Tech Interview: Achievement First Bushwick

Guest Post by Andrew from Match Next

I spend a couple hours each week on the phone with different ed-tech folks across the country. Sometimes with people who create ed-tech products, but mostly school-based people, usually teachers or former teachers who now help their schools integrate technology into classrooms. There’s crazy variation among this crowd. I’ve already missed my chance at winning Buffett’s billion bucks, but I’d bet a dollar that you couldn’t get 10 of these practitioners to all agree on a particular piece of hardware or software.

I recently talked with Riley Bauling, Academic Dean of Achievement First Bushwick Middle School. He gave me the scoop on the tech they’ve got down there in Brooklyn, and how they use it. Here’s a few bits from our conversation:

1. What’s the hardware situation at your school?

Riley: Each grade has 1 set of 35 Chromebooks. We’ve 4 grades, 5 through 8, so we have a total of 140 computers. There’s a total of 25 backup laptops, which teachers can use if another teacher is using the grade’s main set. The laptops are locked inside a laptop cart when they’re not being used, and the carts live in alcoves in our hallway because we don’t have our own dedicated computer lab.

Our Operations Director owns the maintenance and upkeep of the computers. We have a Student Services Manager and Operations Assistance who help out with the general upkeep. Whenever a teacher needs the set, though, they access the cart on their own.

2. What kind of software are you guys using?

Riley: For math we use TenMarks, Khan Academy, Reflex Math, and we’re looking into using Accelerated Math. For ELA, sort of use Newsela, and are looking into using Accelerated Reader.

I’d give TenMarks an 8 out of 10 overall. We love the rigor of the questions, and we especially like that we can assign students questions on specific topics that they’ve struggled with in the past. In our 5th grade, our students will use TenMarks during class after they’ve finished a predetermined amount of classwork we’ve assigned them. We also use it as a way to help us differentiate our after-school interventions for students receiving extra help. Roughly 5-10 kids per grade are on TenMarks for at least 15-20 minutes every day. A larger group of kids (about 15-20) are using the program at home for about 20-30 minutes each day.

We mainly use Khan Academy for fluency work, but we only use it sparingly. About 5 of our students are using it 1-2 times per week. Overall it’s usable, but could have better questions. I’d give it a 6 out of 10.

We like Reflex Math a lot. We’ve been using it with 3 of our students that’ve really struggled with their multiplication facts. They’re on the program 4 days per week, for at least 20 minutes per session.

3. How long would you say kids spend on the Chromebooks each day? What does it look like?

Riley: Depends. Overall, I’d say kids in each grade are on laptops for around an hour each day. But that time is spread out. Our writing classes consistently use laptops 3 or more times a week. In our older grades (7-8), kids are using the computers a little more in their literature and history classes to do research. Plus there’s the group of kids using Chromebooks for TenMarks, Khan, or Reflex Math.

In our lower grades (5-6), we’ve generally got about 5-10 kids using computers in math for 15-30 minutes. We mainly care about making sure we’re putting good, rigorous content in front of them.

4. Do the students like using the laptops? The programs?

Riley: Definitely. Especially TenMarks. I think because it’s still a novel idea for them to do math on a computer. I think getting to use tech in math incentivises them to try a little harder. Once they start getting bored, though, we’re going to experiment with team based competitions to keep the excitement levels up.