What Should We Be Doing? Using iPads to Personalize Learning

The more time you spend contemplating what you should have done… you lose valuable time planning what you can and will do -Lil Wayne.

Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be? We live our lives shouldering the burden of “shoulds”. Social media bombards us with images of what the perfect size is, what the perfect cupcake should look like, what the perfect home should look like and what the perfect wedding should look like. We are watching the “highlights” of people’s lives and comparing them to our “behind the scenes”. As professionals, we are held to some standard that determines what a perfect teacher or classroom should be, that often doesn’t come close to resembling the real world. It is enough to crack the sanity of even the most self-confident adults. So, how much more burdensome are these “shoulds” on our students…these little people who carry seeds of hope, creativity, innocence and wonder?

Students are so worried about what their work should look like, they miss the whole point of the activity. They don’t want to be wrong because they should know the answer. They want all of the parameters spelled out so they can produce.  This isn’t learning.  It is a recipe. As a doctoral student, I find myself looking for exact parameters on some of my assignments and find it very disconcerting when the assignment seems vague or broad. I am conditioned to want the recipe so I can produce what it is my professors want. The recipe is comforting because it lays out exactly what I should do. After all, isn’t that the whole point of the assignment?

Actually, no. The point is to problem solve, think critically, collaborate, research, think some more, write, hypothesize, write some more, and come out on the other side with a deeper understanding of the concept than before I started. Our students yearn to achieve but it is up to us to discard that recipe. It is up to us to teach and model divergent thinking, to allow students to struggle a bit, to learn to persevere when their first attempt isn’t successful and to allow for variations on a theme.

In our iPad math journals, students aren’t given a closed ended question that has one answer. Open format questions create greater potential for deeper reasoning. Students have the ability to think in flexible ways and not just provide the answer they should give. An example is: Ben has 6 buttons.  Some are green and some are purple.  How many of each?  Another is the example below. Students come up with their own addition problems.

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Giving students voice and choice to demonstrate their understanding of concepts frees them from following a recipe to produce a standardized product. Whether it is open ended activities in math journals or writing about their favorite super hero, we need to remove the “shoulds” from their vocabulary and ours… and shift toward “could”.  What could  be the answer here? What could you write about today? What could you be doing right now? Should somehow implies wrongdoing or shame but could allows room for thought and possibility.

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By using our iPads to personalize learning, give students voice and choice, and shifting our use of the word should to could, we open up possibilities, change mindsets, and give students freedom to be themselves. Heck, if adults did the same thing for ourselves, we might have a lot less anxiety and little more peace of mind!

That being said, the comic below shows my constant doctoral mindset:

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Ok…so, I have a little work to do on myself…

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

Building Reading Comprehension with iPads

To me one of the most important skills learned in elementary school is reading comprehension –Erik Mickelson

Are you feeling it? You know…the drag of a winter gone on a little too long and spring just slightly out of reach? Are you feeling pulled in a million different directions? Could you use just a hot minute to sit for a bit and just be? I feel your pain. It’s this time in the school year where we have to dig deep and summon our inner teaching ninja and go the distance!

3803377162_ef4b7847c8_zIn my doctoral classes, we are working on scholarly writing. This is something that doesn’t come easy for me. I like to write, just not in the scholarly fashion. What I am finding during this process is I need to visualize what I am trying to say and what the authors of the scholarly journals are trying to say, in order for it to make sense to me. Without this visualization process, it all seems like meaningless words flowing on and on. How too, must our students feel when reading something that seems foreign?

 

My focus lately has been on these two  ELA Common Core State Standards for kindergarten:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.K.5.C   Identify real-life connections between words and their use

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.K.7  With prompting and support, describe the relationship between illustrations and the story in which they appear

In using my own experiences of late with academic reading and writing, I decided to take a closer look at these standards and dig deeper with my students. I read a couple of pages from Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema. This text is rich with imagery and language. I didn’t show them the book cover or the pictures of the first few pages.  I read the pages a few times before I let the children draw. I instructed them to think about the words as I read them and make a picture in their minds. Then, the students used Drawing Pad to draw the images they saw in their minds. Here are a few samples of their work:

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While this activity was engaging and the students enjoyed it, what happened later was unexpected. Some students came together during their choice time and shared their pictures.  They compared them and talked about why they drew what they drew. They asked for the book so they could have a book talk.  They discussed knowing what “a plain” was since we had recently talked about landforms. They had conversations about why birds built their nests in the ground (the text mentions “grass for the ground birds to nest in”). They made a list of questions in their notes app. They wanted to know when we could research the answers to these questions. Here is one list they made:

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Who knew that a quick 10 minute activity designed to get students to visualize words and meaning would turn into so much more?

Reading comprehension is a critical skill for students to develop. Finding creative new ways to build this skill can help all students think critically.

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

 

 

Teacher Created Texts in Book Creator

Literacy is one of the greatest gifts a person could receive. -Jen Selinsky

My kindergarten students are becoming voracious readers and most of them are ready for some fresh book selections. I like to create books for them to read and you can read more about that here. While I love using iBooks Author to create multi-touch books, I realize not everyone has access to a Macbook to create them. A good alternative is Book Creator. This is one of my students’ favorite apps to use, and it is a great way for educators to create their own texts.

Quick and easy are two mandates from time-pressed educators in creating learning materials for students. In fact, my dissertation topic will be looking at the successes achieved in classrooms that use e-books to enhance literacy and creating an implementation model. Why aren’t more educators creating their own texts? Is it will or skill?  Or, is it a lack of awareness of the power of these texts in literacy development? (Your comments below would be very welcome here as I am starting to research my topic!)

Anyway, back to quick and easy…Book Creator meets this demand. Take a quick inventory of your students’ interests and get to work! The boys in my classroom love dirt bikes and super heroes. Ten minutes later, I have 2 books cranked out to be added to their iPads. My girls love Disney princesses and baby animals. Ten more minutes and 2 more books. I use the Add Sound feature to assist with some necessary vocabulary words. I underline the word, speak the word using Add Sound, and place the speaker icon next to the underlined word. Then I upload the book to Showbie, our workflow app. My kindergarten students are able to go into Showbie independently and download the books to their iBooks app.

Here are a few screen shots:

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My students have been independently reading and partner reading with these books.  Some have asked if they can create their own books with drawings they have created on the iPad. One student started his own Super Hero book last week because I omitted one his favorites. Way to problem solve!!

Watching their excitement each time they download a new book is satisfaction enough for me. When they ask me for more, I remind them they are able to create their own books as well!

If you have Book Creator, I hope you will work on creating some books for your students.  If you don’t, what are you waiting for?

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

Creativity and Inspiration with iPads in Kindergarten

A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.-Brad Henry

I would love to say today’s post is about an awesome lesson I taught, or an amazing activity I had my kids do. The most credit I can claim is allowing voice and choice in the classroom and giving my students time and opportunities to create.

Today, during their free time, two girls were playing school. They were pretending to teach each other. One was teaching math, the other, phonics. I was working with some small groups of children and did not see the “work” they had given each other to do until later. The one teaching phonics, had her “student” use the Feltboard app and Pic Collage to create this:

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The phonics teacher had the student create the C page in Feltboard app, save to the camera roll, import into Pic Collage and label the items. The one playing the math teacher had her “student” create this:

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She had her student use Feltboard app to demonstrate how many ways she could make 10. Hmm…why didn’t I think of that?

Our students love learning. They love creating their own learning and they love teaching each other. The truth is, they come up with some pretty amazing things on their own when we give them the opportunity. When we schedule every minute of their day, there is no room for creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, making, doing, or being. Giving our students time to think, collaborate, and create allows them room to grow and room to be.

Another child chose to spend her free time writing today. Here is what she wrote:

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Do you set your classroom and students up for success? Do you open up parts of their day to create, to have voice and choice in what they do and how they do it? Do you enable and environment of curiosity rather than compliance? When we do these things, richness flows as even the youngest of students demonstrate they are quite capable of doing some pretty amazing things.

Are you the great teacher that inspires hope, ignites hope and instills a love for learning?

Today we will do great things. Let’s get started!

Using iPads to Plan in Kindergarten

Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort. -Paul J. Meyer

Happy New Year! After 2 weeks and 3 weekends, we are back in school.  It was evident we had a little “brain drain” over the holidays.  Hopefully we can catch up and get moving by the end of the week.  After winter break is when we pick up speed and move full steam ahead.

One of the things I truly believe is that student engagement is dependent on their voice and choice in both the planning and execution of learning.  When we include even the youngest of children in the process, we get so much more concentrated effort from them.  This concept is the same for adults.  Aren’t we usually voicing concern as educators how our  voice needs to be heard in the decisions made on behalf of our students? When we are excluded from the process of decision making, we are less likely to buy into whatever it is we are being asked to do.  We are also less likely to implement changes with fidelity.

My students have quite a bit of choice in this classroom the first part of the year but after Christmas, they are included in the planning of their day.  Now, just as I would never open a closet door to a 3 year old and have them choose what to wear from an entire wardrobe of clothes, I would never just let go of the reins completely of the classroom.  I utilize a gradual release of responsibility and have some controlled choice in the beginning.  Giving students a few choices  all throughout the day, from the beginning of the year,  builds their confidence in their own abilities to make bigger choices later.

As my students walk in each morning from now on, they will have 5 must-do activities.  They may choose which order these items are completed.  They will open their notes app on their iPads and write out their plan for the day.  They then refer back to that note all throughout the day to see what they chose to do next.  The SmartBoard looks like this when they are making their plan:

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In the reading center, I want them to read  2 books on their reading level and then they may choose other books as well as book on their iPads to read. For writing,  they will work on their Writer’s Workshop.  A few of my students still need scaffolding and support with their writing so I have a specific conferencing time with those children. Today, I chose the app Pic Collage for them to illustrate and write a sentence but soon, they will have their own choice of creation apps in which to demonstrate understanding of unit-related vocabulary words. This work is saved and uploaded to Showbie for their work flow. Math includes small group activities and word work currently is involving word families.  Students use the ABC Magnet Board app to make 6 words of their choice in a given word family.  Today’s word work from one of my students looked like this:

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The student takes a screen shot of this work so that it is saved in the camera roll.  I can have them upload it to Showbie if I need them to or it can just stay in the camera roll as a work sample.  This particular app is great because it says the letter sounds as they manipulate them and once the word is created, it reads the word to them so they get immediate feedback.  Word Wizard is another great app for this kind of activity for the same reason.

So at the end of the 5 must-do activities, once all work is completed and checked, the student has free choice of any activity in the classroom.  This helps encourage timely work completion and on-task behavior, but in general, those things aren’t really a problem.  Their engagement is much higher as they have been a part of the planning process.

As students gain more independence and confidence in their abilities to make choices and move forward on their own initiative, this allows for other possibilities such as 20% time, Genius Hour, Makerspaces, etc…Again, this goes back to gradual release of responsibility, front-loading procedures, and giving students opportunities to develop those decision-making “muscles”.

As you start 2015, consider ways you can give your students more choice in the planning and demonstration of their learning.

What’s the plan??

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

The Hour of Code in Kindergarten


All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind.- Martin Fischer

The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in over 180 countries.  It is designed to demystify code and show that anyone can learn the basics.  Every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science.  It helps nurture problem solving skills, logic and creativity.  By starting early, students will have a foundation for success in any 21st century career path.

IMG_0024Our class has been working with the free Kodable app to learn coding.  It is a perfect way to offer a kid-friendly introduction to programming concepts and problem solving.  With Kodable, kids can learn to code before they even learn to read. In the short time we have been using Kodable, I already see computational and critical thinking, collaboration and perseverance. Some students are working with others, while some want to figure it out on their own.  I also love that they won’t ask me to help them.  Rather than come to me, they are going to others or sticking with it until they figure it out themselves.  This is how problem solving skills are developed and strengthened.  It is also interesting to see that some need to run their finger along the maze for each step to know which arrow to choose, while others can do it quickly in their heads.

 

Here is what one of the Kodable screens looks like:

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The goal is to get the fuzzy ball from one side to the other, while obtaining as many coins as possible. The students have to work on left and right, up and down, but they also have to use the color squares in the coding if they want the fuzzy ball to grab those coins in the middle.

The interest and engagement in this app has spilled over into other areas of the classroom.  The students are building their own mazes and having their friends figure out the code to move across the maze.

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Watching my students analyze and problem-solve, either solo or cooperatively, gives me a good indicator of where they are in the development of these important skills. The kids are completely engaged and their conversations are rich with logic and reason.

If you are thinking about the Hour of Code, give Kodable a try!

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

Visionary Leadership and iPads

“The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.”-Helen Keller

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

I’ve spent the last 24 hours with Apple and the schools chosen for the ConnectEd initiative.  It was inspiring to watch these very deserving educators receive Apple technology and professional development at this kickoff event.  There was a great deal of discussion about vision and the importance of vision in implementing a full scale technology initiative such as this one.  So many layers of support were evident to ensure these schools are successful.

I was honored to be asked to speak at this event and share what is possible in early childhood education when students are given the ability to create their own learning.  While I was asked to share my experiences, I think I was the one who gained the most.  I saw educational leaders excited about providing their students the very best possible advantages with 1:1 iPads.  They made lists, their minds full of next steps…they started creating a common vision.

Innovation is what distinguishes a leader from a follower.  Leadership requires vision…to think ahead to what our students will need in the future, not just what they need right now.  While we don’t know the future, we do know that technology will definitely be a part of it.  True visionary leadership doesn’t say, “Yes, but…” it embraces the “Yes, and…”  Lack of financial resources will always be an issue with schools. It is here, where we have to look forward and ask ourselves what is the right thing to do for children?  Do we allow the “yes, buts…” to settle for the technology that is “good enough”? Do you really want your own child receiving an education that is “good enough”?  Of course not.  We want our own children to receive the best of what is available.

When I look at what the 1:1  iPad deployment has meant for my kindergarten students, I watch them using the power of this device to maximize their learning.  They are creating content.  They are using applications that are unique to this device to amplify their thinking…to go where they couldn’t go without the device.  They are using the accessibility features that are unique to this device to share their learning when they are unable to write independently.  As your vision for your students is created, you must ask yourself what it is you want to achieve with the technology.  If your needs are internet capability and word processing, there are plenty of devices that do that.  If you want a complete educational ecosystem, a comprehensive learning environment, then iPads are the only answer.

As a teacher, I am able to use applications unique to the iPad to personalize and target their learning.  I am able to reach each child where he/she is and create a learning environment specifically for that child.  As a parent, are you content with your child sitting in a cookie-cutter classroom where everyone receives the same assignment, regardless of ability? I would venture to say no.  Everyone has their own brand of genius.  I can tell a fish to climb a tree and it will spend the rest of its life thinking it is a failure. iPads allow each child to find his/her own genius.

The very definition of visionary is:  Thinking about or planning the future with imagination or wisdom.  When we are short-sighted it limits the potential of students not just now, but in the future.  Let’s find a way to provide our students with a complete education and not settle for “good enough”. Let’s not allow lack of funding to be the stumbling block.  Where your priorities are, your money generally follows.

I mean, after all, isn’t he worth it?

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Aren’t they ALL worth it?

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

Math Journals with Book Creator

You can be creative in anything – in math, science, engineering, philosophy – as much as you can in music or in painting or in dance.- Sir Ken Robinson

I work with some pretty amazing educators.  These folks inspire me daily to bring my A-game.  I love that sharing ideas is a welcome part of our school culture and I know that it takes a village to educate children.

One of our amazing first grade teachers shared how her students use Book Creator for their math journals.  I was immediately intrigued and of course, we tried it that very day!  It’s no secret how much I love Book Creator, so creating math journals with this versatile app was very exciting.

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We have been discussing more and less in math this week.  We have done a variety of hands on activities and have used the stickers in Pic Collage app to show more and less. The children uploaded this to Showbie earlier in the week.  We also used ten frames and cubes to show how many more we would need to make a “ten”.  We talked about which frames showed more and which showed less.

 

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So, for our culminating activity we used Book Creator to demonstrate more and less in our new math journals on our iPads.  The students used the same cubes to make 2 piles.  They used the built in camera in Book Creator to take pictures of the two piles and then labeled them more and less.  You could also use dice to show this.

 

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The first grade teacher used the dice to show addition.  The children took pictures of the dice and then wrote the number sentence.

 

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With the ability to write and draw in Book Creator, students can use the pen to annotate or show their thinking.  They can also use the recording functionality to tell their thinking if they aren’t able to write.  We will continue to add pages as we work on math skills and at the end of the year, this book can then be emailed to parents.  What a great way to demonstrate growth! It is also a good artifact to be used in parent-teacher conferences throughout the year.

We are excited about our new math journals and look forward to adding to them all  year!

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

 

 

 

Getting Dotty With It!

Immortality is to live your life doing good things, and leave your mark behind.-Brandon Lee

Today is International Dot Day!  After reading The Dot by Peter Reynolds, we have worked on a variety of Dot Day activities.  We have cut and colored dots, painted dots, made dots on our iPads and then compiled them all into a class Dot book.  We wore our dots. We have written about dots, sung about dots and well, frankly, we’re all a bit dotty at this point!

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The best part of today was Skyping with some other kindergarten classes internationally.  A group of Apple Distinguished Educators gathered at a global institute this past July to work together.  At this institute, several kindergarten teachers formed a cohort and came up with a global iTunes U course designed to connect our classes through various activities all throughout this school year.  The course is Connecting Classrooms Across Continents.  The enroll code is https://itunesu.itunes.apple.com/enroll/KJK-647-TDB if you’d like to join and follow along.  Currently, the course involves kindergarten classes in SC, Maine, Kansas, Italy, Ireland and the UK.  During our Skype today with Marc Falder’s class in the UK, we shared our dots, our writing, and how we plan to “make our mark”.  The kids loved talking with each other and discussing the differences  in our dress (they wear uniforms and we don’t), in time (it’s 5 hours later there) and in speech.  (southern US vs British English).  We found them on the globe and talked about how to get there from here.

 

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The children were fascinated by our global friends and are anxious to talk to them again soon!  Our iTunes U course will give us many opportunities to go beyond the walls of our own classrooms and connect internationally.  We will see that while we are all the same, we are all different.  Cultural diversity at its best!

We love The Dot and the lessons it provides.  We know that all we have to do is “Make our mark…and see where it takes us.”

How will you make your mark?

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

 

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