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Fall 2013

Follow Up: She Made a Run for Your Money

StudentsLiz Byron's students model their new laptops.

Luckily, Liz Byron, Ed.M.'08, was not one of the 1,027 people running the Morocco-based Marathon des Sables this past April who suffered from heat stroke or kidney failure. She didn't need 13 bags of IV fluid in one day and didn't contract a tissue infection. She didn't have to drop out, as about 40 runners did. Other than swollen ankles and a bout of dehydration, Byron finished the ultramarathon — nearly 150 miles in six grueling days, the equivalent of six regular marathons — in remarkably good health. She even placed 12th for women, 211th overall.

Byron, a long-time runner, had trained hard. But she can also thank her sixth-grade students at the Gardner Pilot Academy in Boston for her success.

"I think teaching must build up your immunity," she jokes, adding that teaching is more of an endurance sport than running through the loose sand, rocky mountains, salt plains, and dried river beds of the Sahara.

VideoNow, months after the race, her students can thank her. As Ed. readers found out in the last issue of the magazine, Byron was running to raise money so that her 50 students didn't have to share just four laptops. Thanks to the $40,000 she raised online, plus $30,000 the Boston Public Schools pitched in (a promise fulfilled once her fundraising hit $20,000), her students have 50 new laptops and a laptop cart. Unused money and continued donations will be put toward future needs for other grades at the school although, she stresses, "the deficit of technology in those grades cannot be covered by the remaining funds."

What do her students make of the new technology?

"They love it. They are so grateful to all those that donated," she says. "Many students are more engaged in class when technology is a component of a lesson and they request time to work with the computer, whereas before, a similar assignment or objective was not met with as much enthusiasm. They are also very responsible for the laptops and take great care of them."

From a teaching perspective, the laptops allow her to engage her students with curriculum and content in a multimedia format that wasn't formerly available.

"They are simultaneously gaining skills in both the content area and in technology," she says. "For example, we use VoiceThread, an online multimedia platform where students can listen to the teacher's prompts or other students' questions and respond using text or voice. Their responses are recorded, and other students in other classrooms can respond. The teacher can respond or comment as well. This format allows for more participation, including participation across classrooms. It also makes text more accessible for students with disabilities because the text can be read aloud and supported by images or videos."

Asked how she'll top this fundraiser now that she's already tackled the hardest race in the world, Byron laughs. "I'm actually already signed up for a July marathon, hoping to qualify for Boston, but as for matching the extreme conditions of this race, nothing has been planned … yet."