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

Parents and iPads

Let’s give them something to talk about. -Bonnie Raitt

medium_3610488258Have you ever been consumed with something?  You know, a project or idea that dominates your thoughts, dreams, conversations, lesson plans…When we are so immersed in something, we know every facet, every detail, every scintilla of it.  We assume that because we know all about it, that others should as well and we are a little nonplussed when they don’t.

I’m referring to our school wide use of iPads.  We have had iPads in a 1:1 setting since January 2011 in 3 classrooms and school wide since the 2011-12 school year.  We incorporate them into our daily activities.  We use them all throughout the day.  Our kids are engaged and excited.  We’ve had a technology night to showcase for parents what some of our classes are doing.  Surely, there is no question of HOW we use these amazing devices.  Except, there are.

An independent consulting firm issued parent surveys to gauge the level of support.  This survey asked what parents liked best about the use of iPads in the classroom and if there is anything that could be improved on.  Several surveys, more than should have, came back with parents saying they aren’t really sure how the iPads are being used.  They didn’t know enough about it to comment.

Well, ouch.  That hurt.  Our first reaction was, “Of course they know! How can they not??” Then with a little time and objectivity, we decided that we needed to do a better job of letting our little light shine.  We needed to be more intentional about including parents in the conversation.  We needed to give them something to talk about!  It was decided that we will have a monthly newsletter highlighting what’s happening with iPads at each grade level.  Here is our first:

ipads at dhes September 2013_1

This will go home in each class newsletter, be featured on our school website, and printed out and made into posters for each of our main hallways.  Teachers will also be more focused on communicating not just the “what”  by the “why” so parents can see value and be more closely involved in the process.  Yes, this is all common sense but it is easy to assume we are all engaged in the same conversation when we really aren’t.

Involving all stakeholders in a large project like this is critical.  I realize that I could stand on my head and eat a bug but that doesn’t mean everyone will get the information.  We will always have people say, “I never knew…” but by being more intentional in the curating and sharing of the good news, we are partnering in the best possible way with our students’ very first teacher…their parents.

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

PS:  Big shout out to Lisa Bevans for creating this awesome first parent newsletter!

Flickr photo credit

Daring To Ask “What If”

When the time came to leap in faith, whether you had your eyes open or closed or screamed all the way down or not, made no practical difference.- Lois McMaster Bujold

what ifWhat if?  At times, it is a question posed with wonder and inquiry.  Others, with anxiety and trepidation.  When asked in the hearts of  5 year olds,  it is often met with unconditional enthusiasm and willingness to try.  How do you feel about the “What ifs” in your life?

This has been a challenging year for me both personally and professionally.  In August, I was asked to consider applying for Apple Distinguished Educator.  My first thought was, “What if I don’t make it?”  Then, I allowed myself to think of “What if I do?”  Upon being chosen in February, my professional life changed almost instantly.  I have felt like a meteor hurtling through space…but in a good way. I have been brought into a whole new world of learning, collegiality, and absolute wonder.

I have watched my students daily ask themselves, “What if…” in their learning.  5 year olds are curious no doubt, even without an iPad.  The iPads have allowed us to explore that curiosity, touch it, read about it, talk about it, and create.  Having access to this seemingly simple tool has expanded their classroom beyond our four walls into a global classroom.  The ability to have choice in how they demonstrate learning has awakened even the least confident child and brought him into full flower.  Allowing my students to work at their own level with different sight word lists and reading levels has allowed them to go further in the last 180 days than they ever would have previously.collaboration 2

When I received the opportunity in January, 2011 to utilize 1:1 iPads in my classroom, I dared to ask, “What if?” Over the next few months and into the school year 2011-12, my “what ifs” grew and my students started asking their own ‘what ifs”.  What if I taught my students how to blog?  What if I moved away from the drill and practice apps and allowed my kids to create their own content?  What if I had different sight words lists and allowed them to move on when they were ready? What if I gave them the ability to plan their day and have some choice?

Who knew that just 2 1/2 years ago, when starting with iPads, I would have transformed my teaching to this extent and my students learning as well?  It amazes me even now.

I am wheeling my iPads down to storage in just a few hours as we close the final chapter of the 2012-13 school year today.  I am excited about the awesome staff development opportunities I have with my Apple Distinguished Educators this summer.  I can’t wait to see what new “What ifs” develop in August…well, after a summer vacation, that is…

Whether you are starting a new school term on the other side of the world, or ending this one, I dare you to ask “What if?”  Like the quote above says, whether you take a leap of faith or go screaming all the way, it makes no difference.  The difference comes in daring to try.

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

Come See Us!

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

group pic collageIn a recent post, I talked about raising the bar with iPads.  One of the best ways to raise the bar in education is having teachers learn from each other.  By seeing what is possible…truly possible, one can return to the classroom with a renewed sense of energy and purpose.  It is one thing to hear about something, but it is another thing entirely to see it in action.

My school, Drayton Hall Elementary, is an Apple Distinguished School.  We host visitors from all over.  These site visits have been very beneficial to those who have come.  Apple is hosting 2 such tours at Drayton Hall in the coming weeks.  The first one is March 28th and there is still space available on that tour.  The second tour is April 16th from 8:30-11:30. Click here to see the invitation. Drayton Hall April 16th

I’ve talked about the importance of kids learning from each other and it’s no less important for adults to continue to learn as well.  We have had teachers, administrators, board members and technology folks visit.  They have seen 1:1 iPads across all grade levels and across the curriculum working to personalize learning for our students.  When you can come away from a learning experience as a teacher and take it back to your classroom, the ripple effect has begun…not just with your students, but with your colleagues and their students.team work

Have you ever been to a workshop or professional development and walked away with a new idea?  It is an exciting feeling to try something new and fresh.  As an Apple Distinguished Educator, I am connected to some of the best educators in the world.  As they share what they do, I find myself raising my own expectations and in turn, raising the bar in my classroom.

Many of my readers live in other countries and I realize a site visit isn’t very realistic.  However, make a point to find a way to connect with other educators.  Twitter is a great place to build a professional learning network.  Teaching is hard enough…connecting and learning from others makes it worthwhile.

As we say in the South….y’all come!

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

We’ve Only Just Begun

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” -Walt Disney

Just beginningOne of the best gifts I received this holiday season was the notification from Apple that my school, Drayton Hall Elementary,  met all of the criteria for Apple Distinguished School.  The application was rigorous as was the competition.  We were thrilled to be awarded the distinction.  While many see awards like this as the culmination of hard work, I see it as just the beginning.

I’m pretty good at pushing boundaries.  When I was given the iPads back in January, 2011 as one of 3 pilot teachers for the entire school district, I really had no rules or expectations.  My only limitations were those created by my very own self.  Since I was given a class set of iPads, (thank goodness the district’s Ed Tech staff believed in kindergarten having 30 iPads!) I took full advantage of the opportunity and  looked beyond the “broadcast nature” of the iPad.  More than a presentation tool, my students fully interacted with the iPads.  In small groups, we found individual support opportunities that bolstered those students who were in the bottom tier.  As student engagement was instant, I looked for ways to incorporate the iPad into every aspect of our instructional day.  As the pilot moved beyond the 3 original classes, the staff at my school embraced the technology and zeroed in on the potential these devices hold.

While I know many schools are just getting iPads and perhaps aren’t able to fund them 1:1 at this time, I hope the teachers will continue to voice their desire for them.  The iPad is designed to be a one-user device.  The true power comes when each student holds his/her own iPad and is able to interact with it, work with materials on the child’s own level, and create and save on it.  Sharing, while perhaps necessary for a time, isn’t  ideal.  You can’t expect to see the results we are seeing at my school without a 1:1 implementation.  If you are unable to fund a whole school, find your early adopters on staff and let them have at it.  These people make things happen!

While my holidays are coming to a close next week, I’m excited about what the remaining 5 months of school hold.  With a new year beginning, let’s follow Walt Disney’s advice:  Quit talking and begin doing!  I’m proud of my school for earning the Apple Distinguished School honor.  This isn’t the end,  we’ve only just begun!

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iPads in the Classroom: Start Small, End Big

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.-Chinese Proverb

As with all things new, starting small often helps lead to bigger things.  Many classes with iPads aren’t fortunate enough to have 1:1.  Looking at maximizing learning and use of the iPads is key.  In our early days of the pilot program, I originally was scheduled to have only 12 iPads for use in small groups/centers.  Within the first hour of using them, I knew we needed (and could do amazing things) with a class set.  By the end of that week, we had a class set.  But what of those first few days with 12 iPads?

My first priority was to get them in the children’s hands during guided reading.  That is where we established expectations, learned how to use them, and began the important work of setting up personal learning plans.  Since I had only 12 for such a short time, I didn’t have the issue of storing work on only 12 iPads. However, if we had remained at that number, I would have assigned children to specific iPads and would have had them upload their work to their individual folder in PaperPort.  Beyond guided reading groups, I wanted them to use the iPads for some writing activities and self-selected reading activities.  Kindergarten is never  “all or nothing” learning.  We do some writing with pencil and paper, and some on the iPad.  We read some books on the iPad and some regular books.  We do word work, math, and phonics at times on the iPad and at times with manipulatives.  By starting small, the children (and the teacher) gain confidence in guided use.  Starting small also gives teachers a good idea of which children need close monitoring and which ones can handle a little more freedom.

Even though I have a class set now, I still like small group work best.  I like being a close observer of what the children are experiencing. Where are their successes or their areas of struggle? Are they guessing at answers or do they know them?  With the new iOS6, there is a new feature called Guided Access.  It allows a parent, teacher, or administrator to limit an iOS device to one app by disabling the Home button, as well as restrict touch input on certain areas of the screen. It lets you control what features are available during use.  Just go to Settings, then General, then Accessibility, and turn guided access on.

So, whether you have a class set or just a few iPads, keep it simple, start small.  As you find your children progressing, you will find limitless uses for the iPads.

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Collaboration

As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life. -Amy Poehler

What do educators talk about?  Even when not in the classroom, getting a bunch of educators together means “school talk”.  At a recent social gathering, I found myself huddling up with my teacher friends and commiserating with them about the ending of summer and the beginning of another year.  It is ironic that in a profession so centered around human interaction, teachers often find themselves feeling very isolated.

Spending time with other educators, engaging in meaningful conversations and talking through ideas is critical for effective teaching.  With the addition of new and ever-changing technologies, that collaboration is more necessary than ever.  Some teachers push through new ground effortlessly and others may need a little more guidance.  When experiencing difficulty, some teachers may feel reluctant to ask for help.  Others may feel they are the only one having difficulty.  We are quick to encourage collaboration with our own students and less likely to engage in it ourselves.

At the school district level and at my school level, we believe firmly in the “Train the Trainer” model.  Empowering teachers at their own schools builds a cadre of knowledge.  With the implementation of the iPads, the 3 of us who participated in the original pilot worked with our staff to train them.  We created a vanguard of sorts by also working closely with our school technology committee.  This committee consists of one teacher from each grade level.  This way, each grade level team had a point-person to check with first if questions or problems arose.  Our technology committee meets monthly to go over what is working and what needs attention.  Grade level teams meet weekly. During these meetings, we have a “Ten Minute Tech Time”.  We share what we are doing in our classrooms with the iPads and discuss any questions or issues that we may be having.  This built in time ensures that teachers are voicing their ideas, questions, and/or problems.  Our school district’s Ed Tech team are frequent visitors in our school and in our meetings.  They are quick to offer support, suggestions and solutions.

Teaching today is hard enough.  Collaborating with your colleagues and other educators can broaden ideas, provide support within the system and sustain teachers as we all navigate through the Technology Turnpike.

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Learning in the 21st Century

Multimedia brought the world into the classroom, smart technologies will take the classroom into the world.” -Steve Wheeler

My 90 year old father-in-law always seemed to be fascinated by the fact that we could call him from just about anywhere with a cell phone.  This technology was as foreign to him as a phone tethered by a coiled phone cord on the wall will be to my kindergarten students.  I mean, aren’t we all just a little surprised when we meet someone who doesn’t have cable tv, or not just a smartphone, but not even a cell phone these days? The technology treadmill just seems to keep on increasing speed and incline making it difficult for some  to keep up.

Our students, even the youngest ones, get it.  They understand the value of connectivity, media, and mobile learning.  Being restricted to 4 desktop computers in a classroom of 25-30 students is archaic at best. Less than 0.01% of the information we generate today is ever printed on paper. Information technology is becoming more and more personal and “pocketed”.   The core issue is that teachers need to be at the center of their own learning if they are to change their life-long habits and beliefs regarding the use of technology.  Perhaps we’ve looked at this backward.  Perhaps instead of trying to integrate technology, we need to redefine literacy and integrate that. Information literate people are those who have learned how to learn.  It is difficult to teach students and prepare them for an uncertain future.  Our best approach is to teach them how to teach themselves. Learners are creating their own learning spaces, blending face-to-face with virtual, and formal with social.

Do you remember your 3rd grade teacher (or any grade for that matter?)  Mine had been teaching for 30 years when I was in her class.  She taught the same thing in the same way on the same day of her 30 plus year career.  Bless her heart.  Today, no teacher should believe he/she can teach the same thing the same way.  iPads have been transformative to my teaching.  Not only is the learning mobile and individualized, it is engaging and collaborative.  Our school district is continuing to explore and expand the use of iPads in elementary, middle and high school classrooms.  A recent article in our local newspaper outlines where we are as a district at this point.   As a district, we are striving to put the learning in the students’ hands.  As educators, we have to realize that mobile learning isn’t about delivering content to mobile devices, but instead is about learning how to operate successfully in and across new and ever changing contexts.

I am more energized about my teaching now, more than ever before.  iPads have been a game changer.  I can’t imagine ever teaching without them and I’m excited about finding new ways to incorporate them.  I too, am learning on the go!

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iPads in the Classroom: A Parent’s Perspective

School is officially out for summer. Today’s post was written by Angie Mizzell. Her son Dillon was in my class this year.

“Mom, how many trees are in the world?” my son asked a few weeks ago, as we were driving to school down a two-lane, tree-lined road.

“That’s a really good question. I don’t know. Billions? Trillions? A lot.” And then I remembered a blog post Kristi had written. “I wonder if there’s a way to find out?”

He responded quickly, as if he’d come to the conclusion on his own. “I could type on my iPad, ‘How many trees are there.’”

When my son started school last August, he was still learning letter sounds. Today, as an official kindergarten grad, he’s reading on a first grade level and doing Google searches to find out how many trees exist in the world. (Turns out I’m a good guesser.)

Did the iPad contribute to that? That’s a question for people who collect data. I’m a mom, and I tend to operate under this philosophy: Seeing is believing. And what I’ve seen is a teacher who uses iPads to meet her students where they are and take them as far as they can go.

I visited the classroom earlier in the year, and it felt familiar to me—a mix of what I recall about kindergarten and first grade combined: Students writing on primary ruled paper, breaking up into smaller, focused reading groups and playing in centers (think blocks and housekeeping). And of course, the children were oozing with cuteness.

I watched a child at the SMART Board, building words by dragging letters from the bottom of the screen. I was intrigued by how engaged my son appeared while working on his iPad.

It’s the natural evolution of things. Today, when my child walks around with a notebook and a pencil (his journal, he says) recording thoughts, I realize the “old” and the “new” can coexist.

My son represents the future, and I’m encouraged by what I see.