Change and Relevance

Make sure that our methodology is not simply packaging old wine in new bottles. Teaching today requires a whole new vineyard.-Robert Meehan

Are you someone who embraces change?  Perhaps it depends on the circumstances.  Regardless of the situation, change happens. Sometimes it happens slowly…giving us time to adapt and accept.  Sometimes, it happens in a split second, leaving us to wonder what in the world just happened.

Recently I was discussing maps with my students.  It is a state standard in Social Studies.  We were doing a pirate themed unit and I couldn’t think of a better way to talk about maps than in the context of digging up a buried treasure. During the discussion and the showing of this awesome pirate treasure map (courtesy of Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney World), I noticed my students seemed a bit puzzled, maybe even skeptical.  I stopped and asked what was the problem.  One of them said, “Why didn’t the pirate just use a GPS?”  Someone else said, ” The Maps App on my iPad would show them where to go too.”  Hmmm….are maps (the old school kind that I can never fold correctly) becoming obsolete?

Technology makes our lives easier and faster in many ways. Technological advancements in medicine and business have changed the world.  So why are so many reluctant to change the way we educate children?  Money, or lack of it, is always one response.  What if you went to work and found your computers and telephones were suddenly gone.  Sorry…we just can’t afford those fancy things.  How would you do business? Could you still get the work accomplished? Perhaps…with paper and pencil, snail mail and couriers. Technology makes our work more efficient.  It also makes my teaching more efficient.  It makes their learning more engaging and accessible.

As we seek to educate children and prepare them for a successful life as an adult, we cannot pretend that technology doesn’t matter.  One at risk high school in my district that uses iPads, recovered over 700 days of instruction in just the second semester this school year that were previously lost due to discipline issues.

Today, I locked up my class iPads for the summer.  I wheeled them down the hall to be stored for the summer.  We have only 2 half days of school remaining.  I’m already making a list of things I want to do next year.  I want to do more with iMovie and iBooks Author.  Part of staying relevant means growing a new vineyard.  My teaching practices have changed as my students needs change.  Next year will bring new challenges.  I will hopefully be ready….after a nice 10 week summer vacation, of course.

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Write This Way

I am a writer. – Jayde, age 6

I’m not a writer. I didn’t go to journalism school and I have no proper credentials that certify me as a writer.  I haven’t immersed myself in the study or practice of writing.  So how can I expect my students to view themselves as a writer if I don’t even view myself as one?

Maybe the problem lies in how one defines “writer”.  I think my perception in the past has been that writers are trained and paid for their work.  Since I’ve been using the Writer’s Workshop approach to writing, I’ve learned that we are all writers.  Writers write every day. Writers share their ideas.  Writers write on a variety of topics and writers are good readers.   As educators, we have to remember that our attitudes are conveyed to our students.  I want my students to be excited about writing.  When I start Writer’s Workshop each day, I call my “writers” to the carpet and I ask them in conferences to share with me what they are learning about themselves as a writer.  In turn, I model writing for them.  I think aloud about writing ideas.  I model what I do when I get “stuck”.  I model writing on a chart tablet and on my iPad.  If I think of a writing idea in the middle of math, I jot it down on a sticky note or in my Notes app.  I tell them to do the same.  I blog here and I blog with them on KidBlog.  We talk about what good writers do and we use mentor texts as examples.

My modeling has been fruitful.  My students write every day.  They write about a variety of topics and for a variety of purposes. They write fiction and non-fiction.  They write stories on paper and on their iPads.  They make lists.  They make books in eBook Magic and on Pages.  They write personal narratives and one even wrote a song. They blog with each other.  They fill one page and ask for another.  And another.

They have no doubt they are writers.  It never occurs to them to think they aren’t. They write and they share. They encourage one another.  They have all the necessary tools.  They have training.  All they need now is to get paid!

Hey wait!  Can I get in on that too?

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Reflecting on Student Growth and Achievement

I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.-Marie Curie

Recently, I was looking at photographs taken of my students on the first day of school. They looked so little and baby-faced.  It was amazing to see them then and to see how much they have grown this year.  They are taller and their faces have changed.  Because I am with them all day, every day, the change wasn’t as evident.

The same goes for their work.  They work hard all year and little bit, by little bit, progress is seen.  Several years ago, I started keeping a writing portfolio of student work.  I save a writing sample from each child, each month.  At the end of the year, I put them all together in a portfolio to send home to parents.  It is so wonderful to look through the pages and see the growth that occurred throughout the year.  We start on the first day of school:

Students write their names and draw a picture of themselves.  If they are able to, many will write on or label their pictures.  Each month, growth is evident.  By the end, it will look something like this:

What a difference 9 months makes!  It looks so easy, yet a lot of hard work went into this progress. Many times I ask myself, “Are we there yet?” It takes looking at the beginning to appreciate the end product.

How do iPads fit into this? The iPads were used as a companion in both the Reading and Writing Workshop.  Students used them for reference, for reading, and even some writing.  The apps provided them with practice in reading and spelling, which in turn, helped them in their writing.  Their writing on the iPad has been incorporated into their blogging experience, in their creation of books in eBook Magic and in Pages.  While they tend to write more prolifically on paper, they do enjoy writing on their iPads.  It has also given them some beginning keyboarding skills.

They have had a variety of experiences in using iPads, reading books, class discussions, writing stories, using anchor charts, partner work, and various other literacy-building activities.  The key words here are “variety of experiences”.  When you immerse students in a literacy-rich environment, incorporate a systematic approach to reading and writing, and differentiate instruction with iPad technology, students can’t help but succeed!

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PaperPort Anywhere

Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up. -A. A. Milne

One of the few challenges we have faced in implementing iPads has been the inability to get work off of the iPad.   Our district network is not set up to allow student email at this time, although I hear it is in the works.  Teachers are able to send email but students are not.  Dropbox is also not available as an option through our network. There are times when I have photographed student work with my iPad camera so that it is on my iPad.  We have also set up class wikis so that we can upload items to the wiki for a variety of uses.

On PaperPort, I have created a variety of folders.  Each child has a folder and I have a folder for images as well as iBooks that I have created on iBooks Author. The original account is created online at the PaperPort website. The PaperPort App is free and is downloaded on each student iPad.  As students create work or books to be saved, they choose to open the document in PaperPort and upload it to their folder.  It’s very simple and my kindergarten students can all do it themselves.  They are also able to go into the PaperPort app and download books that I’ve uploaded into their own iBooks libraries.

From Paperport, I am able share documents with parents or administrators as needed.  The iBooks I have created, I have shared with my grade-level team through PaperPort.  They simply go to the folder and download it to their student iPads.  This app makes it easy to scan, organize and share documents.

With a classroom full of busy children, we all need a little easy!

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Just the Facts: Student Data and Achievement

Decisions should be based on facts, objectively considered. -Marvin Bower

I posted here recently my students’ reading scores.  Obviously, we are excited about them.  Student achievement and closing the achievement gap is our top priority.  School-wide, our MAP (Measurement of Academic Progress) scores are up.  What other positive things are we seeing school-wide?  Most striking is our copy paper expenses dropped $15,000 from last year.  Our number of  copies dropped from 400,000 to just at 100,000.  Teachers are able to reduce paper and copying by using the iPads.  Many are uploading activities as a PDF to a class wiki.  Students access the wiki with iPads, complete the activity in a  PDF annotating app and then either upload to PaperPort or to the district WebDav.  School discipline referrals went from around 400 last year to around 100 this year.   The 3 high schools in our district that are using iPads also see decreases in paper usage, copying, and discipline referrals.  Obviously, something good is going on.

Clearly the iPads are making an impact at my school.  There will always be people who feel the iPads are not worth the investment, or who question the validity of them in the classroom.  I read articles and blogs daily that dismiss iPads in the classroom as a flash in the pan.  Technology changes so rapidly and it is necessary to keep up in today’s global society.  Will iPads be around in 5 years?  I have no idea.  Will there be a better technology out there for the classroom in that time?  Maybe…but if we wait until the “newest, better version” comes out, we won’t ever buy anything.  The laptop I’m typing this blog post on will be discontinued, outdated, replaced or obsolete in less than 5 years.  I guess the way I look at it is whatever the technology is it needs to be engaging and relevant to learning.  In the Stone Age, a broad prehistoric period during which stone was widely used in the manufacture of implements with a sharp edge, or a point, that was some serious technology!  That age lasted about 2.5 million years.  The creation of the wheel, the combustion engine and the first main frame computer were all significant technology advances.  We have to be willing to change with the times.

I have no way of knowing what the long term impact of iPads will be on education.  What I do know right now is that our school data is showing early trends of iPad success.  Behind every number in that data pool is a student with an iPad and that student has a name.  I’m not sure who would be willing to look that child in the face and tell them he or she isn’t worth the investment.  Good teaching is good teaching.  Our data is indicative that iPads in our classrooms is good teaching…on steroids!

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The Experts Speak

Everyone’s an expert. -Seth Godin

My very seasoned kindergartners are total iPad experts.  They know all the tricks.  They are able to put apps in folders, search for apps quickly using the search screen, save images from the internet, import images into a Pages document, save the document on PaperPort, take a screen shot, use the camera, save a document as  PDF, and if I would let them, they could probably order a pizza from Pizza Hut or a movie from Netflix.  As with all experts, they love to share what they know with others.  In their own words, they are sharing their advice for using iPads with next year’s kindergarten students and with you.

Always carry the iPad with two hands for safetyness.-Jason age 6

Never pick your nose and touch the iPad screen. That is gross. -Hagan age 6

Keep the volume on low or the teacher takes it away. -Parker Jane age 6

It is never ok to stomp on the iPad or throw it. -Kade age 6

There are lots of cool apps and you can learn very lots.-Amantay age 6

You will like the iPad so much you will want one for Christmas, but your parents will say no.  -Ella age 5

Don’t share your ear buds with anyone because your earwax is disgusting. -Jacob age 6

There were more, but these are the highlights.  They also had good things to say about how they can read a lot on the iPad, write stories, use it for learning new things, work on projects with other students, learn math and science, and blog with others.  Can you imagine being a 5 or 6 year old, and already know how to do the things these children can do? Next year in first grade, they will continue to grow in their skills and knowledge.

With all of this wonderful technology, comes responsibility.  Just as we aren’t gaining all of our adult knowledge from our smart phones, laptops and mobile devices, our students also need to learn from multiple sources.  Social skills, responsible behavior, courtesy, manners, and interpersonal relationships aren’t learned on the iPad.  Teachers and parents are role models for our children.  We still need to take our children outside and show them nature, curl up and read real books together, play board games together, ask children what they think and why they think that, model appropriate electronic device manners (put it away when you are at dinner or having a personal conversation), and model how and when it is appropriate to use technology.  While my students are very knowledgeable on the workings of the iPad and they are gaining 21st century skills in kindergarten, my role is more important than ever.

Being an expert often means someone who knows a lot about the past.  Moving into the future, means we all learn together.  Technology changes by the millisecond.  I have no doubt that my students will be on top of every advancement.  I just hope I can keep up!

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Using Confer App in Reading Workshop

The biggest mistake regarding record-keeping is not writing things down or not remembering where you wrote it down.-David Mellem

Do you have an organized method for your record-keeping?  I have an old-school grade book and I have one on the iPad.  I have a stack for this and a pile for that.  One of the things that drive me crazy is having some things here and some things there. I have Language Arts and sight word assessments, math assessments, and running records for reading.  In my attempt to consolidate my “stuff” I discovered an app called Confer.

Confer is an app that lets you record and track your students both individually and in small groups.  I teach Reading and Writing Workshop and this app  works very well with that method.  I can take notes on individuals and small groups. I can view students by “tag”, “strength”, “teaching point”, or “next step”.  Creating small flexible groups allows me to see at a glance what those students are working on, what reading level they are on, or what I need to do next with them.  Confer also allows you to upload your data to a Gmail account as a spreadsheet or to upload to any iOS device or to Dropbox.

The downside is the cost.  It is $14.99.  There is a lite version, but it’s a little too lite.  The plus side is that it is easy to use and is very portable in the iPad.  While I use it exclusively for running records and guided reading groups, it can be used in any subject that you wish. When I meet with my grade level team, principal or a parent, I have the data right at hand.

With 30 kindergarten students, having the ability to look at student data in both small group, individual and whole class views quickly is not only convenient, it is necessary.

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Using Anchor Charts with iPads

I like to read and write about trucks and cars. I would do it all day long.-Kade age 6

How many students would like to read and write all day long?  I love how when I say it’s time for Reading or Writing Workshop, my kids give a fist pump and say, “YES!”  I’m pretty sure I was never that excited in school.

When children are engaged, and feel confident in their abilities as readers and writers, they are excited about learning.  We use the Reading and Writing Workshop model to teach literacy.  My room is filled with various anchor charts that I create along with the students.  At the beginning of the year, we make an anchor chart for each letter of the alphabet.  The children give me words that begin with the given letter and I model writing it on the chart  and draw a small picture beside it.  We then hang the chart on the wall.  When all of the alphabet charts are made, we go to word families and commonly used words, family words, color words, number words, etc.  We make charts about how to be good listeners when we are launching the workshop model in the fall.  We make charts on why writers write.  We make charts for non-fiction writing ideas, and for what we do when we are in the reading center.  These charts are available for the children to refer to all year long.  Because they helped in the creation of them, they are quick to use them and they serve as a visual reference.

The only problem is that I am out of wall space and even after stringing clothesline across my room, I still do not have enough space.  I wanted my students to still have access to certain charts but I needed to make room for more! I started taking pictures of some of the charts and I synced them out to each student iPad.  The charts are now in each student’s camera roll.  The ones we use all the time are on the wall and they are able to still see other charts when they need to. We made this Ideas chart because earlier in the year, some students were having trouble thinking of things to write about. This is one of the charts on their iPads.

The other plus for having them on the iPad camera roll is students have the ability to look at them right where they are.  If a child is sitting across the room from one particular anchor chart, they don’t have to get up to go across the room to look at it.  Since my students can only remember one letter at a time when copying something, they might make 6 trips across the room to see a particular word.

Anchor charts are wonderful reference tools that help “anchor” new and ongoing learning to previously introduced concepts. My students know exactly what is on each and every chart and they use them all throughout each day.  Long after I’ve forgotten what is on the chart, they still refer to it with each other. At the end of the year, I take them down and give one to each child to keep.  They love it!

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All You Need Is Love

Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well. -Voltaire

This has been Teacher Appreciation Week at my school.  I have been thanked and celebrated, hugged and showered with flowers and gifts.  And…food.  I mean, nothing says lovin’ like something from the oven right?  My cup overflows.

While I have enjoyed receiving all of the love this week, I have appreciations of my own. One of the treats of teaching 5 year old children is their unending capacity for love and learning.  I love the buzz of activity in the classroom punctuated by hearty belly laughs that only children can do without the burden of self-consciousness.  I love how they aren’t afraid to try new things.  I love that even though we have these awesome iPads, and there is ongoing debate about whether they are worth the investment, and visitors come and go on a regular basis to see the iPads in action, these children are unimpressed with the hoopla surrounding them.  They just want to get to work. I love how they think it’s just another day in kindergarten, learning, singing, reading, writing, building with blocks, painting, tattling, adding, and subtracting with their teachers, their friends, and oh yes, iPads.

I also love the support from parents, my administrators, Apple, and the school district I have had the last 12 months implementing the iPads in the classroom.  All have been unwavering in assisting me with whatever I needed.  My school administrators and the district have trusted my judgment and given me plenty of latitude to be successful.  The parents have shown interest in the project, kept up with the apps we have and many have purchased them on their own iPads or iPhones at home.  They have asked questions and educated themselves so they can better help their children at home.

In the presence of all of this love, how can these children possibly fail?  Sadly, it is possible.  Future teachers of these children will help determine their love of learning.  As my little peeps get ready to leave me, I can appreciate the amount of work I have put into nurturing them and can only hope their future teachers will love them like I have.

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Sweet 16: Countdown to Summer Vacation

Always desire to learn something useful.-Sophocles

16 days of school are remaining. While I am looking forward to summer vacation, part of me is wistful at seeing this class go. They are busy, talkative, and loud. (I won’t miss the loud part.) They are also inquisitive, bright, and eager to learn. They haven’t shut down for the impending summer vacation. They continue to go full steam ahead wanting to learn. This morning during her free time, Tahra was researching sharks on her iPad. After looking online, she thought of something she had seen in a book in the reading center on sharks. She went and got the book, found what she was looking for, and proceeded to blog about some shark facts.

Tahra knew how to access information she needed. More importantly, she had access to the information she needed. These are essential components to learning. It was gratifying to me to see her use both her iPad and the non-fiction text. Seamless learning. She was reading, researching, blogging…she was also highly engaged. At this point in our school year, I can smile knowing my work with these children is almost complete. They are equipped and ready to go to first grade (and beyond) with the skills necessary to be successful.

When asked how my students became so independent and engaged in their own learning, I answer with these words: intentional planning and constant modeling and monitoring. We must be intentional about our instruction both with and without iPads. Apps are carefully considered before purchasing. Student use of iPads and any other activity in which they will have some freedom is carefully modeled daily, if needed. I subscribe to “I do, we do, you do” philosophy. This is that important gradual release of responsibility.

As we count down the final days of this year, my students’ love for learning is evident. I watch my students stand on the edge of their own greatness. They aren’t looking down in fear…but looking forward with great anticipation. So am I, my little friends. So am I.

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