborative and interactive learning that is required for success in the 21st century.

With these ideas in mind, we embarked upon a 1:1 iPad Pilot in the Ottoson 610s Cluster last year. We wanted to understand the different ways iPads can impact learning–both overall and in specific subjects such as mathematics, English, social studies, science and special education. I am pleased to report that teachers, students and parents all agreed that the iPads had a positive effect on learning. Student engagement and leadership in learning increased, and digital literacy and citizenship developed. Improvements in student organizational and research skills were observed, as well as the ability to evaluate sources. The writing process was facilitated, especially for students with learning differences, and teachers were able to provide more differentiated instruction based on student need.

One of the benefits of using the iPads is that students have all the information at hand that they need to do their work–from the calendars that spell out assignments, to the mathematics programs they are using to master skills, to the variety of applications they can use to present their projects according to their individual strengths. All assignments, readings and presentations can be shared electronically and each student can work at his or her own pace. Collaborative graphic organizers can be used to conduct group research, and members are able to critique each other’s sources in order to establish the highest quality information. Reading is nurtured through the use of multimedia texts.

The Pilot illustrated how students with learning disabilities can particularly benefit. These young people are more engaged when they have their iPad, and will voluntarily seek out information they do not know. Many modalities of learning are available, from video to text to educational games and more, providing many ways for students to learn. Those with text disabilities can download almost any book from Book Share and the application Voice Dream will read it at the speed they choose, letting them practice pronunciation, comprehension, fluency and decoding.

I want to thank Ottoson 610s Cluster teachers Johanna Bunn, Julie Gallagher, Jessica Keweshan, Lillian O’Donnell and Alison Sancinito for spearheading this Pilot and for preparing their comprehensive report detailing the impact of iPads on learning. This information gives us a solid foundation on which to build an updated technology plan. I know that these teachers are already using what they learned last year to create an even more effective and creative learning environment that reaches all students.

iPad Summit Presentations Feature APS Use of Technology to Promote 21st Century Learning

Arlington’s leadership in the use of technology was evident at this fall’s EdTech Teacher iPad Summit, held in Boston on November 12-14. Assistant Superintendent Laura Chesson described our overall vision to the audience, and spoke about the types of technology we have across the district and the goals we have for technology integration. Ms. Chesson was followed by several of our teachers, who shared their experiences at different grade levels.

Nicole Melnik, Thompson first grade teacher, has been delighted by the ways her classroom walls have been broken down with the use of iPads. She likes to have her students share their learning with the larger community using Kidblog. All of her students have a blog, and they really enjoy the fact that their posts are public. The group is part of a blogging community in which three other classes can view and comment on what they write. By receiving feedback and seeing what other young students post, Ms. Melnick’s students are inspired to expand their writing.

Ottoson teacher Johanna Bradley, who currently teaches sixth grade Digital Literacy & Media, spoke about the iPad experiences her fifth graders had when she was teaching at Thompson. The 1:1 iPad rollout in the 610s Cluster at Ottoson was the subject of Lillian O’Donnell and Jessica Keweshan’s remarks. Instructional Technology Specialist and Database Administrator Susan Bisson spoke to the group about technology professional development. Her presentation included a video that featured the Thompson Techsperts, fifth grade boys and girls who impacted the Thompson 1:1 iPad rollout by helping with device maintenance and planning, and by implementing technology initiatives.

It is gratifying to have our dedicated teachers tell their peers about the experiences we have had integrating technology into the classroom. Those who attended the Technology Showcase held on May 5, were able to speak with a variety of students (including Techsperts and members of the 610s Cluster) about how we are using technology to enhance learning. Whether they are producing an online magazine, creating websites, coding or collaborating using Google Docs, our students are displaying a level of creativity not possible in earlier years. We are proud of the way our faculty has embraced technology as a tool that prepares our students for success in the 21st century. To read blogs posted by Ms. Melnik’s students, please click here.

Spy Pond SeaPerch ROV Launch Reveals Aquatic Life and Demonstrates Vehicle Performance

Last year we followed the progress of the Ottoson Robotics Club’s SeaPerch project, the culmination of an exciting year spent researching and doing hands-on engineering work. SeaPerch is an underwater robotics program that provides teachers and students with what they need to build a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). Technology teacher Brandy Whitney introduced the project at Ottoson. The $1,032 SeaPerch Foundation and Office of Naval Research Grant she obtained helped with funding.

At the end of last year, the Club did some in-water testing at Ottoson, and the group was able to assess the buoyancy of their vehicles and begin discussing how they might modify them to perform better. After this experience, everyone really wanted to see how the ROVs performed in open water, and on October 31, the group launched them into Spy Pond.

The successful launch enabled the students to control the vehicles and look under the surface of the water, studying the bottom of the pond and spotting some fish. Club members are now turning their attention toward the list of engineering changes they would like to make, and have begun to implement some of their ideas. The goal is to return to Spy Pond in the spring and launch the improved ROVs.

The popular Ottoson Robotics Club meets every Wednesday, and new students have been working on snap circuit, land-based rovers as they start to become familiar with basic circuitry and rover construction. They are also starting to assemble the body of a new SeaPerch. SeaPerch is an exciting project because it introduces students to the basic skills of ship and submarine design, along with teaching fundamental science and engineering concepts, tool safety and technical procedures. I am grateful to Ms. Whitney for her leadership of the Robotics Club and I congratulate all the members on their successful Spy Pond launch. Click here to see more pictures of the October launch. To learn about the SeaPerch underwater robotics program, please click here.

October 2014 Superintendent’s Newsletter

One of the topics I wrote about last month is the improvement we have made in our technology infrastructure and what this means for our students and teachers. We are proud of these gains, and of the support we have received from both the Town of Arlington and the Arlington Education Foundation that helped make this happen. However, we aren’t going to stop here. Assistant Superintendent Laura Chesson is hard at work updating the district technology plan so that we can continue to move our vision forward. When Dr. Chesson’s draft is ready, it will be posted on the APS website for you to review. Feedback meetings open to parents and community members will be held at each school during December and January. I will keep you up-to-date on these events, and I encourage everyone to take advantage of the opportunity to learn more and share your ideas with us.

In this edition of the newsletter, you have the opportunity to read about one of the ways better access and availability of technology equipment and applications enhances learning for our students. One of the exciting areas of instruction at the Ottoson Middle School is the Technology and Engineering program. Students in grades six through eight are able to pursue engineering questions, and use research and problem solving to find technology solutions. This program is an award-winning example of 21st-century teaching and learning, made possible thanks to dedicated teachers and strong support from our community. You will find more information in the Awards & Distinctions section below.

MassTEC Recognizes OMS Technology & Engineering Program as Best of the Year

Attending the Massachusetts Technology Education/Engineering Collaborative (MassTEC) 2014 Conference on October 24 had special significance for Ottoson teachers Gary Blanchette and Brandy Whitney. This year these dedicated educators attended the event to receive the MassTEC Program of the Year Award.

We knew that the curriculum created by Mr. Blanchette and Ms. Whitney was exceptional–one that enables our students to understand how useful new technologies really are, encourages problem solving and captures their imagination. In fact, our program is so strong that Assistant Superintendent Laura Chesson reports that it was described as the best application of organization techniques, curriculum and use of technology that the two visiting members of MassTEC had ever seen.

Getting our program to this standard has been a combination of hard work and creativity on the part of the teachers, and support from the community. Many of you know that the Arlington Education Foundation (AEF) has been spearheading a campaign to accelerate the use of technology throughout the district. Thanks to their Tech Initiative, our students have the equipment and applications to research the design process, design engineering components, and create them on a 3D printer.

Many of you had the opportunity to hear about the curriculum and talk with students regarding what they do in their tech engineering classroom at the Technology Showcase last May. There are three additional ways for you to learn how our program focuses on the applied technologies of engineering design, construction and transportation. To understand the curriculum and see what our students are doing, visit the program website by clicking here. Hear from the teachers and watch a video that takes you inside a class by clicking here. Additional comments from Ms. Whitney and Mr. Blanchette, as well as all the elements that MassTEC considered when evaluating the program, are found here.

To learn more about the AEF Expansion of STEM at Ottoson, please click here. Congratulations to both educators for creating this award-winning program, and for the passion for teaching and learning that supports it..

September 2014 Superintendent’s Newsletter

Technology Upgrades throughout the District Support Excellence in Teaching and Learning
Upgrading our technology infrastructure to support both students and teachers has been a focus of Arlington Public Schools for the last few years, and I am proud to tell you that we made additional progress this summer. Our technology staff has been busy integrating $470,000 worth of new equipment into our schools. Last spring the Arlington Capital Planning Committee authorized $450,000 to be used to replace the teacher computers that were over five years old and running an operating system that will no longer be supported by Microsoft. Additional money from the Arlington Education Foundation (AEF) allowed us to deliver new devices for students to all nine schools as well.

On their first day back, 275 teachers had a new laptop at their disposal. It is very important that we are able to offer our teachers these upgraded tools. Our common assessment program, which corresponds to state standards, drives both individualized learning and program improvement. The newer technology supports better utilization of both the student analytic tools and our teacher evaluation programs. The new devices also help our teachers infuse updated technology into their classrooms, and move the district toward full-blown implementation of the Google suite, improving communication and collaboration. I want to extend my thanks to Susan Bisson, Jeff Snyder, Nicole Melnik and John Macuk who provided our teachers with the professional development necessary for them to begin using the new technology immediately.

We also were able to deliver nearly 500 new devices throughout all nine schools. There is now an iPad cart for each of the elementary grades to share in six elementary schools. Thanks to technology funds available during the rebuild, Thompson has a one-to-one ratio of iPad to student. Additional iPad carts are now available to two of the Grade 6 clusters at Ottoson and a new cart has been allocated to the Engineering classes. One of the Digital Modeling labs has been upgraded with two new 3D printers. Arlington High School has received additional Chromebooks and other devices available to all classes within the building. Our computer science classes have expanded at AHS, and two educators are prepared to teach the entry-level classes this fall thanks to the professional development they received.
A significant number of new wireless access points have been installed in Ottoson and AHS to improve the depth of coverage in our wireless network. All these improvements support the Massachusetts Common Core State Standards, which place more emphasis on technology and computer literacy. I am grateful to both the town and AEF for working with us to move our technology vision forward.

November 2013 Superintendent’s Newsletter

APS Efforts to Expand Computer Science to K-12 Students Presented at STEM Conference

I am delighted to report that Assistant Superintendent Laura Chesson shared the strides we are making towards exposing all students to computational thinking during a panel discussion at the Massachusetts STEM Summit on November 13. While many districts offer computer science in high school, we believe that this is insufficient to prepare our students for success in the workforce or college. Computing to the Core, an advocacy group, states that computer science involves design, creativity, problem solving, analyzing a variety of possible solutions to a problem, collaboration and presentation skills. Students develop and extend logical thinking. The ability to think creatively, reason systematically and work collaboratively is essential for 21st century success. This is why we are working to make computer science part of our K-12 curriculum.

Toward this end, we have been introducing Scratch programming at the elementary and middle school level. Scratch, a free product of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab is in use at Ottoson. We are beta-testing ScratchJr in grades K-2 at Thompson. Funded by the National Science Foundation, ScratchJr was created through collaboration between the MIT Media Lab and a group at Tufts University. Young people aged 5-7 use it to create stories, interactive collages and games. Our teachers report that they have already seen ScratchJr engage and excite students who have shown little interest in other activities.

In December, every student at Ottoson will be introduced to computer science principles during the Hour of Code. This event will occur during Computer Science Education Week, and you can learn more about it by watching a short video found here.

Computer science provides a foundation for any career. We are proud to be able to be able to offer these learning opportunities to our students, and I am very pleased that Ms. Chesson was invited to share our experiences at the STEM Summit. Her invitation, and our involvement with Scratch, came about thanks to the technology connections made possible through the Arlington Education Foundation Technology Initiative.

Stephen Jobs stated that everyone should learn computer science because “…it teaches you how to think.” I urge you to take a few minutes and watch the video created by, a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding computer science education.

Three Teachers Share Creative Use of Technology at National Conferences

One of the reasons that APS have been able to integrate technology into our classrooms quickly and creatively is the presence of lead technology teachers in each school. Therefore, it was particularly gratifying to have three of those teachers share their expertise and experience at national conferences this month.

Brackett fourth grade teacher Anita-Cristina Calcaterra spoke at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development Educational Leadership Conference in Las Vegas. She shared the experience of her students commenting on each other’s writing via posts to discussion boards using Blackboard. Ms. Calcaterra also talked about how her students are using Screen Chomp to make explanatory videos they share with their classmates.

Thompson first grade teacher Nicole Melnik and Stratton fourth grade teacher Ann Marie Abbott presented the different ways they are using technology to communicate with parents at the Edtechteacher iPad Summit held in Boston. Ms. Melnik’s students create blogs that are shared with parents, who are able to comment on what they find She has discovered that the fact their work is being shared motivates them to write more details than they might in a private journal. Ms. Melnik also maintains a blog that parents follow to understand what is happening in the classroom.

Students in Ms. Abbott’s class are creating rich visuals using Explain Everything. This interactive whiteboard application enables students to combine words and pictures taken from a variety of sources. They are able to create screencasts that capture their thinking, and share them with other students and their parents.

Our teachers are able to demonstrate that technology in the classroom is not about devices. Rather, it is about the tasks that can be performed on these devices. It is wonderful that Ms. Calcaterra, Ms. Melnik and Ms. Abbott were able to share the creative ways they are using technology to enrich education and to communicate with parents with educators from across the country. In each of these examples, we see how technology is being used to implement some of the fundamentals of the Common Core State Standards as well–writing, analyzing, synthesizing, explaining, and sharing ideas and creations with others.

If you are interested in learning more about the applications being used, please click on the links below:.



Explain Everything


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