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.

PicCollage

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!

Digital Storytelling in Kindergarten

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. -Confucius

I’ve been trying to find ways to incorporate more photography in my classroom.  It is a recent passion of mine and I think there is a lot of value in incorporating pictures into student work and writing… not my pictures, but their own.  After all, young children have a unique perspective on the world.  Their pint sized view lets them see things from different angles than adults.

Their iPads have cameras and they love using them to photograph everything from a spider in the room to their left nostril.  We have used the iPad cameras to document their work and their learning. For a change, we used my Olloclip on my iPhone.  You can check out the Olloclip here and here.  I’ve been using it to take several macro shots of foliage, but the fisheye lens was very intriguing to my students when I showed it to them.  After a few days being cooped up inside with rain, we took to the outdoors to try out a few shots.  I put their pictures in Showbie and they downloaded them into their PaperDesk Pro app.  This is a great app for journaling.  Once their photos were downloaded into their notebook, they wrote about what they saw.  Here are a couple of samples:

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Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 12.53.03 PMThis takes a little while so we are doing a few each day until everyone gets a turn.  Because it was different from our usual writing workshop, the kids were excited to write about their picture.  They wanted to take more pictures and write about them.  Because we offer choice in our classroom, some children are taking screen shots of their creations in Blokify and are importing them into Paper Desk Pro and writing about them.

While some young writers struggle with traditional literacy, using digital storytelling engages students and encourages them to employ different kinds of literacies to complete their final product.  The PaperDesk Pro app allows you to add voice notes so students who have difficulty writing can dictate their story, or students who want to read what they have written may record themselves doing so.  Simply generating text can be daunting to a child.  Incorporating images, speech, or even music enables students to create in a way that they couldn’t otherwise.  The technology allows us to redefine the way we learn.

As we move into the final 45 days of school, I want my students stretching and exploring, learning and creating.  We will be app-smashing, building, photographing, experimenting, and continually redefining what it means to be literate in today’s digital world.

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

The “Art” of the Matter

A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. -Oscar Wilde
As a classroom teacher, I see many personalities and temperaments daily.  As we work together, it is impossible not to know a child’s likes or dislikes, their interests and what turns them off.  All of my students want to shine.  Some shine more brilliantly than others, in a way that no one can miss.  Others shine more softly and feathery, like the moonlight.   The key is to weave these differences together into a tapestry that works and thrives together in a classroom.
photo-15One thing they all have in common is the love of art.  They love going to art class for special area and they love cutting, gluing, pasting, coloring and painting in class.  Most of them create excitedly and without hesitation, but a few of them have been bitten by the “not good enough” bug and are afraid to draw a bold line and get started for fear of doing it wrong.  When my students are creating, their engagement is nearly unbreakable.  So, why do we put art off until “after you finish your work?”  In our class, when we are creating content,  art is a necessary part of the process.
As adults, sometimes we see art as frivolous and something one does in one’s free time.  (And really, how much of THAT do we have?)  When we remove creativity and creation from our classrooms, we are teaching our children that it doesn’t have value…their creative selves are to be kept separate from their thinking selves.  Art is so much more than drawing and coloring.  Art is photography, music, poetry, writing, film making, and more.  How can these not play an important role in learning?  When students are able to use their talents, or develop and explore talents they didn’t know they had, they are learning how to be diverse individuals who have something unique to contribute.
I’ve always been interested in photography, but never really pursued it for many reasons, all mostly just excuses.  I finally made room in my life for it and can’t believe what I have missed out on for so long in not pursuing it.  I can’t imagine my life now, without it!
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As I watch my students work individually and collaboratively on projects, it is gratifying to see them encouraging each other as they work on creating content.  The creation apps on our iPads such as Explain Everything, Book Creator, Pic Collage, Strip Designer, Popplet and iMovie all contribute to the wealth of workflow in our curriculum.  Each piece of work is as different and unique as the child that created it.  And THAT is exactly why I teach…to celebrate and develop the uniqueness of each child.
I encourage and challenge you to look for the art in your classroom.  Is it put on the shelf for when work is finished or is it integrated into the workflow of the day as a regular part of learning?
Today we will do exciting new things…let’s get to it!

Educating Each Child

Grown-ups love figures… When you tell them you’ve made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies? ” Instead they demand “How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? ” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

IMG_0102(1)Grown ups do love their figures…it’s all about data.  We have to quantify something, measure it, analyze it and dissect it down to its very bones before we decide if something has meaning or value.  A recent article in our local newspaper ran in giant bold type the front page headline that the use of iPads in our district is not resulting in significant gains in scores.  If you are looking to sensationalize a hot-button topic, then the more negative the headline, the better.

The funny thing about data is that it doesn’t take into account many important factors.  Factors that can’t always be measured.  We have had our iPads for 3 years.  Some would say that’s enough time to show some major growth.  This would be true if iPads manufactured intelligence and poured it into the mouths of our students.  iPads are not a magic bullet or get smart quick scheme.  They are not integrated equally into every classroom, nor are they used in a cookie-cutter way in every lesson for every student.  Some teachers use them extensively for in-depth learning, and others…well, not so much.  Meaningful staff development is critical and my district has done a good job of working with teachers in best practices.

But what about each individual child?  Since the iPad is merely a tool, it must be used in a way that enhances individual student learning. Information is an essential key to learning.  Accessing information is a logical need.  How does a class of 30 plus students access information equitably in a classroom with 2 desktop computers (if that)? We don’t use card catalogs, hard bound encyclopedias, or phone books any more.  We rarely use paper maps (which is just as well, I can’t ever fold them correctly).  With the fading away of these sources of information, where are we to get information?

Wholesale dismissal of the use of iPads after 3 short years of implementation is short-sighted.  They provide necessary accommodations for disabled students, that have never before been available.  Vision impaired, speech impaired and autistic children have an open avenue of accessibility that is not just necessary, it’s their right.  Students who have learning disabilities or have learning delays can have learning experiences that are “just in time” for them.  Similarly, students who excel and are more advanced than their peers have the ability to work at that higher level with the iPad.  It is because of these abilities to personalize learning for my students that 100% of my students have gone to first grade reading above grade level for the past 3 years, that my school has earned the Apple Distinguished School award 2 years in a row, and earned an overall rating of excellent, scoring 99.3% on the Federal Report Card.  Our school rating went up to 5th in the school district from 8th in the 2011-12 school year.

Where is that headline?  That never made the newspaper.

My students learning experiences are richer, more in-depth and more rigorous because each of them have access to a powerful learning tool.  I can’t imagine teaching without them now.  Think of the many ways you access information today.  My guess is, you do it automatically without thinking of the technology necessary.  How inconvenient would it be if you lost access to that technology? How backward would it be to say, “I’m sorry, you aren’t making statistically significant progress in your work life so we are going to remove your access to information.” ?  Heck, if my SmartBoard goes down for a day or I don’t have internet access at school for a few hours I feel handicapped.

This is the world we live in and it will only become more wrapped up in the need for technological access.  Dissect that data all you want…but behind every number is a child.  Are you going to look at that child and say, “Sorry, but you aren’t worth the expense to adequately educate you for the future.”?  I know I can’t say it.  I’m grateful I work in a place that can’t say it either .

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

Teaching and Leading

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. -Lao Tzu

medium_6550520What do you need today?  A moment of peace and quiet? A push to get moving on a project you’ve been neglecting? Better yet, when was the last time you were even asked what you need?  As educators, we often are so focused on others, we don’t take the time to nurture ourselves either personally or professionally.  Today, I got something I needed. I had the ability to reunite with a cohort of teachers; ones with whom I had the privilege of spending one day a month in intensive Literacy Leadership training two years ago.   Our trainers brought us all back to share our stories and how we’ve changed since our training.  We also had great discussions on being educational leaders, why leadership is important and how teacher leaders extend their reach to touch others.

In preparing for this reunion workshop, we had to reflect on how our teaching has changed, how we’ve changed, over the last 2 years and be ready to share with the group.  Wow…my last 2 years have been just a little busy.  You can say it was the perfect storm of events.  The original literacy cohort began the year I received iPads.  The merging of the professional development highlighting student literacy with the versatility of the iPads completely transformed my teaching. I was encouraged to start this blog by a visionary friend who saw the magnitude of this story long before I did.  Then, I was chosen to be an Apple Distinguished Educator which gives me the amazing opportunity to speak to educators and leaders globally about my work.  (I used italics there because this still blows me away!)

Today, after writing out our transformation into teacher leaders, we were then asked to set a goal about where we go in the future.  I. Had. No. Idea…Really.  If you had told me 2 years ago I would be doing what I’m doing today, I would have never believed it.  So, there’s no way I can predict the future.  What I can say, is that by being open to the process all this time, doors open.  That’s it.  Show up everyday, be true to what you believe about how children learn, and doors open.  I do have to give MAJOR praise to my principal who supports me at every turn.  He truly exemplifies an educational leader.  He understands that the collective wisdom in the room far exceeds his own as an individual and he nurtures teacher leaders.

As for the iPads, what I need to say is this:  No one ever picked up a pencil and said, “THIS is truly a transformational tool needed for learning.  Let’s build an entire lesson around this!” The iPad can be a transformation tool as long as it is not the focus of the lesson. It can transform your teaching as well, if you are open to the process.

So, to all of you out there I say be open to the process.  Refresh yourself with a class or workshop. Collaborate!  In the words of my cohort leader, “Teachers can’t afford to be in private practice.  We have to collaborate to be effective.”  True story.

Thanks to all of you who show up here on a regular basis…I’m grateful to have you as readers.  You too, bring something to my table.

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

Photo credit:  Creative Commons

Using iPads to Work and Learn Together

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

Ah yes….working together….I can’t help but be reminded of the the preschool song “the more we get together the happier we’ll be”.  Working together, planning together, and achieving goals together is a beautiful thing.  It is not, however, something that is always done easily and it does require planning and effort.

We have been diligently working and planning together in our class.  Besides working on instructional goals, we are also working on our soft skills.  It is never too soon to work with children on their “EQ”…emotional intelligence quotient.  These are the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.  They complement hard skills.  Learning these skills now help transition them into adolescence and adulthood. In today’s world,  soft skills relate to a person’s ability to interact effectively with coworkers and customers and are broadly applicable both in and outside the workplace.

That being said, it takes time and planning to build community in a classroom full of egocentric 5 year olds.  We have been working on planning our day, working together on activities and projects as well as sharing with each other our completed work and work in progress.  This involves listening to each other, offering praise and helpful suggestions (helpful being the operative word).  This takes modeling and practice!

This week, we shifted from writing the plan for our day on a PDF on our iPads to actually typing it in the Notes app.  This has been very efficient and the kids feel “grown up” making a real list by typing.  They have their 5 “must do’s” listed on the Smart Board and they choose the order in which they want to complete them.  Currently, I am assigning the apps, but soon they will be choosing which apps to use to complete the assignment.  smartboard captureThe picture cues to the right assist them if they forget as they move through the day.  Kids are working individually, in pairs, or small groups by their own choice all throughout the day.

Here is a sample of the word work created on this particular day in the Magnetic Alphabet app.  The kids take a screen shot when finished and upload to Showbie for me to check later.

magetic abc workHere are 2 Pic Collage examples from a different day using the vocabulary words “mitten” and “cold”.

cold pic collage

Mitten pic collageOnce the students draw their pictures in Drawing Pad app, they save to their camera roll and upload into Pic Collage.  They then type the sentence using the vocabulary words for each picture.  They save it and upload to Showbie.

This schedule allows for a lot of collaborative time with each other and with me.  I am able to conference with children, assess, work with small groups and facilitate all throughout the day.  Because students have many opportunities to work collaboratively and interact with each other, we can practice modeling those soft skills we are learning about each day.

By setting up the classroom environment to reflect the values of learning through choice and collaboration, students are able to learn valuable skills that will carry them into the future.

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

What’s the Plan?

A goal without a plan is just a wish. ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

In my last post, I mentioned we are in transition.  We are continuing to shift from our choice board system into a more student-controlled system.  One of the first things needed is a way for them to record their daily plan.  I’m sure there are many ways to do this, but we are using a planning sheet that I scanned into Showbie.  The students will download and write their day in Good Notes, which is a PDF annotator.  This saves me from having to use paper to copy every day.  The planning sheet is very simple.  planning sheet

The students have 5 things they must do today.  These are listed on the Smart Board and students have the choice as to which order they wish to complete them.  Here are the choices from yesterday:

1.  Pic Collage with 2 bear facts

2. Read 3 “Just Right Books”

3. Math center

4. Writing Workshop

5.  Poetry notebook

Students choose the order they want to complete these activities and write them on their planning sheet.  They then have either me or my assistant approve their plan and they get started.  While students are working independently, my assistant and I pull small reading groups.  We are able to see all 5 reading groups between the two of us in the hour and a half block of time.   Students also have some activities to choose from if they finish early.  We call these “May Do’s”  The 5 items above are “Must Do’s”.

In the afternoon after recess, we have another hour block of time before Special Area.  This time is spent with students either continuing to finish their “must do” list or if they finish, they have “choice” center time.  All of the centers in the room become available for this choice time.  This block allows me and my assistant to conference and work with individual students in any area that needs focused attention.  We did this schedule last school year for the first time and it worked great! Their content creation was amazing and it allowed all students to learn time management, work individually or in small groups, and it allowed them to work on their own levels.

Here are a couple of samples of their Bear Facts.  Illustrations drawn in Drawing Pad app and uploaded into Pic Collage where they wrote their sentences:

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The kids are excited about having the ability to make their own schedules and plans.  We will continue to work on this schedule over the coming few weeks.  The must-do’s change daily.

By incorporating student voice into daily learning, we are planning for success!

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

New Year Resolutions

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s been said that what you do on the first day of the new year will influence what you do the rest of the year.  Hmm…I will make sure I am not cooking or cleaning on January 1 if that’s the case!

IMG_0703Since most of us are still enjoying a few more days of vacation, it is a good time to look ahead to 2014.  It has always been difficult for me to think of a “year” as anything  other than a school year-which for me, runs August to June, then summer vacation, and then a new year begins.  I’ve never done anything other than be a student or a teacher.  January to January is tricky for me.  That being said, we have been in school nearly 4 months and the winter break gives us time to refresh, restore, and refocus.

Someone asked me a while back what I like to do.  It seemed like a simple question but I found I had a little trouble answering it.  Of course, spending time with my family and friends made the list, but when pressed further, “What lights you up?” I fell silent.  This troubled me.  Why couldn’t I name anything? It occurred to me that I liked the idea of writing but never pursued it because I didn’t see myself as a writer.  A friend gently encouraged me and this blog was born.  I found I could quickly tap passion when it involved my students and their learning with the iPads.

I recently bought a “big girl” camera and have started pursuing a long hidden interest in photography.  I’m a true beginner in this endeavor, but am loving going on photo walks and discovering life behind the lens of a camera.  (I started a new photo blog here.)  What I am learning is you don’t have to be a professional to make art.

What does all of this mean for you?  I encourage you to explore some unexplored interests.  Step out and try something new.  Incorporating iPads in to my classroom has completely transformed the way I teach.  I don’t just think outside the box, I live there! Sometimes the people around you won’t understand your journey.  They don’t need to, it’s not for them.

Let 2014 be the year you step out, take some risks.  Resolve to hone your craft.  Create a classroom where you would want to be a student. Ditch old teaching methods, PowerPoints, and worksheets.  Examine who you are and what you like. Pursue some of your interests and you will be a more passionate teacher because of it.

What lights you up?

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

Kodable in Kindergarten

When people think about computer sciece, they imagine  people with pocket protectors and thick glasses who code all night.-Marissa Mayer

This week is the “Hour of Code” week.  Students from kindergarten through 12th grade are learning computer code through online tutorials.  This campaign is a push by President Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates in an effort to create interest in computer science in students in the U.S.

Not one to miss out on all the fun, we found a great app for coding in kindergarten called Kodable.  Kodable is designed for children ages 5-7, but I will say that I know a few grown-ups who have spent an hour or three on it. There is a free version of the app and the Pro version is .99 in the App Store.  Here is a screenshot of Kodable Pro:

KodableappThe object is to program the fuzzy ball to move through the maze to eat the coins by putting the arrows in the correct sequence.  My students were immediately engaged.  Their conversations were analytical and full of strategy.  They worked on this app for 45 minutes and were upset when they had to stop.  What surprised me was how quickly some gave up and how others persevered.  Actually, I should say I was surprised at who gave up and who persevered.  It was not at all as I thought it would be.

Why code?  Well, why not?  It’s always been widely accepted that it is easier for children to learn a foreign language when they are young.   Using these devices is as natural as speaking to our students. Why not let them learn a computer language?

After my students worked diligently on Kodable yesterday, today we took it a step further.  They created a code that needed to be solved by a friend.  They drew the track for the fuzzy ball and had a friend sequence the arrows to correctly move the ball.  First they designed the track, then they added the coins to be obtained, and finally, they drew the number of boxes at the top for each arrow to be placed in sequence.  This means the student had to go back and count for themselves how many turns were needed in order to know how many boxes to draw.  Here are a couple of samples:

coding1

coding2Once it was created, they passed it to a friend who then drew the arrows in the boxes provided to show the correct order.  The friend also had to count the number of coins earned and write the number on the sheet.  They loved this!  Seeing their enthusiasm, I printed out some pre-made track and put it in the math center.  This way they could cut and build their own if they wanted without having to draw.  Here is one a student made at the math center:

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The track was the length of a sheet of paper.  They could cut and edit how ever they chose.  This one had 10 gold coins.

Kodable was a great find.  I am sure we will be working on coding for much longer than this week dedicated for it.  My young inquiring minds are eager to continue and there’s not a pocket protector anywhere to be seen!

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

Word Work and iPads

Teaching reading IS rocket science! -Louisa Moats

I’ve probably used this quote before…but it certainly bears repeating.  We are immersed in literacy activities all day long in our classroom and it is starting to bear some fruit.  Nearly all students are reading and we are 75 days into our school year.

Since we follow the Reading and Writing Workshop Models daily, we spend a lot of time doing word work activities.  We have been working diligently on word families and rhyming words.  We have used our iPads quite a bit to do this word work. The Magnetic ABC app has worked well in making words together in small groups.  We have also done a little app smashing with Drawing Pad and Pic Collage.  Here are a few samples from that:

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At the risk of being Captain Obvious, we were working on the -an word family.  They were able to choose 2 words in that family to illustrate in Drawing Pad.  They saved those drawings to the camera roll then uploaded them into Pic Collage where they typed a sentence with each word.  After saving the Pic Collage, they uploaded it to Showbie for their portfolio.

This relatively quick activity ( 30 minutes start to finish) will be a building block for when the children move into planning their own day and they have vocabulary words for their word work.  These 2 frames will eventually become 4 in Pic Collage.

What are the challenging parts right now?  We are still working on using the space bar between words when typing.  Back spacing and starting again provides an almost miraculous cure to that!  A few still need guidance in saving their Pic Collages to their camera roll.  Other than that, they are rock stars!

Word work is an important part of early skill building in literacy.  We play many quick games daily both on the iPad and in small skill groups.  Word Work helps them become better readers and writers.  If you are unfamiliar with the components of the workshop approach, I encourage you to read Lucy Calkins’ books.  These are easily found online and are great resources for the Reading and Writing Workshop models.

The difficulty of teaching reading has been greatly underestimated.  It is a complex process and requires a repertoire of strategies.  The iPads are providing me with another tool in my toolbox to reach all of my young readers!

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