District-wide edtech initiative yields inspiring results

Minnesota School District


Large-scale tech deployments can seem daunting, but done right, the results will always make them worth it.

mark aronsonMark Aronson is the Learning & Technology Coach for an entire Minnesota school district. After taking part in a small-scale 1-to-1 iPad pilot and witnessing first hand how the right use of tech can bolster student learning ownership and creativity, he decided to share his findings with his colleagues. Eight years later, all 29,000+ Pre-K-12 students at his district use their iPads to create, work together and build community, no matter the distance!

" If you can teach something, that’s a great way to show your level of conceptual understanding. With technology, students can teach each other, and we often have the students teaching us things. And that’s so empowering for them."

From the procedural to the conceptual with Explain Everything

One thing that struck Mark as soon as he started using technology in his teaching was how often students rely more on memorizing a procedure to, say, solve a math problem, than employ a deeper, more conceptual understanding. Determined to introduce a quality over quantity approach to his classroom, he replaced the standard xeroxed worksheets of 15+ problems with one task: record yourself explaining how to solve a single long division problem in a  way a second grader could understand it. His students turned out to be more than up to the challenge, and soon they were using each other’s videos to learn, too. Listen to Mark talk about how unique strategy for teaching math using tech:



And now for the real treat: watch little little Sophie make learning fractions reeeally interesting with her pizza metaphor explainer video. Talk about student learning ownership! 👇🏽

Sharing the passion for edtech

After the success of the pilot, Mark’s school began to expand the number of classes that had access to this technology. Over the course of the next couple of years and in cooperation with the local taxpayers, his school purchased devices for every student. And with every class and grade, the sheer amount of ideas on how Explain Everything could be used to support what Mark refers to as “purposeful, intentional” tech-supported learning continued to grow. As did student engagement.


" The iPad is one of many tools. How can we look at all this as an ecosystem of tools to provide that balance for both teacher and students? The way we see it, you immerse them in books, and when you want them to share and show their understanding, then they can bring out the digital tools so they can publish or make a video for a broader audience."
" What I’ve learned and what I teach teachers as a part of my instructional coaching is you have to make tech digestible – don’t get too distracted by all of the things out there. Take one or two things that you want to do well, and focus on that. That was a challenge for me at first. Now we have a set of nine core apps we have teachers focus on."

Taking the deployment district-wide

It’s no small feat to turn an 11-class pilot into almost 30,000 1-to-1 deployments. That’s why we absolutely had to ask Mark how he managed to achieve this as his district’s Technology Coach. His answer drives home the point that learning-centered and sustainability-conscious edtech companies such as Explain Everything have been bringing up for the past few years: at the end of the day, it’s the learning framework that is key. And the tools chosen by a school should fit into said framework, not the other way around. The core apps that are selected for wide-scale use – just nine in Mark’s district of 19 schools – need to be demonstrably beneficial to both students and teachers.

Looking at this district, the lesson is clear: successful wide-scale edtech deployments require figuring out how technology can be used to support teachers’ constructivist learning goals and student development. As opposed to existing simply for the sake of boasting tech presence in the classroom.

Learning is not just for students

Another all-important success factor at Mark’s district were – and continue to be – PD sessions. District leadership has taken great care to send Mark from school to school to provide what he calls “concentrated coaching opportunities” to their teachers, guiding them through the process of acquiring new tech skills. The importance of such support cannot be overstated – with the deluge of apps available these days, teachers are often understandably apprehensive about spending the little free time attempting to keep up with the newest trends in tech. Especially that trends come and go.

Guiding them through a well thought-out process of learning a new application builds more than skills and confidence – it also builds trust between administration and staff. And that trust in turn motivates teachers to truly get invested in the tech their school is giving them access to. And at the end of the day, that should be the main takeaway from this amazing success story: it’s the people that make the tech work, not the other way around.

" We wanted to build capacity. We didn’t want it to be that I, as the instructional coach, was the keeper of all knowledge on how to use all of these digital devices and tools. And that’s what we want in our classroom, too – we don’t want the teacher to be the keeper of all knowledge."

A district others can learn from

Mark’s story is one that any district wanting to implement edtech across the board could get inspiration from. The best part is that, at the end of the day, it’s not all just about being able to afford thousands of devices just like that, something not every school has the budget for anyway. Much more important is having a vision for what you want to achieve and finding ways to use tech to support your staff and students. When you get that part right, the rest will come!

For advice on how to bring about a digital transformation at your school or district in the kind of “purposeful, intentional” way Mark did, get in touch at

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