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

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!