A New Year Takes Flight

This is a new year. A new beginning. And things will change.  -Taylor Swift

My intention was to write this post a few days ago.  Last week was our first week of school and somehow, between teaching all day and enduring 100 degree heat each day, I came home completely exhausted.  The first week is always tough…getting back into the routine.

Usually, on our first day of school, I am asked multiple times, “When can we play?”  “When is recess?”  I was completely expecting that when someone raised his hand and started with “When can we…”   what I was not expecting was the end of that sentence.  “have our iPads?” So we had to have a little  talk about how we needed a few days to get used to our new classroom and routines before we started using iPads.  The kids did a great job of adjusting the first 3 days so on day 4, I started with iPads in small groups.  photo 3-2

I took their picture and saved it as the lock screen and the wallpaper.  That allows me (and the children) to quickly see to whom the iPad belongs. We worked on turning the device on, navigating screens, identifying the folders I’ve created that hold their apps, and opening an app.  After working a few minutes in one app, we closed it and moved to a different folder to try a different app.  Then we learned how to put the iPad to sleep and put it back in the iPad storage cabinet.  These small groups lasted 15-20 minutes.  Each child had an opportunity to get hands on time with the device.  On Friday, we reviewed the procedures from Thursday and worked on a couple of different apps before putting them away.  Some of the children have iPads at home and were quick to point out they already knew how to “work the iPad.”  I reminded them that they use the iPads at home one way and we use them at school in a different way.  We will spend another few days front loading procedures in small groups and then I will bring them into a whole group math lesson.  Starting out in small bite-sized lessons really allows me to scaffold the procedures and set everyone up for success.  By going slow now, I can speed up later.

What was great to see in these brief introductory lessons was the immediate tendency of the children to be collaborative. They didn’t zone in to the iPad and tune everything else out.   They were helpful to each other and they were having good conversations about what they were doing in the app. This collaborative behavior is at the very heart of how we work and play in our classroom.

Starting school is exciting and a little stressful for both the teacher and students.  I am grateful our first week went smoothly and am looking forward to the exciting things these children will do this year.

School year 2014-15 is wheels-up and has taken flight!

Today we will learn exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Making Global Connections

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” -Albert Einstein

Don’t you love when people say to you, “Must be nice to have your whole summer off!” I don’t know many educators who have the summer “off”.  Most of us are involved in professional activities and learning during the summer.  In fact, if you think about it, professional athletes continue to train in the off-season to maintain their athletic skills. So too, do we need to continue to hone our skills…to fill our own buckets and re-charge our batteries.

IMG_3340I had the privilege of being chosen to attend the Apple Distinguished Educator Global Institute in San Diego.  Last week,  global educators from 30 different countries came together to focus on bringing learning to life with the iPad.  We became citizen scientists in a variety of off-site excursions.  We explored many different topics relevant to sustaining life on Earth from the eyes of a student. We utilized a variety of apps to test water samples, track a forest-destroying beetle, examine plankton, and adopt a tree.  We used our iPads to record sounds, images, and create videos to document our weeklong journey.  We reflected on our own classrooms and how we can bring science curriculum to life in a real, hands-on way.

While these off-site excursions were amazing and illuminating, one of the most lasting legacies of this institute for me will be the global connections I made with brilliant educators.  A few of us who teach young students formed a lasting group and immediately began conversations  around a global project involving our students.  We combined resources to create a book in iBooks Author of our experiences as citizen scientists at Rancho Cuyamaca.  We also developed an iTunes U Course where our students will come together as global peers and work together throughout this next school year.  We will join together with kindergarten students in the UK, Italy and Ireland as well as students from Kansas and Maine.  There will be language learning opportunities and cultural exchanges.  The possibilities are endless!

 

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So, I encourage you to create or re-connect with your PLN on Twitter, Facebook or other social media.  Have conversations, share ideas, create, and re-charge.  Summer is nearing an end and we will be hearing the school bell ring before you know it!  And…when your non-educator friends quip that it’s nice to have the summer off, thank them for the good laugh! “Whatever, man…”

 

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Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Finding Your Bravery

Bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid.- Franklin P. Jones

I was thinking that once school was out for the summer, things would settle down a bit…but with 7 presentations and a keynote speech to deliver the first week I was out, it has been anything but quiet.

I was honored to be asked by Jenny Grabiec to give the keynote speech to The Fletcher School in Charlotte and spend a day there with their wonderful educators.  It was a great experience and I met some really dedicated folks there.  The second half of the week, I was also honored to be asked by Margaret Gunter to speak at the iSummit conference in Atlanta.  I gave 6 presentations there on various topics using iPads in the classroom and also met great people.  I found I had a small fan club camped out in the back of my room for the 2 days I was there.  I even managed to slip into a couple of sessions given by others that were inspiring and informative.  The keynote speaker in Atlanta was Angela Maiers and she hit a home run with her Be Brave keynote.

After that week of presenting, I found myself trying to really make sense of all I had experienced. I had done most of the talking for those 5 days, but the conversations with those educators in both cities combined with the sessions I had managed to sit in on, left my head spinning.

My take away from that week was that even though I was the one doing the presenting, the participants were the ones who inspired me.  They are at the heart of the Be Brave rule.  Many are stepping into a classroom in the fall and for the first time will have iPads.  I remember that feeling of excitement at having the devices, but also the fear of what to do with them, AND doing it well.

443429594_872751b5a3_bBravery isn’t something we are born with.  It is something you acquire over time with life experiences.  You can practice being brave by challenging yourself with new experiences.  Life is full of risk and we fear failure.  We carry the weight of our classrooms on our shoulders and struggle under the burden of always being right or successful in our teaching.  But…fear can paralyze us and keep us from trying new things.  It stagnates us and lulls us into ruts and routines.  It also infects our students who learn safety rather than bravery.

One of the blogs I read is by Matt B. Gomez and he wrote about bravery here.  His rule for his students is to Be Brave.  I love this rule and incorporated into my own classroom last year.  But… what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.  We too, have to be brave and step out of our comfort zone.  This is how we grow.  Since I’ve become an Apple Distinguished Educator, I’ve had to dig deep for bravery at times when speaking to a very large group.

The teachers I’ve been with so far this summer are demonstrating bravery. The first step is just showing up!  What do you say?  Is this the summer you sow some brave seeds of change?

Today we will learn exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

photo credit:  Creative Commons

End of Year Wrap Up


“When the story of these times gets written, we want it to say that we did all we could, and it was more than anyone could have imagined.”-Bono

 

Well, as always, the end of the school year brings a great deal of things that need to be wrapped up.  My classroom is barren…void of all of the student work that has adorned the walls for the year. Classroom centers, games and manipulatives have all been stored away. My iPad cart has been rolled down the hall to it’s summer resting place.  All that’s left is last bits of paperwork, passing out report cards and saying goodbyes.

2605673301_0e757008d8_bAs I go through the end of year rituals for the 25th time, and as I prepare to say goodbye to this sweet group of children, I can’t help but flash back to some great highlights from this year.  Our focus was creating a true, student centered classroom. Students were leaders in their own learning, and exercised voice and choice.  We participated in the Hour of Code. This lead to further creativity and exploration throughout the year…well beyond the initial Hour of Code.  We explored Augmented Reality. This expanded into using Chromville app to enhanced our writing activities.  We skyped with Jen at Blokify and my students were blown away with this app.  The 3D printed samples that Jen sent us led to such enthusiasm, our school purchased a 3D printer.  Toward the end of the year, we focused heavily on reading and research.  We used our iPads to research and write about a topic of our choosing. This created a seemingly insatiable desire to read and learn more on a variety of subjects.  “Can I please look up more on ocean animals?” “Can I research more on sloths and write a book?”  Daily, I’ve been asked for permission to read and research more on a topic that is meaningful to a particular child.  Without being a requirement, these children took their findings and always turned them into a Book Creator book or a drawing with notes and information.  One of our last activities was writing about and rating our favorite apps.  This activity resulted in future conversations about how a certain movie was rated or even their own writings!

While this list is certainly not all we worked on, it is a good recap of our highlights.  Keeping my students at the center of the learning, engaging them in decision making, and providing a literacy rich environment for curiosity and exploration has paid off.  Once again, all of my students are going to first grade reading above grade level.  They are prolific readers and writers.  They think deeply, question, read and respond, experiment, fail and try again, problem solve and persist in the face of difficulty.  They are now 6 years old and ready to boldly step forth into first grade.  While this is not the ending of their story, it’s where my story with them ends.  I will watch them as they grow and succeed.  I will celebrate their future accomplishments and know, that in some small measure, I was there in the beginning.

Happy Summer!

Today we will do exciting new things!  Let’s get to it!

5 Stars and Two Thumbs Up!

One is rated by others as he rates himself.-French Proverb

Ratings…an important part of our culture… They tell us what movie to see, which books to read, what car to buy, and what restaurants to eat in.  Making informed choices is part of being a responsible adult.  The more an item costs, the more likely we are to pay attention to reviews and ratings.

We had a lengthy discussion one day about the merits of some of our apps.  They liked this app because it did certain things or didn’t like that app because it didn’t do other things.  They expressed their ideas about what they would change or add to apps and we talked about how some apps are free and some are not.  I showed them a screen shot from the app store and they asked me about the stars and what they meant. We talked about how people gave the stars as ratings for how much they liked or didn’t like an app.  Then we looked at Amazon.com and looked at some children’s books they knew.  We saw they had stars also.  Of course, they wanted to channel their own Siskel and Ebert and rate their favorite apps.

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So there you have it.  Kids really do have their own opinions about what they like and don’t like.  They know why also.  Part of giving kids voice and choice is really giving them the “voice” part.  Learning how to articulate what they want, what they like, what they don’t want or like is an important skill.  We have had to work hard to move away from liking something simply because it’s “cool”.  In giving voice to a writing piece, they are also expanding vocabulary and ideas.  Writing for a variety of purposes is  an important skill.  There’s no time like the present to begin!

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

 

The Project’s the Thing!

Doing projects really gives people self-confidence.  -Martha Stewart

The closer we get to the end of the year, the more restless my students become.  With only 16 days remaining,  you can imagine things are getting a little crazy.  Trying to keep things at a medium roar is becoming more and more challenging.  To ease us out of this school year and to maintain my sanity, we are turning toward projects of student interest.  This seems to be working (for now) and the kids are engaged (mostly).

The learning focus this week is pirates.  Living in a city rich with pirate history, we are learning about their life style and their place in the history of Charleston.  We have traced our bodies, cut them out and decorated them as pirates, we have written about them, read about them, and role-played.

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In addition to all of the pirate work, we have some exploring augmented reality with Chromville app.  We downloaded the Waterville page and they have been working on this.  They took a screen shot and wrote about their image.

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Some are working on Book Creator projects.  While these are still in progress, one student wrote this in her free time about her work. You can see her book here.  It is saved as a PDF.

My Work

At this point in the year, my students are asking daily if they can research topics of their choosing, make books, and create artifacts.  Their interest is eager and genuine.  It gives them self confidence to work on projects both independently and collaboratively.  They understand the importance of documenting their learning and they are eager to do so.  I am certain that next week, when we start working on dinosaurs, there will be a multitude of projects going.

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Going with the flow is often far easier than going against the tide.  If exploring their interests and working on projects for the next 16 days keeps them engaged, then we will keep on keeping on.  It may also prevent me from having to buy a big bottle of Excedrin to keep in my desk drawer!

16 days…we can do this!

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

 

Using iPads for Literacy and Research in Kindergarten

If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? -Albert Einstein

We are finishing up a big unit on the rainforest.  We have learned about the 4 layers, what animals live in each layer, what products we get from the rainforest and how people are destroying the rainforest.  We have read books and watched videos.  As we finish up this unit, the kids are focusing on one animal they want to learn more about.  We have talked about doing research before and we made this anchor chart together:

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 Along the way, they have demonstrated their learning about different animals in the rainforest.  They have used Pic Collage and Drawing Pad App to share this information.
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We even turned our whole hall into a walk-through rainforest.  The kids made animals, rainforest fun facts, vines, leaves, and plants.  This is just one small section.
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So we are now practicing our research.  Another teacher and I created books in Book Creator for their iPads with information about a variety of animals in the rainforest.  We also have rainforest books in our classroom. They had these books available for their research.  We talked AT LENGTH about plagiarism and using our own words.  We talked before hand about what information would be important for them to know. We made a list of things together they should look for when reading. Then they took some notes on their animals.
They had the option of paper or iPad.  This child chose paper.
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Then, using these notes they made a graphic organizer of their thoughts.  They used Pic Collage and Drawing Pad app for this.
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Tomorrow, they will start making their own books in Book Creator about their animal. There has been a busy buzz all day as they have read, collaborated, worked and created.  I am excited to see how their books turn out. They will share them with their classmates when they are all finished.  We can upload them to Showbie and all of the students will have access to everyone’s book!
The Common Core State Standard for this is W.K.7 :  Participate in shared research and writing projects.  There is no doubt these kids are on the right track.  Their excitement and engagement along with their final products are a win-win.
Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

More on Augmented Reality in Kindergarten

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.  -John Lennon

One thing young children are not lacking in is imagination.  They have no trouble pretending, playing make believe and suspending reality.  We’ve recently crossed over into the augmented reality arena. Augmented Reality (AR) allows for a digitally enhanced view of the real world. It allows the user to open or create layers of digital information on top of the physical world that can be viewed through a mobile device.  I’ve talked about our first foray in AR with Aurasma app here.  Aurasma is a great tool, and now my student’s are using the Chromville app to create in their own Augmented Reality worlds.

Chromville is a free app in the app store.  To use Chromville, you must first go to their website and decide which village you want to use.  There are 6 to choose from.  After you download and print the pages for your students, they then color the pages. NOTE: be careful that they don’t color over the village name in the corner of the page or else the AR part won’t work.  Once it has been colored, the student opens the Chromville app, selects which village he/she has colored and holds the iPad over the colored sheet.  The entire scene suddenly come to life in 3D and begin to move around.  There is a camera icon to take a screen shot also.  My students began playing around and inserting objects into the  view of the camera such as their hand or their foot and it became part of the scene.  After we took a screen shot, we uploaded the image into another app and wrote about our picture.  Here are a couple of examples.  You can see the items on the paper are in 3D.  On the iPad, these items are moving.

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The great thing about the screen shot is that they appear to be in 3D also which makes it fun for the kids to write about it.  It’s a pretty good day when kids are excited about writing.    Students learn not just by reading and writing. Their learning is enhanced when they create and interact with their environment.

AR is not new.  Remember the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  It’s gaining new momentum now with the mobile technology available and with the gamification of educational concepts. There are many different Augmented Reality apps available for all different age and ability levels.  You can search in your browser for AR apps and you will have a nice list to look through.

Obviously, there are more advanced uses for AR in older grades, but don’t tell that to my kindergarten students.  They are already exploring, creating and interacting with augmented reality and they get it! They have already given me a few lessons!

Give it a try!

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

 

Using Mentor Texts for Powerful Writing

I think if you really want to write in a powerful way, you’ve got to read powerful stuff…Ralph Fletcher

I have served as a mentor for new teachers over the years and while I want each of them to grow into the best they can be, I want them to find their own methods and their own voice as they grow as an educator.  I provide a framework,  a model for good teaching, and hopefully, inspiration.  Good mentors can shape who we are and who we will one day become.

In the same manner, mentor texts are an important part of my literacy instruction.  I want my students to read and write powerfully and mentor texts serve as a conduit for both.  Mentor texts are necessary to teach our students to think deeply about their own writing.  Students often need to see someone doing something in order for them to do it themselves.  Watching another’s craft gives inspiration, direction and courage to try. Mentor texts inspires us to read and learn more.

Teaching very young children to write requires a lot of modeling, mentoring and a wee bit of rocket science.  Getting students to add detail to their emergent writing is a daily mini lesson in itself.  Recently, we read Lois Ehlert’s Pie in the Sky.  It has a lot of simple sentences describing what the narrator sees in the illustration, but more importantly, it is simply descriptive.  Using this as a mentor text has been tremendously helpful to my students. My students even refer to the book by saying they wrote, “Pie in the Sky” sentences.  Here are a couple of examples of student work on the iPad.  They used their camera to take a picture of something in the room and then they wrote what they saw.

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Some of my students were sharing their work with their friends and I overheard a few offering suggestions about making their sentences more like “Pie in the Sky” sentences.  Peer editing…in kindergarten.

Mentor texts give our young writers not just a framework or reference, they give them a dose of courage to try writing like the author…not using the author’s words, but courage to find their own words.  They can be road maps for powerful writing.  They show students what good writing looks like.

Here is a Writing Workshop sample from one of my students recently:

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Creating good readers and writers is a critical part of teaching.  Mentor texts provide powerful examples for our students.  Regardless of what grade you teach, your students need your guidance while they learn to write, take risks and stretch their literary wings.

Today we will do exciting new things…let’s get to it!

Listen to Your Brain!

I thought about it in my brain, my brain gave me the answer and I liked the answer my brain gave me.-Isabelle, Age 6

If you ever need good quotes, just step into a kindergarten class.  I’m repeatedly told I need to write a book of their sayings.  It’s never a dull moment around here!

My students have choices about demonstrating their learning.  We recently finished a pond life unit and the work they had done during the unit was pretty extensive.  I felt pretty confident in what they knew and what they had learned.  As we were wrapping it up, a student asked why they hadn’t done any projects to show me what they had learned.  I explained that they had done several projects over the last 2 weeks and they had done a really good job on those.  Their puzzled faces indicated that they didn’t realize they had demonstrated their learning.  I pulled out some of their work samples they had uploaded to Showbie.  I put them on the Smart Board and we talked about several of them.

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We talked about this example and what animals were chosen and how they were chosen.  I asked what else they learned and was told, “We learned how to find pictures on the web in Pic Collage without going into Safari and we learned how to cut around them.”  popplet

We looked at this work sample created in Popplet Lite and we talked about how they didn’t know about water striders and how they walked on top of the water.  (Living where we live, it is not unusual for alligators to live in ponds.)  I asked what else we learned in this work sample and someone said they learned they wanted to go to that child’s house to see the alligator!

I reminded them that both of these projects show me what they know and what they have learned.  Someone piped up that he didn’t know that he was learning AND having fun at the same time.  (Ah yes…my work here is done!)

So, how did we get to this place…this place where learning and fun co-habitate, where children don’t even realize they are “doing work”?  It started back on day 1 in August.  It starts with children having voice and choice in their activities and moving on when they are ready… not when a worksheet, a basal reader, or a workbook page, or even a teacher tells them they are.  The work samples above were taken on the same day.  One student chose Pic Collage, another chose Popplet and yet another chose Book Creator.

It also means including the students in the information gathering process.  We made this anchor chart together and refer to it often when we are working on new learning.

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My students know that “an expert” can be an adult or another student in our classroom.  They know to ask for help when looking on the internet for answers and they also know where to find resource books in our classroom to reference.  We work hard all year to instill confidence in our students’ abilities to think for themselves….to “listen to their brains” and think about what their brain is “telling them.”

It is an ongoing process that gets refined all year long.  I want my students to go to first grade ready…ready to learn, ready to think and reason, and ready to have fun!

Today we will learn exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!