Finding Your Inner Teaching Ninja

Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free. -Jim Morrison

The number one rule in our kindergarten classroom is to Be Brave.  This covers so many areas of life that it is an appropriate rule, and truly the only one we need.  It is hard to be brave sometimes.  It’s hard to speak up, step out, or stand alone.

A reader of this blog messaged me not long ago asking if it gets easier letting go and letting young students make choices in their learning.  As a long time educator (like me), she shared concerns about letting children have that voice and choice in demonstrating their learning.  I get it.  Before iPads, I was afraid to let go.  I mean…where is the control in that?   I thought I needed to be in charge.  Of Everything.  After all, that was how I was taught and how I was taught to teach.  iPads changed that.  How can a technological device make such a dramatic change in philosophy?  Perhaps I would be more accurate to say my students using iPads  changed my thinking.  Watching them use the iPad for creation, on their own, awakened me to new possibilities in learning.  Yes, it was scary but what a difference it made.

5258698926_9059e7bfe6_zSomeone once said, “If you are the smartest person in the room, it’s time to find a new room.”  How has your teaching changed in the last 4 years?  If  it hasn’t, why?  Is it because it’s easier to do what you’ve always done?  Is it because, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”  Is it because you just don’t have time/support/resources to make any changes?  Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess is a popular approach to changing professional development to be engaging and interactive.  It helps you kickstart your own creativity and make your classroom experience rich and engaging.  He has a book on Amazon…worth the read!  Another organization dedicated to ongoing learning for educators is Teach Like a Feral Pig.  Their mission is for all educators to continually grow their “edutusks”.  I still want one of their t-shirts!  I often compare teaching to being a ninja.  This site emphasizes several key traits that tie teaching and ninja behavior together (particularly the one about not ever going to the bathroom)…The ninja one is tongue in cheek (slightly) but the point is…stop making excuses and make changes!  If you are stagnant, get a new PLN.  Find a Twitter chat…if you are nervous, lurk and take in the conversation.

Start the new school year with inspiration, the willingness to make some changes, and be a pirate, a feral pig, a ninja…whatever!  Just BE BRAVE!

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

Photo credit:  Creative Commons

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!

A World of Wonder

Wisdom begins in wonder. -Socrates

I_WonderWe are doing an author study on Eric Litwin this week.  He is the author of the Pete the Cat books.  My students love Pete the Cat…and with this study, we’ve started a “wonder” chart.  “Why is Pete the Cat blue?” “Who taught him to play the guitar” “Does he have other shoes since he got his new white shoes wet?”  These are all questions my students wondered this week.

If you Google image search “wonder”, you will find an alarming number of strange people dressed like Wonder Woman… but wonder is an innate part of the human experience, and somewhere along the way, we lose it.  We have to deliberately foster it, nurture it and encourage it in young children.  When children wonder, they grow bolder in their questioning.  They think beyond the surface.

photo-14I encouraged my students to draw about their “wonderings” today in Doodle Buddy on their iPad.  There was good conversation among the groups of students and even though it is early in the school year, they are starting to understand and enjoy the opportunities to work in small groups and talk about their work.  Wondering encourages original thinking, thinking outside the box, and creativity.  When many adults look at a new piece of technology, such as an iPad, they think, “How do I use this?”  Kids look at the same piece of technology and think, “What can I do with this?”  They are curious and creative by nature.  As an aside, you will be interested to know that the above drawing was done by one of my students.  She said, “Mrs. Meeuwse, that is you with Pete the Cat.  Pete is rocking his school shoes and your lip gloss is poppin’ and I’m wondering where your shoes are.”  Hmm…I’m wondering where my shoes are as well.  And about that lip gloss….”poppin”?

There is no doubt there was some creative thinking going on there.  I love how the iPad allows us to explore many ideas and “wonderings”.  Yes…they could have just as easily drawn their picture on a piece of paper.  But then we wouldn’t be able to import their drawings into another app and “Explain Everything” in the near future.  One step builds on another.  We will start App Smashing very soon.

Look for ways to bring wonder in to your classroom.  Pete the Cat is a good place to start!

As Pete the Cat says:
“No matter what you step in,
keep walking along and
singing your song. Because it’s all good.”

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

Procedures and iPads

“It is greater work to educate a child, in the true and larger sense of the world, than to rule a state” -William Ellery Channing

Well, if this quote isn’t the very truth, I don’t know what is.  As we have exited our honeymoon phase in our class, the real work has begun.  We are making good progress in many areas, and needing to back up and start over in some others.  Veteran educators know these first 6 weeks are procedures, procedures, procedures.  The mistake is when you cut this time short thinking everyone has it.  And. They. Don’t.  Oops…

IMG_0005We worked really hard the first 10 days on our Code of Cooperation.  We still review it daily.  We have talked extensively about what the expectations look like.  My students used our White Board app on their iPads to illustrate some of the expectations. As they made their illustrations, they shared with their groups which expectation they chose and what their drawing represented.  It was gratifying to hear them incorporating the language we used in creating the code in their discussions.  Note all of the happy faces in their illustrations…wouldn’t it be awesome if we were always so smiley??

IMG_0003

Through our continued discussions on our code (and by continued, I mean my 15,624 references to it daily), we have discovered that we omitted some things.  In our morning meeting, someone said, “We left iPads off of our Code of Cooperation.”  We discussed what we should do about that and what we should add.  Many ideas were thrown out there, but my personal favorite was the one who suggested we add, “Do not pick your nose and then touch your iPad, because that is totally gross and disgusting.”  Can I get an amen, sister?  But of course, we went with the more politically correct, ” Use clean hands on your iPad.”  The others, while less exciting, were no less important:  carry with 2 hands and be gentle.

So, as we forge on through these first 6 weeks and instill routines and procedures, don’t cut them short, no matter how tempting.  It makes life a lot easier in the long run and allows your students to really take charge of their learning environment once all expectations are understood and owned by everyone.  We are adding iPads to our centers this week, which increases student voice and choice in their learning.  We will be adding some new procedures as we do this.  Remember, teaching IS rocket science.  It can be difficult, messy and exhausting…but with proper attention to procedures in the beginning, the rest of the year will be a real blast!

PS…If you care to check it out, I am featured on the Apple Education website!

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

Creating a Code of Cooperation

“Can’t we all just get along?” -Rodney King

So we’ve just finished 8 days of the new school year and to my utter shock and disbelief, it took 7 of those days before it happened. I waited each day, bracing myself for it to occur. The. First. Tattle.

IMG_05797 whole school days. Shocking really, when you think about a class of 5 year olds. It came just in time. We finally finished our class Code of Cooperation. This code is created along with my students as an agreement of what we believe a good classroom looks like. The children brainstormed a chart full of ideas and each day we talked about those things, narrowed them down, combined like ideas and finally settled on four things. 1. Put things where they go. 2. Be nice to others an share. 3. Listen and do what you are asked to do. 5. Try your best. We discussed what each of these things look like and the students suggested pictures that would match the concept. We came up with 2 pictures of each. The students will add a few sticky notes next week as they come up with more refinements. They already decided we need to identify what it means to be nice. Someone said to use kind words. That will go on a sticky note as an addition.

I guess I actually misspoke above when I said we “finished” it. It is never really finished. We will make additions and changes throughout the year as we go. It is a “living, breathing” agreement. The children all showed their commitment by signing around the periphery of the poster. When students have voice in how they will interact in their learning environment, there is true ownership. They are able to monitor their own behavior and rate how they did. This also creates accountability. I am not the sole monitor of their behavior. We will talk about the code daily and review our commitment to it.

This week, we will use our iPads to draw pictures of what each of the expectations looks like. They will share their ideas with their groups and we will work on how we will address those who choose not to follow our code. We will also work on how using the iPads fit into our Code of Cooperation.

When students have voice and choice in their learning and their learning environment, they become stakeholders. Even 5 year olds understand what it means to choose and to have their choices heard. Aren’t we all a little more cooperative when we have had a say in a process? The pictures we have and the ones we will add also create a visual reminder of what we agreed upon.

As a class, our shared vision is that we will work and learn together. By breaking that down into its components, we now have a working agreement that will serve as a guide for this school year.

Hopefully, it will reduce some of the tattling too. :) One can always hope…

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

Getting Started

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.  ~John Cotton Dana

photo-12Today was the day…iPad Day.  It was the 5th day with students.  I had been questioned about the iPads every day since day one. I knew they were excited and ready to use them but we had some procedures and routines to get under our belts first.  Front-loading procedures is a “must do” when it comes to introducing iPads to students.  Yesterday, I took their pictures with their iPad and set it as the home screen and wallpaper.  That way, we all know which iPad belongs to whom.

My assistant and I pulled over small groups of 5 and we showed them how to turn on the device, put it to sleep, navigate screens, and how to adjust the volume.  I keep all of my apps in subject related folders.  We opened the ABC folder and we worked with a couple of apps and then we put them to sleep and put them back in the iPad cart.  Wait..what? That’s it? Yes…that was it for today.  Tomorrow, we do a little more.  Each day will build on the day before. I’ve learned after 3 years of 1:1 iPads, that not only do the children need procedures, I need them as well.  It’s very tempting to embrace the idea of “Go big, or go home”.  Taking small steps early on not only keeps me sane, it allows the children to learn in manageable chunks.  I had a few students tell me today they already know how to use the iPad because they have one at home. We talked about how we need to learn how to use them at school also.  Going slow now, means we can speed up in September.

Before long, they will be masters of this device.  But since it is a powerful learning tool and not a toy, it is important we take our time in learning proper care and handling as well as digital citizenship.  It also takes time to integrate the device into the curriculum in a way that is meaningful and not just have “app time”. I want them to be creators of content and not just consumers.  This is why teachers won’t be replaced by technology.

So, we will forge on in the coming days. I’m excited about all of the possibilities. We will learn the names of our classmates and how to work, learn and play together as a community of learners. We will also begin the exciting world of a student-centered classroom that incorporates iPads in kindergarten.

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

Endings and Beginnings

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

IMG_2070I’ve been away from my blog for a couple of weeks…in fact, I’ve been away from almost everything.  My father passed away this past week after an extended battle with cancer and I was soaking up every minute with him that I could.  Bits of reality intruded as we started back to school last week with professional development days.  I went to some, not all.  Some things are just more important.

This past summer has been a time of both personal and professional metamorphosis for me.  Maybe you’ve noticed a shift in my blog posts.  I’ve spent a lot of time questioning what I really believe about teaching and learning.  I’ve spent time reflecting on what true leadership is.  I’ve read excellent blog posts from fellow educators and had conversations with colleagues.  I’ve made decisions and I’ve made some changes. There are endings and beginnings.

As I pursue a student-centered classroom this year, I will be building on some of the things put in place last year. There will also be an ending to some things that have previously been part of my class.  Missing from my classroom this year, will be a formal calendar time, formal homework , a stoplight behavior management system, and stated classroom rules. The links provided explain why beautifully.  My students and I will create together and deploy a shared classroom vision.  From that, we will build our classroom Code of Cooperation.  I will be sharing these with you as we build them.  We are also going to build behavior rubrics so that students can rate themselves on how they felt they did that day.

I worked a lot last year on building in student voice and choice by having my students choose which app they wanted to demonstrate learning.  I will be continuing that this year and my students will be building digital portfolios using the Showbie app. I am excited that one of our favorite apps, Book Creator, is able to be uploaded to Showbie and easily shared with parents. The iPad and the creation apps we use, have been essential to creating a student-centered classroom.

medium_143860670My work and reflection this summer, in addition to spending an amazing week with my fellow Apple Distinguished Educators, were the threads to the chrysalis spun around me the past 9 weeks.  Woven in, were many quality moments with my ailing father.  As I begin to emerge from this cocoon this week and meet my new students, I bring with me the collective wisdom of many wise people.  I am certain of my path and am excited about new possibilities.  I’m also aware of just how very short this life is and it is too short to waste time using outdated, inefficient methods for educating children simply because change is too hard.  The butterfly is a great reminder of the beauty of change.  We should be more afraid of the effects of not changing!

My students arrive this Wednesday.  A new journey begins…

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

Lead On!

People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision. -John Maxwell

Before we proceed with this blog, you must watch this video on leadership. Go ahead…I will wait…

Ok. So my question to you is who are you?  Are you the Lone Nut? Or are you a First Follower or maybe the second?  I’ve watched this video several times and I must confess…I am a lone nut.  While I don’t get up and dance like this guy did in a public arena, I do like to step out into the unknown and take chances.  This very personality trait resulted in my story.

Many of you who read this blog probably find yourself in a leadership role of some kind.  Even if you aren’t a school or district leader, you are definitely the leader of your classroom.  By taking some risks and stepping forth, you become a part of a movement of change.  Take note…the lone nut isn’t always popular.  Change can be threatening and downright scary, especially to folks who are the ones who tend to linger in the back of the crowd and never really feel comfortable joining in the dance.  What I’ve learned over the last 3 years of working with iPads, is that it is ok to embrace that lone nut role. I have apologized for myself and sat back and kept my dancing feet still, but after experiencing the ADE Institute in Austin, and being with approximately 400 other lone nuts, (or at the very least First Followers), I am stepping out and dancing in front of all of you.  (For the record, unlike the dancing guy in the video, I am fully clothed.)

1005659_337348676398952_298137377_n

At my age, I find it a lot easier to speak my mind about what I believe is right and what I don’t.  We can not be awash in the flood of “Yes, but we’ve always done it this way.” If you simply add technology to what you are already doing, you will not get very far. We need lone nuts and their followers to create a movement that authentically brings technology into our classrooms.  We can courageously follow and encourage others to follow as well.

My next lone nut step will be to jump all the way on the Personalized Learning plane.  Perhaps it will be more accurately stated that I am building that plane as I fly it…however, I have wonderful colleagues like Frannie and I’m certain that together we will not crash. I will be documenting that movement into personalized learning over this next school year.  I’ve already been trying some things but will be letting my freak flag fly in August.

So, I hope you will follow this lone nut into new adventures.  I go back to school in 11 days.  What do you say?  Wanna Dance?

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

 

Engaging Students in Learning with iPads

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. -Henry Ford

One of the best parts of teaching young children is their ability to be excited about just about anything.  They still love to learn and try new things.  Their eyes light up when I say we are going to do something new.  They are not at the eye-rolling and teeth sucking stage (yet.) The other day, I said, “Ok…it’s time to get ready for Writer’s Workshop.  I have something I want you to see.”  I got fist pumps and “YESSS!” Excitement.  Enthusiasm.  Their reactions energize me and never cease to amaze me.

A key component to student achievement is without a doubt student engagement.  Using outdated techniques, while perhaps “tried and true”, can also be seen as uninteresting or even boring to our students.  Outdated tools are ineffective and inefficient.  I mean, when was the last time you used an abacus to solve a math problem?  If we want our students engaged, we have to use currency they understand.  Just switching from hand-held flashcards to an app that teaches the same skill on the iPad instantly increases engagement.  It’s fresh.  It’s interactive.  It’s engaging.  When I have 2 students working together on a skill, they learn through interaction, shared experience, trial and error, and joint success.

Over these beginning weeks of the school year, we are getting to know each other. My students are learning classmates’ names (still!) and they are learning more about themselves and what they are capable of.  In our 21st century classroom, we learn through a mixture of traditional and digital means.  Whether we are using crayons, pencils and paper or iPads, Smart Boards and laptops, we know that our success lies in working together.  iPads allow me to up the engagement factor and meet the various needs of my students.  That is definitely worth a “high five”!

I’d love for you to leave a comment, subscribe to my blog, and/or share this post with a friend.

As Easy as ABC…Magnetic ABC App

To succeed, you will soon learn, as I did, the importance of a solid foundation in the basics of education – literacy, both verbal and numerical, and communication skills -Alan Greenspan

One of the most challenging aspects of teaching is trying to meet all of your students’ needs.  In a room of 25 children, I have students who are reading and those who have just started learning letters of the alphabet, plus all other levels in between.  The iPads facilitate my ability to differentiate learning for all of my students.

With my children that are still struggling with naming letters and sounds, we have been working with our Magnetic ABC appThis $1.99 app has upper and lower case letters and numbers.  It also has themes and objects available for use.  As an ABC practice activity, I call out an upper case letter and they choose it and put it on their board.  We scroll to the lower case letters and have them find the matching partner letter.  Sometimes I call out a letter sound and they have to find the letter that makes that sound.  Students who know their letter sounds practice with this app also. They can choose one of the objects and then match it’s beginning sound.   I can give them a CVC word and we stretch it out.  As they hear those sounds, they choose the corresponding letter. We can create word family words also.  The ability to use letters more than one time is a bonus.   More advanced students can make sentences dictated to them by either me or a partner.

The app also has numbers and objects.  Students can practice their numeracy skills, 1:1 correspondence, addition and subtraction, making sets less than, greater than or equal to, and patterning.  My students seem to enjoy the iPad version of this so much more than the real magnet letters on the cookie sheet that I put out in centers.  It’s also a lot easier to clean up!

Having a multipurpose app that meets a variety of student needs help me build a strong foundation in all students.  We can’t assume that students know these most basic of skills or short change their practice.  Apps that grow with students are efficient and effective.  Students are engaged and learning is underway. While these activities seem so…well, so basic, they are.   It just goes to show you that it doesn’t have to be fancy to be functional and fun!

I’d love for you to leave a comment, subscribe to my blog, and/or share this post with a friend.